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644km (400 miles) S of Bangkok to Surat Thani; 84km (52 miles) NE from Surat Thani to Ko Samui

The island of Ko Samui lies 84km (52 miles) off the east coast in the Gulf of Thailand, near the mainland town of Surat Thani. Since the 1850s, Ko Samui was visited by Chinese merchants from Hainan Island in the South China Sea. The island is said to have more coconut species than any other place in the world. The harvesting of coconuts (and rubber) still takes place in the hills of the island's hinterland, but alas, many plantations have given way to wide-scale tourist development, which is now the island's main income.

Once a hippie haven of pristine beaches, idyllic thatched bungalows, and eateries along dusty red-dirt roads, Samui is now packed with upscale resorts, low-end bars, and posh spa retreats. Up to 20 flights a day land at Samui International Airport, and this voracious tourist onslaught has brought severe water shortages and environmental problems such as wastewater and refuse disposal.

If you leave the main tourist hubs, Ko Samui still has a few idyllic sand beaches and simple villages, but it is certainly not the sleepy island it was 20 -- or even 10 -- years ago, and prices reflect this.

Peak season is from mid-December to mid-January, but January to April has the best weather -- before its gets very hot -- with the occasional tropical storm bringing relief. Storms don't tend to last long, however, and as this is low season, more bargains can be found. October through mid-December are the wettest months, with November bringing some heavy rain and winds that make the east side of the island rough for swimming. July and August see a brief increase in visitors, but during those months, the island's west side is often buffeted by summer monsoons from the mainland.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.