by Karol Cieśluk 

Samui International Airport  (IATA: USM, ICAO: VTSM), also known as Koh Samui Airport is located on the island of Koh Samui at the eastern Gulf of Thailand in the Surat Thani Province.

The island, Thailand’s second biggest, is a part of the Chumphon Archipelago and has a population of around 63,000.

Its airport is often called as the most beautiful in the world due to its unique, exotic bamboo-and-thatch-made infrastructure and the stunning natural surroundings.

Samui International is a privately owned airport, built by Bangkok Airways in 1989 for an estimated cost of BHT 800 million with the 1800 meter runway.

It is located on the north-eastern part of this 228.7 km²-small island, between Bophut and Chaweng beaches. The airport was the brainchild of Dr Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth, president and CEO of Bangkok Airways, who has seen an opportunity to increase airlines popularity by constructing Samui International.

The project was prepared by the Habita Company, who designed the airport, the construction works began in 1982 and lasted 7 years.

The airport is suited to operate only Airbus A319, Boeing 737-400, Boeing 737-800SFP ATR72-500/600 aircraft, as well as business and private jets.

Currently, there is a limit of 50 operations daily at the airport, which aims to lower the impact of the noise pollution on the local community. However, Bangkok Airways is aiming to increase the limit to 80 operations daily–the decision lies in the hands of the Thai authorities.

In 2004 a BHT 500 million modernization programme was introduced resulting in a 300m runway extension, bringing it up to a total of 2060m, as well as increasing the airport’s capacity to 16,000 passengers daily or six million passengers annually.

The airport has two Terminals, international and domestic, both remain open-sided, which together with the widespread ponds and exotic flowers create the holiday and cosy atmosphere.

At present, Samui Airport has six terminal buildings, four for handling domestic flights and two for international flights with the total of 12,113 square meters of which 1,939 is a commercial area.

In 2017 Samui International Airport handled 2,631,710 million passengers, 3% more than in 2016, and over 31 000 aircraft movements 3.3% more than in 2016, making it the seventh biggest airport in Thailand.  

The passenger traffic has now been rising annually since 2009, noting 5% growth in 2015 and 14% in 2016.

There is currently five airlines flying to Koh Samui airport, the biggest being Bangkok Airways which offers 11 destinations (Bangkok–Suvarnabhumi, Chengdu, Chongqing, Chiang Mai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Krabi, Kuala Lumpur–International, Pattaya–U-Tapao, Phuket, Singapore).

Lucky Air offers flights to Chengdu and Kunming; SilkAir flies twice daily to Singapore; Tibet Airlines to Xi’an; and Thai Airways to Bangkok.

After signing a contract with Bangkok Airways, Thai Airways International began flights to Samui in February 2008. Since then, it has been flying twice daily on the 149-passanger Boeing 737-400s; however, Thai Airways have decided to cease their operations on route from Bangkok and the last flight is set to be in September this year.

Such decision follows the code-share agreement signed by Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways, yet it creates a monopoly for Bangkok Airways to operate between Koh Samui and Thailand’s capital.

In the past, Bangkok Airways has faced criticism from the hoteliers on the island for their alleged anti-competitive behaviour against other carriers willing to operate from the airport. Bangkok Airways currently offers an immense number of 28 flights daily between Bangkok and Koh Samui.

The flight from the Thai capital to the island takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes and its operated by both the ATRss and the A319s on the airline’s fleet. A roundtrip prices average at about EUR240.

One of the reasons for Samui’s International success is its year-round popularity, in 2016 the market wide yearly hotel occupancy has reached 72% and accounted 1.2 million travellers.

Samui is also becoming an increasingly attractive destination for the Chinese travelers, their number grew by 61% in 2017 on year-to-year basis, which is reflected by the presence of the Chinese carrier at the airport and Bangkok Airways daily non-stop flights between Samui-Hong Kong, Samui-Chengdu, Samui-Guangzhou and Samui-Chongqing and it plans to launch new charter services to Xi-An and Changsha in the near future.

Without no doubt, the airport has heavily contributed to a tourist boom on the island, which was earlier only achievable by boat.

It has significantly improved the island’s international popularity, which, thanks to easier communication, became one of the world’s most known holiday destinations.

Samui International Airport Facilities

Samui International Airport is famous for its engaging open-air shopping and dining area named Samui Park Avenue. Some tourist agencies even offer a visit there as a part of the around-the-island tour.

There is a wide choice of boutiques, shops, restaurants and cafés. Those include a Jim Thompson shop, a Bookazine branch, a pub, a pizzeria, and more.

It is well suited for people in transit with long waiting times, as one can relax on the grass or at a picnic table, located before the security screening. It may, however, be a bit problematic during the rain, as the shelter space is limited.

For people interested in unusual artefacts, Samui Robot Group shop sits just outside Samui Airport. This ‘recycling’ shop sells sensational Alien and Predator-like monsters.

They are built out of used auto and motorcycle parts. Somewhat scary looking, they’re nevertheless testimony to Thai handicraft skills. It is open from 08:30 – 19:30.

The design and the organization of the airport embrace the tropical paradise, perfectly fitting into its surroundings, creating a very enjoyable experience throughout the duration of the stay.

In fact, local materials such as palm and rattan were used to combine the Polynesian resort style with the Thai architecture, creating a very rare mixture.

There are no queues, nothing is overwhelming, the processes are very fast and smooth, even the passengers seem to stroll through the park avenue patiently, enjoying their last holiday moments on this beautiful island.

It is a very unique experience to be able to walk through the airport and feel like you are walking through a small town or an open-air shopping mall.

After luggage screening and walking through narrow paths surrounded by flowers, water, small souvenir shops and a bar we arrive at the gates, the area is relatively small and can become a bit overcrowded, lacking seating places. However, we can enjoy the view of aeroplanes landing, taxiing and taking off right in front of us, not further than 100 meters away.

At Samui International, even the bathrooms remind the passengers about the beauty of the surrounding nature, due to the aquariums with exotic fish located inside them.

As we can read on, “Koh Samui Airport has won several awards for its design, notably gaining first place in the Outstanding Architecture competition staged by Siam Architects under the patronage of the King of Thailand in 1998 and a Board of National Environment Award for aviation environmental protection and awareness in 1989.”


There were two major accidents in the airport’s history–first one happened on November 21, 1990, when a Bombardier Dash 8 operating as Bangkok Airways Flight 125 crashed during landing in difficult weather conditions, killing all 38 passengers on board.

On August 4, 2009, Bangkok Airways Flight 266, an ATR-72 flying from Krabi to Ko Samui skidded off the runway, killing one of the pilots.

Final Thoughts

Thailand’s and Koh Samui’s continuously growing popularity should ensure the demand for the traffic to Koh Samui International. However, we cannot forget about a number of significant limitations which could potentially hinder the airports’ growth.

These include the daily operation limit and a short runway, limiting the number of aircraft eligible to fly to VTSM.

Because of that, the traffic should be expected to grow steadily yet slowly over the next couple of years.

We also cannot forget about the significant domination of Bangkok Airways which operates 80% of all daily flights at the airport, possibly affecting the prices, thus in the best interest of tourism on Koh Samui it would be to ensure fair competition especially on route from Bangkok to Koh Samui.

The airport itself is expected to remain as boutique and cosy as it is, making it one of the most unique and beautiful airports in the world and a must to visit for every aviation passionate.