Ko Samui, being in Surat Thani Province, has essentially two seasons; warm and tropical most of the year, with a short rainy season. Unlike Phuket and most of the rest of Southern Thailand which has a 6-month rainy season between May and November, Samui's weather is relatively dry for the vast majority of the year, with the rainy season being primarily confined to November. For the rest of the year, since the weather is tropical, when it does rain, it usually doesn’t last long; rain showers of 20–60 minutes are typical.
Historically the island's economy has been based around subsistence agriculture and fishing, with coconuts as the main cash crop. From the 1980s onwards, tourism has become an economic factor and is now the dominant industry. The construction of a stable, high-speed internet connection in recent years has also made the island a feasible location for IT-based enterprises, which are beginning to provide a certain degree of economic diversity. The island's climate and accessibility make it particularly attractive for international investors.
Ko Samui Airport (USM) is a private airport originally built by Bangkok Airways, which is still the main operator and was for a long time the only airline with services to Ko Samui from mainland Thailand. The airport is additionally served by Thai Airways International. Several ferries connect the island with the mainland, including the car ferry from Don Sak to a pier in the west of the island, south of the main town Nathon. Public buses to all parts of the mainland operate from a small bus station located in the south of Nathon. Songthaews (tuk-tuk style buses) circle the ring road, and private taxis are available throughout the island although these are often criticised for failure to use meters and flagrant overcharging.
It was only the early 1970s that the first backpackers traveling on a coconut boat arrived on Ko Samui. For years after that the island just had a few bungalows and a trickle of travelers. In the early 1990s, boats of tourists began to arrive, and since then the island has soared in popularity. Samui is now the second most popular island destination in Thailand, after Phuket. Ko Samui is an oasis of natural beauty, with its white sandy beaches, dazzling coral, luscious lagoons, picturesque waterfalls, swaying coconut trees and crystal clear water. Tourism is now ahead of coconuts as the islands main industry.
Although Ko Samui is in southern Thailand, where Islam has a strong influence, the original inhabitants of the island, known as 'Chao Samui', are predominantly Buddhist. In the past, most of the locals made their living in the coconut farming business. Nowadays, however, most work in jobs related to tourism.
Many locals have become wealthy from selling off land they have owned for decades. As a result of the extensive development of the island, many Thai-Chinese have come to Samui from the capital of Bangkok (Khung-Thep). Most of the manual labor needed to keep up with the island’s growth has been provided by people native to the country’s poorer north-eastern region. As a result, there is a wide cross section of economic classes on the island.
The south of Thailand is a melting pot of Buddhists, Thai Chinese, Muslims and traditional sea-faring gypsies. Ko Samui does not seem to suffer from the religious tensions in communities along the southern border of Thailand, and in general the locals live in harmony. Outside of the tourist areas, the Thai language is spoken with a thick Southern dialect which is even difficult for northern Thais to understand.
With this broad mixture of cultures, Ko Samui is always celebrating some tradition or another, including western.