If you want to see just how green Samui really is, the only way is to circle round and then criss-cross it in a small plane or, better still, a helicopter. You’ll be amazed at how lush Samui Airport is, how unspoiled. Away from the coasts, Samui is completely verdant with few houses or buildings to be seen. But if you’re lucky enough, your flight into Samui may take you directly over the island’s heartland. You’ll see for yourself just how untouched the land is.
It’s utterly fitting then that when you actually land, the airport itself seems to be part and parcel of the same continuum. Concrete is used sparsely and everything’s specifically designed to dovetail into the land. Earth tones are everywhere, and there’s nothing brash or over-bright about any of the buildings. Indeed, the airport’s a product of the jungles and forests that you’ve just flown over. It was purposely designed to look this way, and those who created it went to an inordinate amount of trouble to produce a memorable design.
Anyone in the civil engineering business can tell you that as far as small airports go, it’s relatively easy to cut corners and build one on the cheap – it’ll be a tin-and-concrete affair. Think of the aerodromes of the past; little more than fields with gigantic sheds outside towns. It was the landing strips that were important – the safety aspect. The rest could wait or at least look very temporary. And deeply ugly, too! Airports belonged to the air, so to speak, so it didn’t matter so much what was on the ground. You’d be zooming up into the sky before you knew it, everything else tiny and forgotten.
Samui is a small place and doesn’t need a vast airport. Shacks could – just about – have done the job. After all there are plenty of airports that are rudimentary. Nobody would complain – much. It’d be the expected airport for an island, and everyone would be grateful to head to their hotel.
But the airport took a different tack, and made something of itself that no-one quite expected. It didn’t go for cheap, or for utilitarian. Instead it kept things simple. With its natural woods, thatched roofing (whoever heard of a thatched airport?) and the fact that it was open to the elements, it seems to belong more to the 1930s South Pacific, or perhaps to some early, golden age of travel that never really existed.
It’s entirely modern, however. The first tourists came to Samui in the 1970s, and the dream of building an airport started when people realized that the island was becoming an extremely popular destination. It wasn’t hard to figure out where to build Samui International Airport, as it’s officially called. Just a few minutes north of the main town of Chaweng, flat land offered itself for the purpose. It was a massive project. From the start it was a privately-owned airport, built and run by Bangkok Airways. The ground was cleared in 1982, and seven years later, the first passengers started using the new airport. Since then, the island has never looked back. Gone were the days when travellers to Samui (and they were indeed travellers rather than tourists) had to endure a rickety night boat from the town of Suratthani on the mainland; they slept as best they could in the uncomfortable hold of the ferry and arrived in the early morning in Nathon. The airport did away with all that discomfort and then added in comforts and charms of its own.
It now boasts its own shopping arcade with cafes and gift shops; the whole idea is that the airport is more than just a place to hop on or off a plane. It’s quietly luxurious and as soon as you step into it, you come under its spell.
It’s idyllic enough to make people want to return here, again and again. And people do. It’s all part of their holiday. It’s both homely and exotic in equal measure. As such it seems to win over pretty much anybody who’s ever lugged their bag off a luggage carousel.
From Samui you can fly courtesy of Bangkok Airways to a variety of domestic destinations. Getting to Bangkok itself is a cinch as there are so many flights. In addition, you can fly internationally with Bangkok Airways to such places as Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Samui airport has both a domestic and an international terminal, right next to each other. The carrier has operated flights to and from Samui for over 27 years now, and has consistently strived to satisfy the millions of passengers who use it. Despite its laid-back look the airport is dedicated to efficiency; it has to be, as it’s the country’s seventh busiest airport. Last year alone, over a million passengers flew in here, while another million flew out. It also handles a great deal of cargo and freight, including perishable foods.
When it comes to air travel, Thailand is a major hub, with Bangkok its focal point. But if you look south, you’ll see a second web of flights arcing out from Samui. It might seem strange for a small island to hold such an important position on flight charts, but thanks to it being so beautiful and well-located in the Gulf of Siam, it’s won over the hearts and minds of holidaymakers and regular travellers alike. And those returning to it are always happy to see the bijou, iconic airport swinging into view once again as their plane makes its final descent.