Samui Wining & Dining
Across Road
Take the ‘road less travelled’ from Mae Nam to Lamai
and experience a very different side to Samui.


Across RoadDriving around Samui is reasonably straightforward. There’s a 52-kilometre ring-road with numerous side roads and dirt tracks that take you to every part of the coastline and into the mountains. They’re not perfect by any means and improvements are a continual challenge for the local authorities. But it would be a whole lot more difficult to tour the island without the ring-road. And its creation had nothing to do with tourism. It was simply to make life a little easier for those who lived here.


Before the Second World War there were no paved roads and no cars on Samui. Islanders had little or no contact with the outside world, although there was a small ship that made the six-hour journey most days from Suratthani on the mainland. Even then, getting from Chaweng to Nathon would be a tortuous trip on foot through mountains and jungles. If you didn’t have a boat, you weren’t going far.


In 1967, the headman of the island, Khun Dilok Suthiklom, contacted the government for help in constructing a ring-road around Samui. Much of it was done by manual labour and dynamite had to be used to blast through the mountains between Chaweng and Lamai. By 1973, the cleared dirt track was eventually ready for concrete and island residents were finally able to meet up, trade and get to the port and back on the same day. Not that there were a lot of cars or trucks on the road back then.


Over the years since the ring-road was completed, further concrete roads have been added, undoubtedly driven by rapid development in the 1990s and the last decade. Ask any Samui local or expat who’s lived here for 15 years or more and they’ll tell you that the beach roads in Chaweng and Lamai and the roads around Big Buddha in the north-east and around Thong Krut in the south-west were nothing more than dirt tracks when they first came. In the last few years some improvements have been made to the ring-road, although it’s clearly an on-going project. And to alleviate some of the pressure on the ring-road a new mountain road opened earlier this year going from Mae Nam to Lamai.


It’s accessed by taking the turning into Soi 1 in Mae Nam opposite ‘My Bar’, just along rom Maenam Police Station. In terms of distance, the mountain road and the same entry and exit points on the ring-road are both approximately 15 kilometres. And, on average, both take about 25 minutes to traverse depending on the time of day, the weather conditions and how fast you drive. The ring-road can get congested at times and there’re four sets of traffic lights to get through. On the other hand, the new mountain road rises to around 1,000 feet above sea-level and has lots of twists, turns and blind bends so driving carefully is recommended. The mountain road is far more scenic though and it’s worth stopping of at certain points along the way for a look around and to take some photographs.


Whilst the road was completed earlier this year, unseasonal storms and landslides in March did cause some damage. At the time of writing (early August) there were still quite a few potholes along the way. A four-wheel drive vehicle would be best, as a saloon car could well get into difficulty in some areas. And as the hills climb rather steeply in parts, two people on a rented scooter will also struggle, with the passenger having to walk on occasion. A decent of-road bike would be safer particularly if you want to take any turns onto dirt tracks along the way.


Going from the Mae Nam side the first 5 kilometres are flat and wind past a couple of resorts before going through endless coconut groves. The road starts to rise and at the 5.5-kilometre mark there’s a little restaurant on the side of the road. As you start to climb at the 6.2-kilometre mark, where you’ll see where the road was rain-damaged and partially repaired, you need to slow down and take it carefully for a couple of hundred metres. There’s then a strip of land where you can park up at the top of the rise and take in the view without blocking the road. There aren’t many safe places to stop a car at the moment so taking a bike will afford more opportunities to have a good look around.


After 7 kilometres there’s a Y-junction; take the left-hand fork and at the 7.8-kilometre mark, after winding down some steep parts of the hill and around a few sharp bends, you get a wonderful elevated view of Lamai Beach and the ocean below. There aren’t any obvious places to stop a car but if you slow down you might be able to pick out a spot between the trees to pull over onto. When you get to the 9.8-kilometre mark there’s a T-junction. Both come out at different ends of Lamai. First of all, if you take the left-hand turn, the concrete road continues down the hill for another couple of kilometres and then for the last three kilometres you start to see lots of small resorts, bungalows for rent, a private school and a few roadside food stalls. At around the 13.5-kilometre mark, there’s a road on the right beside the Montra Resort that comes out after 600 metres on Lamai Soi 2 just opposite the PTT station. If you keep going and don’t turn off at Mantra the road comes out after another 1.2 kilometres just to the side of the Buddy Oriental Beach Resort on the ring-road. Turn left to go back to Chaweng or turn right to continue to the south of the island.


Back at the T-junction (9.8 kilometres from Mae Nam), you can also turn right. It’s a bumpy dirt road for the next 1.5 kilometres and a saloon car probably wouldn’t make it. Inexplicably, there’s then a concrete road for 300 metres before it goes back to being bumpy and rutted for the next 900 metres until once again joining a concrete road for the last 2.3 kilometres. There’re plenty of houses along this last stretch and it is obvious people have lived here for a long time. Eventually this road comes out at the Pratcharatprattana Road turning on the ring-road which is about one kilometre past Tesco Lotus or 750 metres after the main Lamai Temple on the way to Hua Thanon.


Whilst the road does need further repairs, some well positioned crash barriers at strategic points, a few more designated stopping off points and a café or restaurant around the peak it’s well worth a trip. No doubt all the improvements will happen and as the road gets busier food and drink stalls will surely appear. It’s just a matter of time. Take in the views whilst you can, enjoy the peace and tranquillity, and explore around a bit. Just drive carefully and experience a very different side to Samui.


Johnny Paterson


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