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Koh Samui History

History of Thailand's Koh Samui Island

The history of Koh Samui is quite unknown and mysterious, but the island's recent history, since the first back-packers arrived in the 1970s, is a story of unrivalled growth and development in the tourism industry due to the island's idyllic beaches and natural beauty.

It is thought that Koh Samui was first inhabited around 1,500 years ago by fishermen from the Malay Peninsula and southern coast of China. The island is referenced on ancient Chinese maps, which date back to 1687, as 'Pulo Cornam'. The word 'Samui' may be an extension of the name of a native tree, Mui, or may possibly originate from the Chinese word 'saboey' which means 'safe haven'.

Little was known about the island until the first boat transporation service to Koh Samui was launched in the mid 1800s. Back then it took a full day of sailing to cover the 35 km voyage from Surat Thani on the mainland.

Until tourism came to Koh Samui, the island was an isolated community, with little contact to the mainland. Before the island's first roads were build in the 1970s, the journey from the east to west coast was a 15 kilometre trek through the island's central belt of mountainous jungle.

The Thai Government started pouring resources into Koh Samui during the 1980s when the true tourism potential of the island was realised. Since this time, Samui has grown and developed exponentially to become the successful SE Asian tropical, tourist destination that it is today.

Koh Samui currently has an estimated population of between 30,000 and 55,000 people with a strong econony that depends on a successful tourist industry as well as the exporting of coconut and rubber.

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