Samui Wining & Dining
Two thousand years of tourism makes Samui the place it is today.

Two thousand years of tourism makes Samui the place it is today.

Probably you’re on holiday yourself as you read this – staying in a resort on Samui, enjoying the life here and relaxing. You’ll also know that you are lucky; you’re no doubt aware that just a couple of generations back most people couldn’t go on holiday. Holidays might appear to be a recent invention but that’s actually far from the truth. They date back millennia. The Romans – if they were rich and leisured enough – enjoyed nothing more than going on holiday. The only trouble was that very few could afford to do so.


But when they did, a Roman vacation didn’t look so different to one that would be common now. A Roman vacationer would quickly feel at home in the kind of resorts you find in Thailand; especially when it comes to swimming pools and spas. Spending time in pools was de rigueur for the Romans. Food and drink were equally high up on the list of what made for a good time. And like us, they were used to travel being fast: their roads were the medieval equivalent of today’s motorways.


Even if most Romans couldn’t afford to go abroad and spend time in luxurious places, they were pretty keen on having ‘feriae’ or days off work. Those days off were treated seriously. Some were for religious reasons, others were government-related. Some might strike us as bizarre. The historian Livy says that it became the longstanding practice in Rome that if there was a shower of stones, a festival would be ordered in response, a whole nine days of it. You could be fined if you worked during these official times off. Even slaves were excused their normal duties.


After Rome fell, the Middle Ages were definitely not such great times to travel: work, war and religious pilgrimages were the main motives for setting foot far from home. None of them could be equated in any way with going on holiday. Roads had become poor, and travel generally a nasty business.


But over the years, travel became easier and gradually holidays began to become more popular. But you still needed to be well-off to partake in them. Young, wealthy men undertook tours of Europe, a custom that started in the late 16th century. A bit like today’s ‘gap year’ except they lasted a lot longer. Women weren’t encouraged to go on such tours however. Most of the privileged male travellers stayed within Europe.Two thousand years of tourism makes Samui the place it is today. It was hard enough travelling round the continent, let alone venturing beyond it.


As roads became better, and stagecoach travel began to be popular, more people were attracted by the idea of spending time abroad. Roads were built that were of good quality, and accommodation became gradually better and better.


It could be said that it was a spirit of exploration that made people travel, but gradually something else came into being that was to become even more a motivation for setting off abroad: convenience. And convenience first came in the shape of steam-powered transport that replaced horses.


 With the coming of steam trains and steam boats, travel became not just for the rich, but gradually for a far greater number of people. From the 1830s onwards, you could buy a ticket, hop on a train and head for the nearest coast, there to spend the day, or perhaps longer. And whereas exploration always seemed arduous and chancy, convenience was, of course, easy – yet just as much fun. The idea of holidays really began to take root. A mighty boost was given by Henry Ford who began to make cars, which facilitated simply leaving town for the day whenever possible. That was just the start; it wasn’t long before air travel became popular and far-off destinations became the norm.


With ever-greater numbers of holidaymakers and faster transport systems, the world soon started looking like a much smaller place. People started visiting each other’s countries and all it took was a plane journey. South- East Asia, which had once required an arduous and lengthy voyage, now became a day’s flight. Not surprisingly, people began to want to come here.


Thailand, or Siam, as it used to be called lay outside European interest until contact and trade started in the early 16th century, with the Portuguese and then the French, Dutch, and English coming to visit. Siam was an exotic place, little was known about it, but it became ever more popular,Two thousand years of tourism makes Samui the place it is today. especially due to American soldiers vacationing here during the Vietnam War.


It wasn’t until the 1970s that people started talking about Koh Samui, an idyllic island far to the south of Bangkok. It was hard to get to – you had to take an uncomfortable night ferry – but once you were there, it was an unspoiled paradise. The island quickly became known for its beautiful beaches, friendly people and its getaway-from-it-all feel. As with other destinations in Thailand and Asia, word spread and Samui became ever more popular. Within decades, the island morphed into a busy enough holiday destination to warrant an airport.


What’s happened to Samui is all part of a bigger picture. The island’s history is inextricably linked in with the history of holidays, of millions of vacationers enjoying increasing leisure and luxury on journeys that have taken them ever further and faster. It’s taken all these leaps and bounds for places like Samui, once unknown, to become holiday destinations.


What’s next? It’s now hard to imagine a world without holidays. Yet these days it’s possible to have a holiday without a world. Space is the new tourist frontier and unbeknown to most of us, it’s been open for business for a while. In 2001, Dennis Tito became the first space tourist when he stayed on the International Space Station. Terraforming and off-shore worlds, new planets and new homes in the far reaches of the galaxy are slated to become our new stomping grounds. Though not for a long while yet. Meanwhile, sitting by the ocean and watching the sun set somewhere warm and pleasant, drink in hand, will remain in vogue.




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