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Ko Samui

Getting there and away

Air

Ko Samui airport opened in 1989, and is owned and operated by Bangkok Airways. Most flights to and from the island are with this carrier, but the airport has now opened up flights to other airlines. Samui airport must be one of the more beautiful in the world, tastefully built and furnished in true tropical style without being tacky. The airport is in the most part open plan, with huge ceiling fans, bamboo and wood finishes, and a comfortable departure lounge. Brightly painted open-air buses carry passengers from the plane to the terminal.

Bangkok Airways offers daily flights to Ko Samui from major Thailand destinations such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Krabi, Pattaya, Phuket and Trat. The first flights depart and arrive at 06:00, and the last at 22:00. THAI flies daily from Bangkok, Silk Air from Singapore, and Firefly from Kuala Lumpur.

Budget airline Nok Air offers flights from Bangkok to the mainland city of Surat Thani, with a bus and ferry trip included in the package to Samui, at about one third the price of direct flights with Bangkok Airways. Flights to Samui are generally more expensive than to other parts of Thailand, due to the fact that the airport is privately owned by Bangkok Airways. There has been talk of opening a second airport in the south of the island to compete with Bangkok Air's high prices, but this has not yet been given the green light. The airport offers a minibus service to all areas on the island at rates as follows:

Airport - Big Buddha 70 baht
Airport - Chaweng (North) 100 baht
Airport - Chaweng (South) 120 baht
Airport - Lamai (North-Centre) 150 baht
Airport - Lamai (South) 200 baht
Airport - Taling Ngam 600 baht
Airport - Bophut 120 baht
Airport - Mae Nam and Ban Tai 150-200 baht
Airport - Bang po and Nathon 200 baht

    Train

    An overnight train ride in a sleeper cabin is a comfortable yet cost effective way to travel between Samui and Bangkok. The train station is at the mainland city of Phun Phin, just to the north of Surat Thani, but the trip can be combined with a ferry and bus ride and booked as one trip via any travel agent.

    The journey lasts about 12 hours, and the cost per person for a first-class sleeper cabin is about 1,150 baht, with cheaper second class options being available at about 600 baht per person.

      Bus

      Several classes of bus travel to Samui, ranging from budget carriers through to VIP air-con options. A trip from Bangkok to the mainland town of Surat Thani will take about 12 hours, and cost 600 to 900 baht, depending on the class booked. Packages are available combining bus and ferry to Samui. Buses also operate on the southern grid route, to Krabi and Phuket, as well as to Malaysia.

        Boat

        Two main ferry companies, Seatran and Raja, operate from Donsak on the mainland to Ko Samui. These ferries both carry vehicles, so if you are self-touring Thailand by car, this is your best way to get to Samui. The trip is only 90 minutes, comfortable and safe. The cost is approximately 450 baht for a car with the driver getting passage for free, plus about 175 baht per person.

        Boats leave every hour or so, from about 05:00, with the last ferry at 19:00, depending on the season. Ferries don't operate in high seas. Tickets can be pre-booked online, but be careful of doing this if you are driving yourself to the pier, as unforeseen traffic can make you miss your booking and you'll have to pay for another ticket.

        The ferries are seldom full, so you can arrive and wait in the queue. The Seatran ferry from Donsak lands at the Nathon Pier, and the Raja Ferry lands at the pier in Lipa Noi.

        The Lomprayah high-speed catamaran leaves from the pier in Mae Nam, and transports passengers to the neighbouring islands of Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao, or further via the mainland coastal town of Chumporn, on by bus to Hua Hin, and travel the last section by air-con bus to Bangkok. A one-way trip between Bangkok and Samui lasts about 12 hours, at a cost of approximately 1,400 baht. The ferry is air-con, with comfortable seating and refreshments are available on board. The trip to Ko Pha Ngan takes 20 minutes, and to Ko Tao 90 minutes. Bookings can be made online at www.lomprayah.com.

        The Seatran Discovery, a smaller ferry, leaves from Bang Rak pier near Big Buddha, and also travels between Samui, Pha Ngan and Ko Tao several times a day. www.seatrandiscovery.com

        Private speed boats operate between Samui and Ko Pha Ngan, especially when Ko Pha Ngan's famous Full Moon Party is on. These are a little more pricy than the ferries, and leave from Big Buddha pier in Bang Rak. Safty can be an issue and overloading is common, especially during the Full Moon Party. Do not get on a boat you feel is overloaded. A number of speedboats have sunk on the Samui to Pha Ngan route.

          Getting Around

          A songthaew is literally what its name suggests -- song means two, and thaew means bench, so it's basically a pick-up truck, usually red, with two benches facing each other at the back. They serve as the local bus service during daylight hours, travelling on fixed routes, but with no official stops; just flag one down when you see one, hop on and pay as you disembark.

          Fares range from 30 baht to 100 baht. Expect to pay 50 baht from Chaweng to Lamai, or Mae Nam to Tesco, for instance. Routes or destinations are clearly marked on the front and sides in English. They mainly ply the Ring Road, as well the northern and southern loop roads that link to this road.

          At night songthaews also operate as private taxis and can be hailed down to go anywhere, but fares increase sharply so make sure you negotiate a rate before leaving.

          Sample fares and trip times from Nathon include:

          Bang Po 30 baht taking 10 minutes.

          Mae Nam 40 baht taking 20-30 minutes.

          Bophut 50 baht taking 25-35 minutes.

          To reach Big Buddha Beach (Bang Rak), you'll probably need to take two songthaews from Nathon, one to the traffic lights at Bophut for 50 baht, then wait for another for about 30 baht to Big Buddha, as it is on a different route. Occasionally one will be going that way, but not likely. Time will depend on waiting time between the two songthaews. (30 minutes from Nathon to Bophut and 10 minutes for Bophut to Big Buddha)

          Choeng Mon As above, will need to take one from the traffic lights in Bophut, at Fisherman's Village, and then on to Choeng Mon for a further 50 baht. Bophut to Choeng Mon is about 25 minutes by songthaew.

          Chaweng 70 baht taking 40-50 minutes.

          Lamai anti-clockwise, 60 baht taking 30 minutes.

          Taling Ngam is not on the Ring Road, so less frequent. Ask when getting on if they veer off the Ring Road. Trip will take 25-30 minutes and cost around 60 baht.

          Motorbike taxis
          Motorbike taxis operate at similar fares to songthaews, but they'll take you wherever you like rather than following fixed routes. Again, it is best to negotiate a fare before getting on to ensure no big surprises or arguments at your destination. Motorbike taxi drivers usually wear bright yellow or green vests with the word TAXI emblazoned on them. They usually carry a spare helmet for passengers -- do make sure you ask to use it.

          Metred taxis
          Samui has an abundance of yellow and red "meter taxis" that cruise the main tourist routes searching for customers. Although they are called "taxi meter", they don't ever turn on the meter and work on fixed fees. It is crucial that you determine the rate before your trip begins, and know that rates are highly negotiable -- make sure you bargain. A trip from Mae Nam to Tesco Lotus would cost between 200 to 300 baht and expect to pay the same from Lamai to Chaweng. From the pier in Nathon to Chaweng would be around 400 to 500 baht. Taxis are considerably more expensive on Samui than elsewhere in Thailand.

          Scooter rentals
          Automatic scooters are available for rent all over the island, from 120 to 250 baht a day depending on the length of rental period. Renting for a month can cost as little as 2,800 baht. Riding a scooter is a great way to explore the island, but be warned: Samui has the highest rate of driving fatalities in the country, so be aware and always wear a helmet, as you are far more vulnerable on a bike.

          Also be careful that you don't end up joining the ranks of tourists sporting a Samui tattoo: a burn on the right calf caused by putting your leg on the exhaust when disembarking.

          Fuel is available all around the island at petrol stations or roadside kiosks selling petrol in used whiskey bottles. Petrol at these stands is more expensive, but convenient -- particularly if you run out -- as you won't travel more than a few hundred metres without seeing one. There will be someone around any corner that can help repair punctures from around 50 to 100 baht. Motorbikes seldom come with insurance, so you will be liable for any damages or repairs. Be sure to check the bike for existing scratches and dents before agreeing to rent one.

          Car rentals
          Cars are readily available for rent, with small manual Suzuki jeeps being the cheapest and most popular vehicles at about 700 baht per day. More luxurious air-con vehicles are available from 1,200 to 2,500 baht per day depending on the model.

          Walking
          Samui is extremely safe to explore by foot as crime is rare. Footpaths are however not very user-friendly, and non-existent in places. Storm water covers are often broken so it is important to watch your step. Families with young children would do best with the 4x4 variety of pushchair due to the uneven pavements.

          Walking on the beach is the best way to explore the seafront resorts, as they are often nondescript from the road, but spectacular from the beach. If you plan to spend the day exploring by foot, remember to pack a hat and sunscreen and keep hydrated, as the sun can be harsh.

          Packing a fold-up disposable raincoat is also wise, as tropical showers can appear with little warning. If you enjoy hiking, there are several paths leading inland to waterfalls and viewpoints.


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