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 Koh Samui from Koh Phangan
Koh Samui lies within an easy reach of Koh Phangan. When Koh Phangan is rocking with its crazy Full Moon parties and you cannot find any accommodation on the island, do not fall into despair and consider making your base on Samui. In any case, if you happen to Koh Phangan, it makes sense to visit its more glamorous brother just to understand what all that Samui fuss is about.
The fastest service from Koh Phangan to Samui is offered by Lomprayah High Speed Catamaran and Seatran Discovery. They whisk you to Samui in about 20-30 minutes for THB300-THB350.
Both Lomprayah and Seatran Discovery pick up passengers from Thong Sala pier on Koh Phangan. On Samui, Lomprayah arrives to Maenam Pier (departures from Koh Phangan at 11am and 4.20pm) or Nathon Pier (7.15am, 12pm and 2.30pm). Seatran uses its own Bangrak Seatran Pier.
If you come and go to/from Samui with your main destination being Koh Phangan’s Full Moon parties, your best bet is a small Haad Rin Queen which plies the route between Haad Rin on Koh Phangan and Big Buddha Pier on Samui. The timetable is subject to change; as a reference consider these four boats: 9.30am, 11.40am, 2.30pm and 5.30pm. Transit time is from 50 minutes to one hour. It is not possible to buy tickets or make a booking for Haad Rin Queen online. Tickets cost THB 200.
If you are staying in Haad Rin or some other east coast beaches on Koh Phangan, you can opt for a rickety Thong Nai Pan Express. Depending on where you board it, expect to pay from THB 200 to THB 400 per person. Thong Nai Pan Express runs only when the weather is good.
Can I transport my car from Koh Phangan to Koh Samui?
It is not possible to go with your car directly from Koh Phangan to Samui. You will need to sail back to Donsak from Koh Phangan and then make a new journey to Samui instead. Go to the mainland from Koh Phangan with Raja Ferry (THB 550 for a 4-wheel car) and change to Raja Ferry or Seatran heading from Donsak to Samui. Seatran delivers passengers and their vehicles to its pier in Nathon. Raja ferry uses 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 it is always wise to book in advance if you do not want to make a long queue to board the ferry with your car (or find all the ferries full on the day you want to travel).
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 (songthaews) 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.