Crystal clear waters and idyllic beaches, lush tropical greenery and modern ‘island style’ shopping molls, fancy jewellery shops and colourful local markets – you name it – Samui has it all. No wonder that the third-largest island in Thailand, Samui has become popular amongst both luxurious holiday makers and backpackers on a budget who can each find the experience, accommodation, activities and entertainment that they come for. Whether its candle-lit dinners on post-card beaches, wild and adventurous partying through the night, treks through forests and jungles or days spent oiled up on the beach, Koh Samui is the right choice to get it.
Getting to Samui
Koh Samui is an exceptionally popular destination for travellers, and as such, travelling from Thailand's capital, Bangkok, to Koh Samui is easy, understandable and affordable for those who are not content to fly to their destinations and miss out on all of the scenery that a land trip to the South of Thailand has to offer.
Take in the country's natural beauty as you go, by travelling to Koh Samui by bus or train, and then ferry for a relaxing, comfortable, affordable and eye opening trip. Travelling by day unlocks the mysteries of Thailand while you are in flux, but for those who have done the trip before, night buses and trains are an excellent way to get there without suffering the boredom or discomfort of a long trip.
Travelling to Samui involves a trip to Chumphon or Suratthani where a ferry to the island can be caught.
From Bangkok via Chumphon/Suratthani bus + ferry
Buses to Chumphon/Suratthani leave from the Southern bus terminal in Bangkok. They take from 6½ hrs to 12 hrs to arrive. Busses depart regularly during the day, the majority reaching Suratthani between 1am and 5am, so be ready to while away some time before boarding your ferry to the island.
By far the most popular service is that offered by Lomprayah company with buses leaving from their office in Khao San Road in Bangkok which is convenient if you are staying somewhere in the area. The bus brings you directly to the pier in Chumphon from where Lomprayah catamaran delivers you to Koh Samui via Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. You can instead take a bus to Suratthani from where there is also ferry service (Lomprayah, Seatran) bringing you to Samui in 2–2½ hrs. Book a couple of days in advance.
There is another option, also from Khao San Road in Bangkok, offered by Thai Sritram company. It is cheaper than the popular Lomprayah service and uses Seatran ferries to reach Koh Samui, though your journey will last two hours longer than with Lomprayah.
From Bangkok via Suratthani train + bus + ferry
Catching the train from Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok to Chumphon or Suratthani is a fantastic way to travel for those who need an added level of comfort and mobility. If you are not too interested in the scenery or have done the trip before, then opt for a night train. First, second or third class sleeper are the most comfortable options with chairs that fold out into bunk beds, space to walk around and a certain degree of privacy depending on which class ticket you choose. A very convenient night option is #85 train departing from Hua Lamphong train station in Bangkok at 7.30pm and arriving to Suratthani around 7am.
Combined journeys to Samui include train tickets from Hua Lamphong train station in Bangkok, bus transfer to the ferry port in Suratthani, and the ferry trip to the island.
Note: Due to reasons concerning passenger safety, the Thai government have prohibited the sale of alcohol on trains so you will not be able to buy any on the trip (beer included).
From Koh Phangan to Koh Samui
Koh Samui lies a stone’s throw away from Koh Phangan. Lomprayah and Seatran take sheer 20 minutes to get to the island; there are slower Songserm (30 min.) and Haad Rin Queen (50 min.) ferry boats, too.
From Koh Tao to Koh Samui
Both Lomprayah and Seatran Discovery take 2–2¼ hrs departing from Koh Tao’s Mae Haad to Maenam and Bangrak Seatran Pier on Samui correspondingly. With Seatran you have to book at least one day in advance while Lomprayah requires two days advanced booking.
Can I transport my car to Samui?
There are two operators which provide car transportation to Samui. Seatran leaves from Donsak on the mainland delivering passengers and their vehicles to its pier in Nathon. Raja ferry, also from Donsak, heads to its own port in Lipa Noi on the western coast of Samui. Choose port-wise as both services are equal in price and quality. Note that you may have to make a long queue to board the ferry with your car while heading back to the mainland. To avoid this, book your ticket in advance. Another important thing is that you cannot transport your car from Samui to the nearby Koh Phangan directly; you will need to sail back to Donsak and then make a new journey to Koh Phangan instead.
Koh Samui is large and you will need a way to get around easily, since doing it on foot is very limiting and uncomfortably hot, but there are many far better options available depending on how you like to get around.
Taxis (songtaews) are a great way to travel long distances on the island, or if you want to go out partying and know you shouldn't drive yourself around. While they are convenient and can get you everywhere from anywhere, this is probably the most expensive option, as you can expect to pay between 50 and 100 THB a person which adds up quickly.
Motorcycles are a fantastic way to get around. Motorcycles (and bicycles, too) can be rented from almost every resort on the island. Rentals are cheap, petrol is cheap, and they give you the freedom to go just about anywhere you want to go as you explore the island’s natural wonders. A word of caution though, you will undoubtedly see many tourists about with bandages and scrapes on their arms and legs, almost all of the time these are caused by accidents on scooters. You should be able to find a scooter for less than 200 THB a day. Most of the rental shops insist that you leave your passport behind. While this is a bit unnerving, it is also standard practice throughout Thailand, so be very careful with your scooter if you want to avoid any trouble.
Where to stay
Hat Chaweng is packed with all kinds of accommodation to suit any budget. It is the epicentre of the action, and the northern part of the beach can be quite noisy. Hat Lamai is another popular choice attracting holiday-makers both with its long stretch of white sand and a good choice of restaurants, bars and shops along the main road. In between the two beaches hides a little gem of Crystal Bay with – as the name suggests – crystal clear waters embraced with imposing boulders of a small bay. Hat Bang Rak (or Big Buddha Beach) leis relatively close to the airport (you may hear some noise), but the white sand of its western part compensate for it.
Bo Phut is of particular interest not because of the beach but thanks to its trendy boutique hotels peppering Fishermen’s Village where strong Chinese influence can be felt even today. Families often opt for Mae Nam with its gentle sea. The West Coast is not a good choice if you come for the sea, but the sunsets are exceptional there.
Tip: Do not spend all your time on Samui on one and the same beach; try at least a couple of them and you will be rewarded with the diversity which this island has to offer.
Besides usual diving, snorkelling, kayaking, jungle-trekking and waterfalls find a couple of hours to visit the only rum distillery in Thailand, Magic Alambic. They produce Caribbean rum with a variety of natural flavours (obviously, they have coconut rum, too). They offer tasting sessions and sell rum, too (600-700 THB per 700ml bottle). Located in Baan Bang Kao. Travellers with the little ones in tow will love Paradise Park, which is a considerably large petting zoo, which is also one of the best viewpoints on the island.