Island Hopping: From Penang to Koh Samui

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This post was written by Chad Merchant

Koh Samui, long one of Thailand’s somewhat hidden gems, has been discovered in the last decade.Join Chad Merchant as he explores one of the region’s premier island holiday destinations.

AS RECENTLY AS the 1990s, Koh Samui was not particularly well-known outside of the backpacker scene. Fast forward to 2012 and it’s safe to say things have changed. This lovely island, either Thailand’s second or third largest (depending on the source), has eclipsed the famed isle of Phuket as the nation’s runner-up in tourist popularity, behind Bangkok. Blessed with postcard perfect aquamarine waters, powder-soft white sand beaches, and plenty of swaying coconut palms, Samui, as it’s locally known, is a tropical destination well worth putting on your bucket list.

For Penangites there’s now an easy, direct way to reach Samui. Firefl y Airlines, a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines, has recently implemented a non-stop flight to and from Koh Samui. Having already increased the flight frequency from KL’s Subang airport to the popular Thai island to once per day, Firefly decided to cater to the demand from Penang as well and launch a thrice-weekly flight to the popular Thai island.

In conjunction with The Glory Worldwide Travel (GWT) company and Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Firefly showed its passengers why they’re the preferred choice to Samui. With assigned seating, infl ight snacks, and a 20-kg checked baggage allowance plus the delight and ease of fl ying in and out of smaller regional airports, Firefly simply makes air travel more enjoyable.

Once we arrived in Samui, we met up with the good folks at GWT who hosted a sightseeing tour that covered most of the island’s high points, from shopping and stunning ocean vistas to the Big Buddha and the waterfalls that dot the interior. We even saw a demonstration of trained monkeys who are used to pluck coconuts from the island’s innumerable towering coconut palms. The best monkeys can differentiate between the young green coconuts and the darker ripe ones and provide their handlers with some 500 coconuts per day… and they make very few salary demands!

On the east coast, facing out into the vast Gulf of Thailand, Chaweng and Lamai Beaches are arguably the finest on Koh Samui, and the long stretches of soft sand endlessly lapped by clear turquoise waters instantly put us in vacation mode. It’s easy to understand why Samui’s beauty has charmed so many.

Just off the beaches, we nipped in and out of dozens of shops, stalls, and markets lining the narrow streets. As a tourist focused island, Samui isn’t known for the amazing shopping bargains of mainland places like Bangkok or Hat Yai but, nevertheless, if you’re in the mood for some retail therapy, you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied. Spas and salons are numerous as well, and a tropical vacation is the ideal time to avail yourself a bit of pampering, which many of us did!

If you venture further afield from Samui, the scenery is even more stunning. Just west of Samui is the gorgeous Mu Koh Angthong National Marine Park; an archipelago of 42 islands that will have you burning up the memory card in your digital camera. Soaring limestone bluffs covered in dense, virgin rainforest rise from the blue-green sea seemingly at every turn. Most of the islands are uninhabited and blissfully pristine. Hire a sea kayak and go exploring. Do some snorkeling or diving in the gorgeous waters, or charter a boat to go island hopping. Check out nearby Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, or the amazing cluster of islands called Koh Nang Yuan, joined only by narrow strips of white sand. The choice is yours, and since many of these islands lie only an hour or so from Samui by boat, it’s an easy and enjoyable day trip.

Let’s face it… though Penang is an island endowed with many charms and much appeal, stunning world-class beaches aren’t on that list. If you are in need of a getaway to a tropical island paradise, grab your flip-flops and suntan lotion and let Firefly Airlines whisk you up north to a very different island.



Firefly Airlines flies direct between Penang and Koh Samui on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. For more information, please visit


Source: Penang International October-November 2012

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