With 270 beachfront hotels, Thailand's Koh Samui takes 1st place, beating many world famous destinations

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Koh Samui proved itself the global leader of beach destinations, taking first place in the Global Beachfront Destination Awards with over 270 true beachfront establishments. This 'coconut island' overcame world famous competitors like Riviera Maya in Mexico (250), Greece's Crete Island (194), Spain's Mallorca (187), which took the second, third and fourth places respectively. They were followed by Indonesia's Bali, Hawaii and Thailand's Koh Phangan. The Global Beachfront Awards issued by The Beachfront Club on 15 August 2014 are a count of each country's, and each beach destination's, true beachfront hotels and resorts. It includes accommodations of all levels, from cheap bungalow establishments to luxurious 5-star resorts – but all must meet the club's strict criteria and sit directly on the beach or oceanfront, without a road or traffic between.

In the primary, country-level awards Thailand outnumbered all famous old beach countries including Spain, Greece, Mexico, the USA and Turkey, taking the No 1 spot with 1,250 true beachfront accommodation establishments. See the graph for all totals.

How and why does Koh Samui rank world's No 1 beachfront destination?

interesting geography & varied beaches

Like Thailand itself, Koh Samui has been blessed by geography that gives it many different beaches and beach environments. The north and west coasts have long, open beaches, while much of the east is rugged with small coves secreting numerous little-known beaches. There are many different environments and a whole range of varied resorts has been created to blend into them. The huge, central mountain provides a dramatic, green backdrop to virtually every beach here.

roads do not crowd Samui's beaches

In an accident of geography, not good planning, Samui's beaches were not crowded out by roads as is so common on Phuket and elsewhere. When roads are set back, beaches retain more of their natural beauty, become true leisure zones and their value soars. With very few roads right along its sands, Samui has allowed the great majority of hotels to find absolute beachfront locations –and help it take this award.

relatively unspoiled environment

While the northeast corner of Koh Samui is currently threatened by the creep of an uncontrolled layer of ugly, soulless concrete and tangled wire, the majority of the island is still in reasonably natural condition. Coconut palms remain the dominant feature over most of the island, and big trees provide most of the shade on the beaches, not umbrellas. Visitors from developed countries, or even a developing but crowded one like China, appreciate the natural environment of this island.

Koh Samui rides a fine balance between environment & development

Samui currently enjoys a pleasant balance between the natural and the man-made, one that satisfies a wide range of visitors. Lifestyle attributes include high quality restaurants, spas and health treatments, vibrant nightlife, shopping in local markets and modern malls, the popular Fisherman's Village at Bophut and a good variety of attractions, tours and activities. With these concentrated in the island's northeast corner, they are accessible to all, including the many who choose accommodations is quieter, more natural corners of the island. This blend of natural tranquillity and modern, lifestyle attractions lies at a fine balance that attracts over a million visitors a year. But how much of a balance can the future maintain in the face of galloping, unplanned development?

Koh Samui is becoming Thailand's boutique island

Koh Samui is enjoying a renaissance in fine design, with boutique and other resorts seemingly engaged in a design competition to outshine each other. Poppies started the boutique craze in the mid 1990s, and many followed suit by engaging Thailand's top architects, interior designers and landscapers.

Creative boutique resorts are now found on every remote corner of the island, from Elements in the far southwest, Mai Samui in the Northwest and X2 in the southeast, along with dozens more on the popular north and northeast coasts. Few new resorts now open without making some kind of design statement; to do otherwise in such a fine-design environment would mark a newcomer as a dreary setback from day one.

With so many owners and architects competing to have their works shine among the coconut palms, Koh Samui has become the creative and boutique resort centre of Thailand.

Samui offers an excellent variety of beach hotels

Koh Samui has a room to suit just about every taste and pocket. The island now offers world-class, branded 5-star properties that include Conrad Samui, Four Seasons Koh Samui W Retreat and a Banyan Tree. Small but interesting boutique resorts are now proliferating across the island while mid-range and upmarket accommodations are today's norm, fitted into beach environments across the island. Since year 2000 mid- and upper-class resorts have squeezed out the once-prevalent backpacker bungalows – though even a few of those are still available on Lamai.

Thai food, culture & service pervade this tropical coconut island

Thai food and Buddhist culture might be found all over Thailand, but they remain equally important attractions for Koh Samui. Foreigners simply love digging into Thai seafood and cuisine with their toes in the sand and the stars above. The wide variety of restaurants and reasonably good standards in cuisine are one of the major attractions that draw foreign visitors to the island.

Samui's reputation is further complemented by another attribute for which all of Thailand is famed, friendly, heart-felt service. Here on an island with 30 years experience in the hospitality business, a high level of professionalism also comes with the smiles.

direct air access is the critical factor

The opening of Samui airport in 1989 transformed the island, and it continues to be the critical factor in the island's on-going development. With the island just a one-hour hop from Bangkok it's a viable destination for millions. In high season Bangkok Airways' planes run every hour or more, while the number of flights in and out is continuously adjusted to match demand.

by John Everingham