Samui Wining & Dining
Some insights into Samui’s airport.

Some insights into Samui’s airport.It’s hard to imagine Samui with no airport. Indeed, try to picture this: only one ATM machine on the whole island (in Nathon); only one 7-11 (also in Nathon); Chaweng is tiny (just a few hundred metres on either side of Soi Green Mango) and with a rough dirt road through the middle; no internet, smartphones, Wi-Fi or social media, and no McDonalds, Pizza Hut or Tesco-Lotus. And no airport. Hard to imagine; but that’s the way it was back in 1988.


Another thing that might surprise you in today’s technological age – Samui has very little in the way of recorded history. While there are records of events in the West going back for thousands of years, there’s virtually nothing about Samui. In fact, even today, the elders of the villages here rarely travel more than a few kilometres away from home. And, most certainly, when the first regular ferry service from the mainland began ‘somewhere in the late 1980s’ few if any were interested, and many of the islanders didn’t even get to know about it for quite a number of years.


But although we have to guess at roughly when the island of Samui first became accessible to outside visitors, the story of Samui’s airport is a very different matter. And it all revolves around one man, Khun Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth. Born in 1933, he received a bachelor’s degree from Siriraj University Medical School, after which he qualified and practiced as a surgeon for the next five years. But this was the post-Vietnam War era, and for anyone with an astute mind there were opportunities aplenty.


In 1968, more or less at the same time, he set up Bangkok Dusit Medical Services, (which today has over 44 international-quality hospitals). And he also bought a small 9-seater aircraft and established ‘Sahakol Air’, a contract air-taxi service, working with several American companies, including United States Operations Mission (USOM). In 1970, he expanded into domestic flight and carrier services.Some insights into Samui’s airport.


This is significant. In the early 1980s, Khun Prasert had already noticed the increase in getaway-popularity of Koh Samui, and predicted the potential of the island. All that was missing was an airport. And to demonstrate his shrewd business acumen, he made the local government an offer. He would personally fund the construction of an international airport in its entirety, including infrastructure, in exchange for certain concessions, one of them being his company’s right as the owner to remain the sole carrier licenced to use the airport.


Two things happened right away. The local administration jumped at the chance. And Khun Prasert, fully realising the implications of such a monopoly at Samui airport, immediately began to expand, renaming his company ‘Bangkok Airways’, to coincide with the opening of Samui Airport in 1989.


As you will have gathered, Samui back in the late ’80s and early ’90s was charming, rustic, unspoiled, undeveloped and inexpensive. And, in the decade that was to follow, due to the airport which put it only just over one hour away from Bangkok, investment and commerce flourished, as did the number of visitors flying here via Bangkok Airways.


But not only was he a clever businessman and a man of vision, Khun was also sensitive and visually aware. And so the original airport site was carefully designed and architected to reflect the Samui heritage. All the buildings were single-storey, largely made of local coconut wood, and with the check-in counters and waiting lounges housed in a huge ‘sala’Some insights into Samui’s airport. (essentially just a huge roof that was open on all sides). Cafes, shops and restrooms formed a U-shape with a big expanse of open lawn in the middle that hosted a children’s play area. And the little trains that carried passengers across the tarmac to their aircraft were like giant kiddies’ toys. It’s no wonder that right away the airport began collecting international design awards, and for very many years was voted in the top ten of ‘the world’s best airports’.


In 2007, the layout changed, and the expanded airport was redesigned around the existing runways, now geared-up to handle 16,000 passengers a day – increasing the passenger capacity from 1.3 million to six million a year. But the original cute little ‘kiddies’ playground’ is still here, hidden away to the side. You can’t see it from the road, as it’s now where the cargo operations are based. It’s not as pretty or as immaculate as it was when it won awards. But if you’ve got a big parcel to send, then stop and linger awhile; it’s a little piece of the island’s history – and one you can still see for yourself!


Rob De Wet


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