Getting around on Ko Samui is easy, with several options available. Being an island, it is hard to get seriously lost. Keep in mind that there is a main Ring Road, known as the 4169, which as about 45km long, with two prominent linking loop roads: one in the north east (4171), joining Bang Rak, Plai Laem and Choeng Mon to the Ring Road, and one in the southwest (4170) joining Taling Ngam, Thong Krut and Bang Kao to the Ring Road.
It takes about an hour to drive the Ring Road; Samui’s traffic is never congested like Bangkok or Phuket, but you can never really put pedal to the metal due to a reasonable number of vehicles on the road. Enjoy the slow pace, and take the opportunity to view the sights: dogs on scooters, grazing buffalo, and local life in general.
If you plan to stay in central areas along the Ring Road, then public transport such as songthaews, motorbike taxis and metre taxis are options. If you prefer more secluded areas, then hiring a scooter is your best option, or go for a jeep or car if you can afford it. Here’s a two-part guide to the pros and cons of each mode of transport available to you. This post covers songthaews, motorbike taxis and metred taxis, while the next will be renting scooters, cars… and walking.
A songthaew is literally what the name implies – song means two, and thaew means bench. These covered red pick-up trucks with two benches at the back resemble circus trucks with their vibrant painted sides and multi-coloured lights at night. They serve as the local bus service during daylight hours, travelling on fixed routes, but with no official stops; just flag them down, hop on and pay as you disembark.
Fares range from 30 to 100 baht with 50 baht being the average fare from Chaweng to Lamai, or Mae Nam to Tesco for instance, and 100 baht would get you to the other side of the island from Nathon Pier to Chaweng. Routes or destinations are clearly marked on the front and sides in English. They travel mainly on the Ring Road as well on northern and southern loop roads that link to the Ring Road.
At night songthaews also operate as private taxis and can be hailed down to go anywhere, but fares increase sharply so negotiate a rate before leaving.
Motorbike taxis operate at similar fares to songthaews, but do not travel fixed routes, making them a more flexible option. Again, it is best to negotiate a fare before getting on. Motorbike taxis can be recognised by the bright yellow or green vests drivers wear with the word TAXI on them. Ask for a helmet; they usually carry a spare for passengers.
Samui has an abundance of yellow and red “metered” taxis that cruise the main tourist routes looking for customers. Although they are called ‘taxi meter’, they don’t ever turn on the meter as in Bangkok, and work on a fixed fee.
By Rosanne Turner
Last updated on 17th February, 2012.