Transport Ko Samui
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.