Koh Samui is the premier island destination in the Gulf of Thailand; Samui is easily accessible, features beautiful beaches and a variety of activities, and caters to visitors on any budget.
Koh Samui, Thailand’s second most popular island destination, is located in the Gulf of Thailand roughly 700km south of Bangkok and 80km from Thailand’s eastern seaboard.
Samui is the third largest island in Thailand and the largest in an archipelago of more than 80 islands that includes the Ang Thong National Marine Park, a kayaking paradise and top day trip from Koh Samui. While Samui is small enough to be circumnavigated in just a couple of hours by motorbike or car, the island features such a variety of beaches and activities that it would be impossible to experience everything in a single visit. However, this was not always the case.
Until the late 20th century, Samui was home to a small community engaged primarily in fishing and harvesting coconuts. There were not even any roads on the island until the early 1970s. However, once foreign visitors discovered this island gem, lush with tropical forest, fringed with palm tree lined stretches of golden sand, and surrounded by pellucid, aquamarine water, development quickly followed.
Today the beaches of Chaweng and Lamai are bustling beach towns with fabulous beach resorts, internationally acclaimed restaurants, and world-class nightclubs; activities around Koh Samui include cooking courses, yoga instruction, Muay Thai training, scuba diving, and even golf. While there are a few quieter beaches that are ideal for relaxation, particularly those that feature some of the finest 5-star resorts in the world, and some that exude old world charm, such as Bo Phut, which features converted, old Chinese shop houses, Samui is far from the unspoiled island it was a few decades ago. Nonetheless, Koh Samui has developed into its own style of island paradise, retaining much of its natural beauty while offering nearly every imaginable activity or service for the ultimate beach holiday.
Koh Samui, the third largest island in Thailand, is the second most popular island destination in the kingdom, thanks in part to its airport that connects the island to a number of Thai and international destinations. Koh Samui features spectacular beaches, outstanding dining, and a comprehensive array of activities including cooking courses, yoga instruction, Muay Thai training, scuba diving, and even golf. Koh Samui has secluded beaches that are the exclusive domain of luxury 5-star resorts, family friendly beaches with shallow shores, and shopping, dining, and nightlife venues that make the island a paradise both day and night.
As the second most popular Thai island, Koh Samui is easy to get to via land, boat, or air. There are numerous boats from Surat Thani province on the Thai mainland as well as from neighboring islands Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. The Koh Samui international airport is served primarily by Bangkok airways, which flies to and from Koh Samui and seven domestic and international destinations.
Once on the island there are many ways of getting around Koh Samui. Rental bicycles, motorbikes, and cars, both with and without drivers, are easily available, as are songtaews and taxis for getting around and between beaches.
Getting to and from Ko Samui
- By Train:
The train station in Surat Thani is serviced by trains from cities to the north and south, including Bangkok and Hat Yai. From Surat Thani minibus or songtaew transfer to the boat pier is required to get a ferry to Koh Samui.
- By Car:
As many of the ferries connecting mainland Surat Thani with Koh Samui are car ferries it is possible to rent a car and drive to Koh Samui. From Bangkok to Surat Thani the trip takes from 8 to 10 hours; from Phuket or Hat Yai the journey is 5 and 6 hours respectively. Once in Surat Thani, the ferry piers are another hour from the town.
- By Bus:
Numerous busses from throughout Thailand, including Bangkok and Phuket, service Surat Thani town, the capital of the mainland province that includes Koh Samui. From Bangkok it is an 11 hour bus ride. From Surat Thani minibus or songtaew transfer to the boat pier is required to get a ferry to Koh Samui, although some tour operators will provide transfers in a bus-boat package. Busses arriving late at night may miss the last ferry to Koh Samui so it is often preferable to take an overnight bus to Surat Thani and then catch a morning ferry to Koh Samui.
- By Air:
Bangkok Airways offers direct, non-stop air services between Koh Samui (USM) and Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Krabi, Pattaya (U-Tapao), Phuket, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Flying time between Koh Samui and Bangkok is under an hour; flights between Samui and Phuket or Pattaya are under 45 minutes.
Thai Airways offers limited domestic service to and from Koh Samui; Berjaya Air connects Koh Samui and Kuala Lumpur; and Firefly provides service from Penang and Kuala Lumpur to Koh Samui.
For individuals from qualifying nations there is Visa-on-Arrival service available at Samui Airport.
From Samui Airport to the various beaches there are numerous ground transportation options. Minibuses offer seats for around 100 baht/person. A private taxi will cost between 150 and 300 baht depending on distance and negotiation, as most taxis on the island are unmetered (despite external appearances advertising Taxi-Meter).
It is also possible to fly to Surat Thani, which is serviced by budget air carrier Thai AirAsia. While fares are considerably more inexpensive, the flight, transfer to the pier, boat ride to Koh Samui, and final transfer to your hotel can take upwards of a full day.
From Surat Thani there are three different piers serviced by two ferry companies: Ratcha Ferry, which shuttles between Surat Thani’s Don Sak pier and Koh Samui’s Thong Yang pier up to seven times daily; and the Songserm Travel ferry, which has two services: one between Surat Thani’s Tha Thong pier that leaves throughout the day and a slow, night boat from Ban Don pier to Koh Samui’s Nathon pier.
Between Koh Samui and Koh Phangan and Koh Tao there are a number of boat services that leave from various beaches and piers on Koh Samui. The most popular of these services is from Lomprayah, who offers combined bus/high speed catamaran ferry service from Bangkok to Koh Samui with stops in Hua Hin and Chumphon, from where the ferry departs to Koh Nang Yuan, Koh Tao, and Koh Phangan along the way to Koh Samui.
Getting Around Ko Samui
There are now quite a few taxis on Koh Samui that are identical in appearance to Bangkok’s meter taxis. However, Koh Samui’s taxi drivers are loathe to use them (if they have meters at all.) Don’t expect to pay less than 50 Baht for the shortest ride and make sure to negotiate the fare prior to heading out to your destination.
Red pickup trucks with benches in the back serve as ‘busses’ around the island, traveling fixed routes and allowing passengers to get on and off at will. It’s easy to flag one down; in fact, they actively solicit passengers. Ask the fare prior to climbing aboard if you want to ensure you won’t get ripped off. It’s even possible to hire one for the day if you don’t mind riding in the back.
For anywhere from 100 to 1000 baht, depending on the size of the bike, motorbikes can be rented in any beach town on Koh Samui. While the roads on Koh Samui are considerably better than those on other Thai islands (particularly neighboring Koh Phangan) renting a motorbike is a risky venture. In addition to the risk of injury, a common occurrence for foreigners on the island, there are occasionally scams involving rental motorbikes. As you must typically leave your passport as a deposit for a motorbike it is best to look for a reputable motorbike dealer even if the price is slightly higher.
Finally, be aware that helmets are required by law and wearing closed toes shoes is common sense.
For getting around the beach where your resort is located a bicycle is an excellent option. Many resorts offer complimentary bicycles, although they can otherwise be hired for no more than a hundred baht a day. Make sure to wear a helmet and ride cautiously, there are many potholes and cars don’t give bicycles the right of way.
There are both cars and jeeps for rent on Koh Samui. As the winding, single lane roads don’t allow for much speeding and traffic is rare, self driving an open air Suzuki Samurai’s is an enjoyable way to sightsee Koh Samui, often for the same price as hiring a car and driver or a taxi for the day. As the island is relatively small, it’s also nearly impossible to get lost!
Be aware that only Commercial First Class Insurance provides full coverage on rental cars (as opposed to limited personal or third party only insurance). Most international car rental agencies will offer this insurance (some only for those with a valid international driver’s license) while local companies may or may not. You may wish to request a copy of their insurance policy and ensure that it states "For Commercial Use". Regardless, inspect rental vehicles prior to rental and drive with caution, particularly as traffic in Thailand can be quite confusing, especially the habit of Thai motorcycles drivers to drive on the wrong side of the road.
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