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Koh Samui

Koh Samui

Koh Samui, Thailand's third largest island, behind Phuket and Koh Chang, lies off the south-eastern coast of Thailand.

It has been known for its luxuriant beaches and crystal seas since the first backpackers camped in bamboo beach huts in the 1970s on a remote paradise with an abundance of coconuts but no electricity, surfaced roads or real amenities.

Koh Samui's natural charms were not kept secret for long, and since the 1980s the inevitable luxury tourist boom has taken hold, although coconuts still remain a primary export.

Yet unlike its paradise island sisters, Koh Samui has retained some of that early budget hedonism, and upmarket resort hotels still sit alongside basic bungalow huts to provide accommodation for all budgets and holidays to suit all tastes.

At 95 square miles, the island is large enough to absorb the tourist crowds and still retain a sense of tropical seclusion.

Only in the high season of July and August and at Christmas does Koh Samui's popularity begin to squeeze unfavourably on its charms.

Any visit to Koh Samui will inevitably centre on the beaches, the island's primary attraction, whether lazing in the sun or engaging in watersports such as diving or windsurfing.

The largest and most popular beaches - Chaweng and Lamai - are found on the eastern coast, where large sweeps of perfect sand overlooked by swaying palms, good amenities and lively nightlife are only slightly marred by some patchy hotel development, ranging from the sensitive to truly unpleasant.

The north-east undulates between the remote and stunning Choeng Mon, the laid-back trendy beach of Bang Rak, also known as the Big Buddha beach, and the village life of Bophut, where traditional wooden Samui houses still nestle among the modern resort hotels.

The beaches and coves to the south from Ban Hua Thanon to Thong Krut and west, to the south of Nathon - the only town of any size on the island -are not as spectacular, but are generally quieter, with only a handful of hotels dotting the shore to disturb the view.

Beach hopping is easy on Koh Samui, catching songthaews (converted pick up trucks with two seats in the back) from Na Thon around the 31 mile ring road that encircles the island and links most of the villages and beaches.

Alternatively, you can go off the beaten track for a change of scenery and explore the pristine, and largely ignored, mountain and forest interior by jeep or motorbike - look out for the waterfalls at Namuang, which are especially spectacular in the rainy season.

Koh Samui is set in an archipelago of 80 islands, most uninhabited, and day trips on ferries or rental boats can be made to some including Ko Pha Ngan to the north, largely undisturbed apart from the monthly Full Moon parties held there that shatter the silence with thumping techno, or the spectacularly rugged Angthong National Marine Park. The park is made up of 40 uninhabited islands - the submerged peaks of a range of limestone mountains 19 miles southeast of Koh Samui - and is a haven for wildlife as well as a buffet of natural wonders such as dramatic caves, dense forests, mica-white sand and colourful corals.