During the 1980s, the popularity of Koh Samui as a tourist destination quickly grew and the island became known worldwide for its pristine beaches and unspoilt nature. Thirty years later, the dramatic highland interiors with their forest clad hills and mountains still offer a stunning contrast to the grey scale rock formations and white sandy beaches that line the coast.
The tourism industry, however, has grown to include top class hotels and resorts, and visitors also enjoy more lifestyle offerings such as restaurants, night clubs and shopping malls. Today, Koh Samui attracts more than a million visitors per year, many of whom stay in luxury resorts and dine in upscale restaurants.
Samui's investment market has traditionally been dominated by the hotel industry, but as the island's tourism landscape has matured, there has also been an increase in demand for new products to entice ever more discerning travellers. These sophisticated visitors want individualised, bespoke travel experiences and residential style real estate therefore caters better to their needs. Private villas or condominiums are therefore de riguer on Koh Samui and developers are getting ever more sophisticated when it comes to the design, architecture, sustainability features and locations.
Koh Samui was known the speed at which development took place, with areas around Chaweng and Lamai beaches once seeing a new residential project launch almost every month. Things have slowed down since the global financial crisis and with the resort market changing, a new appreciation for conservation and sustainability seems to have taken root among locals and foreign investors.
To match the change in attitude, Samui’s island authorities have started implementing stricter building regulations and developers are now fined if their developments do not live up to required environmental responsibilities. Given the relatively high costs of electricity and scarcity of fresh water, end users are also starting to look for developments with environmentally friendly systems and technology.
In terms of design, the villas on Samui are as varied as people's homes anywhere else in the world. Thai architecture has a long proud history, and apart from looking good, traditional building techniques, such as raining the house from the ground and opening spaces up to natural ventilation also serve to make the most of the tropical environment.
In recent years, more modern, minimalist residential designs have emerged with many developments using glass, steel and concrete to offer a light, airy, modern feel.