West coast town is government admin centre for Koh Samui

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Nathon town on Koh Samui’s west coast is not much more than a big village with some official buildings, two big jetties, a few small hotels and lots of shops. But this is Samui’s administration centre, the seat of district officials and police. Once it was far and away the island’s major urban centre, but that distinction has moved to Chaweng , where tourism has boosted a few beach bungalows among the coconut palms into a pulsating mini metropolis with a single purpose – to satisfy the beach holiday desires of endless swarms of tourists.
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Tourism has indeed brought changes to Nathon – prosperity key among them – but it is surprising just how typical of a small Thai town this remains. Any visitor to Samui eager to see something of Thailand beyond their beachfront hotel should plan for an hour or two exploring the narrow streets, markets and waterfront of Nathon.
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In addition to the various admin centres like district office, electricity and police buildings Nathon is notable as a major entry-exit point for the island, with the biggest of the two ferry companies, Seatran, operating large car ferries from one of the downtown jetties. Tour busses also join the never-ending stream of commercial and construction vehicles on and off these ferries, carrying Thais and tourists to and from Bangkok. The other company, Raja Ferries, operates from a jetty well south of town just before Lipa Noi Beach. In busy seasons each company runs a huge, 60-car ferry each way each hour through the day.
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Nathon’s layout is simple, with just two major roads running parallel to the shore – with traffic running one-way in opposite directions – and several small lanes connecting these two. You can walk the entire town – or perhaps we should call it a village here – in about half an hour.
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The waterfront is the focus of town, and the place where visitors like to sit, eat and drink while watching activities on water and land. Not surprisingly, sunset is a great time to be in Nathon, for the sun falling over the water often sends the sky into spectacular fiery spasms that multiply as they reflect off the ocean.
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See other info & photo pages about Koh Samui in this site:

Nathon is a two-street town, pinned against the water by a big mountain

Nathon is a long and thin strip of urbanization squeezed between ocean and mountain – see the aerial photos. The waterfront is prominent due to the huge jetties that service car and passenger ferries, transport barges and various craft carrying in supplies for the burgeoning tourist industry, and the large amount of construction that generates.
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The main north-south road runs through the town, but that too is narrow, now converted to one-way passage south. A second road runs along the water carrying north-bound traffic. Aside from a few roads connecting these two main roads, there is little else to the plan of Nathon. If driving a car, you can usually find parking place along the waterfront. The rest of the town is so crowded it is difficult to park a motorcycle.
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The road north from Nathon is quite busy, running up the coast till it reaches the top of the island and turns right, first into Bang Po Beach, which has just a scattering of hotels, followed by Maenam Beach which has many. Then the road continues along the north shore to Bophut Beach, which is lined by hotels, before splitting, with the major branch turning south into Chaweng.
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Driving south from Nathon you pass a few villages before the road turns into coconut plantations. This southwest corner of the island, around Taling Ngam Beach and village, is Samui’s exceptionally quiet and traditional corner, definitely worth a driving visit. There are some atmospheric restaurants in this area that can be a highlight of a round-island tour.
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shopping and markets in Nathon town

Nathon town is the shopping and marketing centre for the thousands of people living on the west side of the island, far from the booming east coast tourism trade. There’s probably nothing much here that cannot be found in the Chaweng area where the big, modern shopping centres are located, but the prices will probably be better here than in the tourist areas.
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The town’s fresh market is on the main road, towards the back of the town, and is quite interesting, being so crammed with produce and people that moving around can be awkward at times. The variety of ingredients and strange things that go into Thai cuisine is on colourful display here, and that alone can be something of an educational experience. With no space for this to expand, a second market has sprung up along the road leading south out of town.
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An open-air food market sets up in the afternoons near the big jetties, attracting both locals and some tourists. Simple one-dish meals, bowls of noodles, the ‘Isarn’ specialties of ‘larb’, roast chicken and sticky rice are staples, while there are many additional snacks on sticks, in banana leaves or plastic bags.
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Samui’s fishermen cling to traditions – and both give & get great footpath deals

The fishing life is tough where the ocean is almost barren of fish, and many of Samui’s old-time fishermen have given up, turning their boats to tourist rentals or seeking jobs on land. But plummeting supplies have also caused prices to soar, allowing small groups of fishermen to eke out a living the traditional way. Small catches multiplied by high prices work for a few in Samui's Nathon town.
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The daily catch of one such group can be bought on the footpath in Nathon the moment it comes off the boat. Husbands catch, wives sell. Eliminating all middlemen helps the fishermen make ends meet. The cars of in-the-know locals pull up near the waterfront market soon after the boats begin arriving – something that changes with the tides. Large king prawns – just as fresh as you can ever get – were selling for 600 Baht a kilo in 2015, about the same price as in a Bangkok market – though the latter are either from a farm, or should they be the natural ocean kind, they spend weeks on ice before arriving in port.
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Medium prawns sold for 300 Baht, again about the same as in city markets across the country. But virtually all prawns sold in Thai markets are now the flaccid, less tasty farm variety. Nathon’s fishing families were getting top dollar for their catch, sans commissions, while their customers were getting the best quality seafood that money can buy, at standard prices.
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It’s a good two-way deal. It’s just a pity that there’s not enough left in the ocean for everyone to enjoy such good, truly fresh seafood. Most seafood in Samui’s resorts has come a long, long way on ice before being presented to tourists as ‘fresh seafood’. Also notable by their absence in the catch of these fishermen were big fish. Even a fish weighing in at one kilogramme was quite rare. However, many juveniles of larger species were in evidence, helping to explain the rarity of the big ones.
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services in Nathon: hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, car rentals etc

Hotels in Nathon: Several small hotels are available in Nathon, though none are beachfront, and they are quite local affairs far removed from the tourist resorts along the famous beaches. While they are quite basic, they are also clean, cheap and satisfactory for those simply looking for a bed for the night. This writer has found them very handy, and comfortable enough, after missing the last evening ferry off the island. Two are found along the waterfront with rooms for 1,000 Baht or less, but here you cannot expect English language TV or anything but the basics like air-con, hot water and a secure room. Another hotel with somewhat better quality accommodations is on the southern-most road that rings the town.
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Restaurants in Nathon: As with all Thai towns, there are plenty of local restaurants and noodle shops, with several along the waterfront road preferred by foreign visitors due to the view. Most of these have English menus. Near the top end of the waterfront road Coffee Island captures much of the tourist traffic with free Wi-Fi, an English menu and outdoor tables overlooking the jetties. The Thai-Chinese lady owner may not be very friendly, but she does have the top location and ideas that match the market.

The surprise (in 2015) was Nathon’s first Irish pub, Max Murphy. It was rather empty when this writer shot photos of its signs, but perhaps business is better at the end of the day. Nathon does not have a significant foreign community, so that’s one Irishman who’ll need something more than luck in business.
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Restaurants outside Nathon: The most interesting restaurants in the Nathon area, however, are the 4 or 5 ocean-view seafood establishments along the main road north of town. These are squeezed between the road and the beach, with the first one 450 metres beyond the town, and the last about 2 kilometres away, just before the road heads over the mountain to the north coast. These are real Thai establishments, catering to locals, genuine non-tourist scenes that are not so easy to find on this island. The west coast location of this group of seafood restaurants makes them ideal for visitors who want to do the recommended, around-island tour of Samui in a rental car or motorcycle. If you drive clockwise and arrive here in time for sunset you might set yourself up for some of nature’s most spectacular entertainment, followed by a genuine Thai dinner at Thai prices.
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Car rentals and Nathon miscellaneous: This town offers cars and motorcycles for rent, in several well-posted locations. But so does every major tourist beach on the island. Chances are you will arrive in Nathon Town on a vehicle rented close to your hotel on another part of the island. However, independent travellers who arrive on the big Seatran ferries that land right here in Nathon may want to rent a vehicle here, especially if you plan to depart the island by one of the same ferries – return your vehicle and walk back to the Seatran ferry.
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by John Everingham