Most residents of Ko Samui have a love-hate relationship with Samui airport, located in Bang Rak, in the island’s northeast. The airport has to be one of the most beautiful in the world: cute, tropical and welcoming. Tastefully built and furnished in true island style without being tacky, the airport is for 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, a novel way to start a tropical holiday.
Well that sums up the love part. The hate part refers to the fact that, as the airport is privately owned by Bangkok Airways, prices for flights to and from the airport are considerably higher than flying to or from elsewhere Thailand.
A one-way ticket to Bangkok from Samui costs on average 4,500B for a 50-minute flight; one consequence of this is that most package holidays to Thailand prefer to head to Phuket. Samui airport’s runway is also too short for larger jets. Could this be a blessing in disguise? Samui already hosts over a million tourists a year, so cheaper flights and larger planes would mean just too many tourists for the island’s infrastructure.
Ko Samui airport opened in 1989 and while most flights to and from the island are operated by Bangkok Airways, other carriers are now allowed to fly and out (at a price, of course). Bangkok Airways offers daily flights to Samui from major Thailand destinations such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Krabi, Pattaya, Phuket, and Trat; THAI flies daily from Bangkok, Silk Air from Singapore, and Firefly from Kuala Lumpur.The first flights depart and arrive at 06:00, and the last at 22:00.
On arrival, after you’re ferried to the arrivals terminal if you’ve come on an international flight you’ll pass through baggage control and customs — and a more laidback customs counter you could not hope for. If you are being collected by your resort or a friend, be sure to follow the signs and make your way to the ‘meeting area’ as your pick up cannot come down into the terminal. You have to exit the building, and follow the path to the thatch-roof area on the outside.
If you don’t have anyone picking you up, your cheapest option to get to your destination in Samui will be using the airport’s minibus service – it’s labelled ‘airport limousine’ next to a smiling monkey face. The service is to all areas on the island at the following sample rates: Big Buddha 70B; Chaweng (north) 100B; Chaweng (south) 120B; Lamai (north-centre) 150B; Lamai (south) 200B; Taling Ngam 600B; Bophut 120B; Mae Nam-Banntai 150-200B and Bangpo-Nathon 200B.
Should you wish to hire a private taxi, you will have to take a short walk to outside the airport entrance, where you will see a row of yellow and red taxis parked. This may seem bizarre, but the taxis are not allowed in the airport grounds; Bangkok Airways’ monopoly means that they can keep them out in order to encourage passengers to use their bus service.
Should you wish to hire a car or scooter for your stay, you would be best to do so once settled in at your accommodation, whether that be a Chaweng hotel or a quiet guesthouse on Mae Nam. The big brand name car hire companies have offices at the airport, but hiring from them is considerably more expensive than renting a car directly from your resort or little travel shops that can be found on every corner.
If you are on the island and looking to get to the airport, you leave the Ring Road (4169) at the Bophut traffic lights, join up with the 4170, passing Fisherman’s Village, and heading towards Bang Rak and Big Buddha. The road is well signposted. Just as you pass Big Buddha fresh food market, go over a bridge and turn immediately left inland. From here you will see the airport signs. Look closely at the image of the plane on the sign: a plane taking off is for departures, and one landing is for arrivals. The two terminals are not joined. You will first come to the arrivals terminal, and then to the departures terminal. Welcome — or bon voyage!
By Rosanne Turner
Last updated on 1st February, 2012.