Samui Wining & Dining
The truth about water in, on, and around Samui – and it’s not all bad news!

The truth about water in, on, and around Samui – and it’s not all bad news!Go online. Do a search for ‘Samui’. And then look at what you come across. I don’t mean actually read it all. I mean scan the websites that come up on the first page of Google. They’re all commercial sites that have invested in search engine optimisation – with the exception of Wikipedia and TripAdvisor which inject a much more reliable note into things – perhaps. The most up-to-date info on Samui is what people are doing and saying right at this minute. Unfortunately, that’s sometimes based on impressions and hear-say, and not on real facts. However, in amongst all of this, you’ll not see anything about water – except advice not to drink it out of the tap!


Samui is an island. And so it’s surrounded by the sea water of the Gulf of Thailand. This you will swim in. The island of Samui also gets rained upon. And, unlike the rainwater in so many parts of the world, it’s completely safe to drink; there is no polluted-emissions layer it’s going to fall through first. And then the rain water soaks down into the ground and into the water table. It’s not surprising that this water subsequently flows downhill through the sub-strata – we’re an island which has nearly all of its landmass on a slope down towards the coast, after all. And then some of this water ends up in your water-pipes – and then you wash in it.

Few visitors know anything about how these various systems work together on Samui. Does it really matter? Yes. Why? Because anything from jellyfish stings to rip-tides to conjunctivitis to skin rashes to stomach upsets or a mild fever that is similar to heatstroke could be due to the rainfall, the time of year, the water table, and the simple and unthinking assumption that what comes out of your resort’s tap or shower head is just . . . water.


just . . . water. However, the silver lining is that today everything is much more controlled and organised. Hotels and resorts are aware of the overall inconsistencies, and have got it sorted with filtration systems and reverse osmosis units. And it’s really only the people who live here full time, renting or having bought their own homes, who need to come to grips with the vagaries of the island’s water supply.The truth about water in, on, and around Samui – and it’s not all bad news! (And they probably have, anyway.)


So let’s first deal with the water in your pipes. Where does it come from and how does it get there? There is an established but (in the last decade) unreliable source of municipal water piped from the reservoirs directly to residential dwellings. Like many other aspects of life on Samui, it is a system that hasn’t kept up with the demands of the many thousands of new houses. And, in periods of drought or low rainfall, it’s often muddy and sporadic, frequently drying up altogether.


A great many places thus get their water directly from a deep-well sunk into the ground. This is probably the cleanest water you’ll find here, coming straight out of the water table and second only to direct rainwater. Rainwater, on the other hand might not be as good as it seems: if it’s collected from run-off from a roof via gutters into a tank, then it can pick up all sorts of contaminates en-route, from bird excrement to dead insects, lizards and rodents. This can also be true for well-water, by the way.


Next, you might find that your house or resort relies on a water tower of some kind, or a plastic or metal tank that is filled before being pumped to your house. Sounds good. But where does this water actually come from? Well, it comes mostly from one of the island’s small cache reservoirs, and water-tankers go there to fill up before coming to deliver. These reservoirs have been created by forming man-made barriers in the natural run-offs from the peak of the island. Unfortunately they attract numbers of wild dogs which are frequently culled by poisoning. Plus atmospheric dust and decomposing vegetation, much the same as the rainwater run-off from your roof. The truth about water in, on, and around Samui – and it’s not all bad news!The residue from all this gets delivered to your tank. But it arrives substantially diluted, and is rarely ever a problem.


What is more significant are the dozens of deep-channel runaways for surface water that lead directly to the sea, and that are found all around Samui. You won’t drink this. But you will swim in it, often unknowingly. And it’s totally hit and miss. Think about it. Rain falls. Then it drains away on the surface, fast, and sometimes for as far as 10 kilometres before it reaches open water.


You can forget about raw sewerage: for many years now resorts and even small estates and houses have established and managed sceptic tanks which are regularly maintained. But surface water picks up animal excrement. This can cause leptospirosis – contact with the eyes, inner ear and mucus membranes can give rise to symptoms which include fever, chills, muscle or abdomen pain, conjunctivitis and skin rash. But it’s easy to avoid, and it creates its own solution, really. If it’s been pouring with rain, don’t go swimming in one of the brown-water channels that are flowing off the land and draining out to sea! And by the time it’s stopped raining, any contaminates will have been diluted or washed out to sea naturally, anyway


The most common question you’ll hear is – “can I drink the water?” This is a naive thing to ask, really. It’s like asking “will I get eaten by a shark”? The answer to both is – probably not! More people every year suffer ‘anguish-by-water’ because they ignore our red-flag ‘Do Not Swim!’ riptide warnings, than from any other cause. It’s all really only common sense – and there’s no online answer for a lack of that!


 Rob De Wet


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