Photo: Chaweng Beach.

Transport

Use the quicklinks below to jump to the desired section regarding transport in and around Ko Samui.


Air

Bangkok Airways owned Ko Samui airport opened in 1989. 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 including 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 airlines Nok Air and Thai Air Asia 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, an airline with a history of gouging on any route it can. 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 100baht
Airport - Chaweng 130 baht
Airport - Lamai 200 baht
Airport - Taling Ngam 600 baht
Airport - Bophut 130 baht
Airport - Mae Nam 150 baht
Airport - Bang Po 200 baht
Airport - Nathon 200 baht

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Train

Samui being an island, there is no direct train connection to it, but you can get a train to Surat Thani (well Phun Pin to be exact, a town a little to the north of Surat Thani proper) and from there you can do a minibus ferry combination to get to Samui. An overnight train ride in a sleeper cabin is a comfortable yet cost effective way to travel between Samui and Bangkok and is one of the most common ways for budget travellers to approach Ko Samui.

From Bangkok 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.

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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. Long distance buses to Ko Samui (rather than Surat Thani) should always include the cost of the ferry in the fare.

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Boat

As one of the most popular islands in Thailand, there are no shortage of ways to reach it by boat. Ferries leave from the mainland for a number of ports on Samui and there are likewise a number of ferry piers for services onwards to Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao.

To from the mainland
Two main car ferry companies, Seatran and Raja, operate from Don Sak on the mainland to Ko Samui. Don Sak is roughly an hour from Surat Thani by bus. These ferries both carry vehicles, so if you are self-touring Thailand by car or motorbike, these are your only option. The trip takes around 90 minutes.

Boats leave every hour or so, from 05:00, with the last ferry at 19:30 (Seatran's last boat is at 19:00), in each direction. Ferries don't operate in extremely high seas. The Seatran ferry from Don Sak lands at the Nathon Pier, and the Raja Ferry lands at the Raja pier between Lipa Noi and Taling Ngam. Both piers are on Samui's west coast.

The fare direct with either Raja or Seatran is the same – 120 baht per person, 170 baht with a motorbike and 400 baht with a car. Note these fares are only to Don Sak – you'll need to pay for a bus onwards to Surat Thani town from there. Tickets can be bought online with either operator or via 12Go Asia.

Lomprayah runs a high speed service from Don Sak to Nathon pier on Ko Samui four times daily, with the first boat at 09:00 and the last at 16:00. It costs more than Seatran or Raja but Lomprayah is well hooked into the flight and train services to Surat Thani and the fares include the transfer from Surat Thani town, airport or train station. Travel agents will almost always recommend Lomprayah first.

Lomprayah charges 450 baht to Samui from Surat Thani town, 600 baht from the airport and 500 baht from the train station. Tickets can be purchased direct with Lomprayah or via 12Go Asia.

Seatran Discovery Link runs a service from Don Sak to Bang Rak on the north coast of Samui twice daily at 11:00 and 14:30. This takes 1.5 hours and costs 350 baht. This is a better option than arriving at Nathon if you are staying in this part of Samui. Tickets with Seatran Discovery can be bought online direct or via 12Go Asia.

To from the Ko Pha Ngan
Raja Ferry runs three services daily from the Raja pier (between Lipa Noi and Taling Ngam on Samui's west coast) and Thongsala on Ko Pha Ngan. Departures are at 09:00, 14:00 and 18:00, the trip takes 1.5 hours and costs 150 baht for a person, 200 for a scooter and 470 baht for a car. Tickets can be bought online via Raja Ferry or via 12Go Asia.

Seatran Discovery Link has a three times a day (08:00, 13:00 and 16:30) service leaving Bang Rak for Thongsala on Ko Pha Ngan. The trip takes 30 minutes and costs 300 baht. Tickets can be bought direct from Seatran Discovery Link or via 12Go Asia.

Also from Bang Rak, the Haad Rin Queen shuttles between Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan four times daily (10:30, 13:00, 16:00 and 18:30), takes 50 minutes and costs 200 baht. If you are heading to Haad Rin from Ko Samui, this is the service you want to aim for. Tickets cannot be bought online so just show up 30 minutes before departure.

Songserm runs three services a day between Nathon on the west coast of Ko Samui and Thongsala on Ko Pha Ngan. Departures are at 09:00, 11:00 and 17:30, the service takes 45 minutes and costs 200 baht. Tickets can be purchased online via Songserm.

Lomprayah runs four services a day (11:15, 13:30, 17:00 and 19:00) from Nathon to Thongsala on Ko Pha Ngan, the trip takes 30 minutes and costs 300 baht (last departure 400 baht). They also run two services a day from their pier on Mae Nam Beach to Ko Pha Ngan at 08:00 and 12:30 and the trip takes 20 minutes costing 300 baht. Tickets for both routes can be bought online from Lomprayah or via 12Go Asia.

Last but not least, the Thong Nai Pan Express runs between Mae Nam and Thong Nai Pan once daily and costs 300 baht. It stops at Haad Rin, Haad Thien, Than Sadet and Thong Nai Pan. Note at Thong Nai Pan you need to wade onto the boat so this isn't ideal if you have a lot of baggage. It leaves Thong Nai Pan at 09:00 and leaves Mae Nam around midday for the return trip. This service does not run in wet season and tickets cannot be bought online.

To from Ko Tao
Lomprayah runs two services daily (11:15 and 17:00) from Nathon to Ko Tao, the service takes 1 hours 45 minutes and costs 600 baht (700 baht on the late boat). They also run two services daily from their Mae Nam pier at 08:00 and 12:30 taking 1.5 hours and costing 600 baht. All of these services go via Ko Pha Ngan. Tickets can be bought direct from Lomprayah or via 12Go Asia.

Seatran Discovery Link has a three times a day (08:00, 13:00 and 16:30) service leaving Bang Rak for Ko Tao. The trip takes two hours and costs 600 baht. Tickets can be bought direct from Seatran Discovery Link or via 12Go Asia.

Songserm runs two services a day between Nathon on the west coast of Ko Samui and Ko Tao. Departures are at 09:00 and 11:00, the service takes 2.5 hours and costs 500 baht. Tickets can be purchased online via Songserm.

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Getting around

Getting around on Ko Samui is relatively easy, with several options available and being an island, it is hard to get seriously lost. Keep in mind that there is a main Ring Road, Route 4169, which as about 45km long, with two prominent linking loop roads feeding in to it: Route 4171 in the north east, joining Bang Rak, Plai Laem and Choeng Mon to the Ring Road, and Route 4170 in the southwest joining Taling Ngam, Thong Krut and Bang Kao to the Ring Road.

It takes about an hour to drive the main Ring Road; Samui’s traffic is not anywhere near as congested as Bangkok, but you can never really put pedal to the metal (though people try!) 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 or car is your best option as they are not well served by roving songthaews.

Ko Samui has no public bus system, instead relying on songthaews. 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.

In theory, fares range from 50 to 100 baht with 50 baht being the average fare for a short hop and 100 to 200 baht for longer trips. But there can be a lot of variance. We had one guy ask for 300 baht for a ride from Bang Rak to Nathon, said no thanks, and the next one along asked for 100 baht. Note these are for shared rides (where the songthaew stops and picks up other passengers along the way. Always check the fare before you get on and if you are the sole passenger, make sure you are not chartering the vehicle. 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 always negotiate a rate before getting in.

Motorbike taxis operate at similar fares to songthaews, but do not travel fixed routes, making them a more flexible option for solo travellers. Always 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, and work on a pre-arranged fixed fee. Save limos, these are the most expensive ways to travel around Ko Samui.

Automatic scooters are available for rent all over the island. Expect to pay from 120 to 250 baht a day depending on the length of rental period and the type of bike.

Riding a scooter is a great way to explore the island, but be warned: Samui has one of the highest rate of motorbike fatalities in Thailand, so be aware and always wear a helmet. Bear in mind that in the event of an accident, if you do not possess a motorbike license, or are not wearing a helmet, or have been drinking, your travel insurance may be invalidated. Read your policy small print carefully and always always wear a helmet.

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 the exhaust when disembarking.

Rental shops generally insist on an original passport in return for a motorbike. While this is widely considered to be unwise, in our experience, we were unable to rent a scooter without leaving a passport with the rental agency. Always check the bike for any existing damage, note it on the rental document, and take a photo of any damage. This is to avoid a situation where you return a bike with pre-existing damage and the rental agency demands you pay for the damage.

Fuel is available all around the island at fuel stations or roadside kiosks selling petrol in used alcohol bottles. There will be someone around any corner that can help repair punctures. Expect to pay 50 to 100 baht for basic assistance.

Motorbikes seldom come with insurance, so you will be liable for any damages or repairs. Should you have a minor mishap, and your bike needs repair, have it done yourself at one of the many bike repair shops. Often it is just a case of replacing a broken mirror or plastic mouldings. When returning the bike to the rental company, just produce the repair slip, and they will not be able to charge inflated rates for repairs.

Car rentals are readily available across the island 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 baht to 2,500 baht per day depending on which model you choose.

Renting a car from your resort is often cheaper, and they won’t ask you to leave your passport as security, which is always a risky business anywhere in Southeast Asia.

Samui is extremely safe to explore by foot as crime is rare. Footpaths are however not very user-friendly, and non-existent in places. Drain covers are often broken so it is important to watch where you are walking.

Walking on the beach — without the pram, of course — is the best way to explore the seafront resorts, such as say along Lamai, as they are often nondescript from the road, but spectacular from the beach.

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Ko Samui? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Thailand.


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