When you think of Thailand, its beaches are probably among the top things you want to visit. There are two island groups that are the most popular: the Andaman coast islands (among which are Phuket, Krabi and Ko Phi Phi) and the Gulf coast islands (Ko Samui, Ko Phangan, Ko Tao).
There are many options of getting around Thailand in general, and as can be expected, the quicker it is, the pricier it gets. Ko Samui is no different, with the added complication of being, well, an island.
Total cost per person, each way: about $150, depending on flights
Total time each way: 2.5 hours (1 hr flight time, 1.5 hours airport)
Flights from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) to the island of Ko Samui (USM) are pretty much a monopoly of Bangkok Airways, and thus can cost more or less $300 per person, round trip. This is the fastest, no-hassle option.
BY PLANE + FERRY
Total cost per person, each way: about $50, depending on flights
Total time each way: about 6 hours (1 hr ferry ride, 1 hr flight, plus variable wait and transfer times)
Budget airlines Nok Air and Thai AirAsia present an excellent alternative for flights, with prices as low as $100 round trip. There is a pretty major caveat: they fly out of Don Mueang Airport and fly to Surat Thani airport. (Note: Thai Airways also offers flights from Suvarnabhumi to Surat Thani, but generally the costs are a bit higher.)
Surat Thani is on the mainland, halfway down the peninsula. What this means is that you need to take a ferry from there to Ko Samui, and the cost (and time) needs to be added into your calculations. It’s still a pretty decent deal and we actually took this option coming back from Ko Samui. We booked Thai Air Asia from Ko Samui to Surat Thani for less than $50 for the both of us, an amazing price!
Then we had to get our ferry tickets. There are several companies that serve the route; the most popular are Seatran, Raja Ferry and Lomprayah. Prices are comparable; we paid about $50 for the both of us. We went with Lomprayah because their high-speed catamarans only take 45 minutes and the ferry times worked with our flight. Lomprayah also provided shuttle pickup from our resort in Ko Samui to the island’s main pier, Nathon, and also from Donsak pier on the mainland to Ko Samui airport (Raja Ferry also provides this). This was much appreciated since it saved us a lot of time and stress. Our ferry left Nathon pier at 8 AM and we arrived at Surat Thani airport around 11 AM, including transfers and wait time, which worked out perfectly.
Pro tip: Surat Thani airpot has a fairly large restaurant. Prices are comparable to anything you’ll find on Ko Samui and are not overly inflated as in many airports, which makes it a good option along the journey.
BY TRAIN + FERRY
Total cost per person, each way: up to $50, depending on class of train and berth
Total time each way: 15-18 hours (12 hr train ride, 1 hr ferry, variable wait and transfer times)
We purchased our tickets at Hualamphong Rail Station for an overnight train from Bangkok to Surat Thani and got a connecting ferry ticket as well, including transfer from train station to pier, for under $50 for the two of us. This seemed like an excellent deal: we saved a night at a hotel and went on an adventure at the same time. We figured the risks were pretty low and if the experience sucked, well, at least we were spending five days on an island paradise.
The experience sucked a bit. Besides our issues with the train ride itself, the ferry company wasn’t too great… Songserm has a high-speed boat as well, so it was the same travel time as Lomprayah. David said that their boats were actually more comfortable. However, the transfer wasn’t that smooth.
Note that we had taken an overnight train. When we got off at the train station, we were met by employees who seemed to be in a great rush; there were about a half-dozen of us passengers and they only gave us 10 minutes to freshen up in their one small office bathroom before ushering us into the coach, all the while telling us to please hurry up. We traveled by coach for about an hour, then stopped at a sort of office with a holding area. There were other passengers here who presumably had arrived on different trains. After a half hour we all boarded a different coach and were then taken to Donsak pier. So it was very much “hurry up and wait.”
As you can see, there are many options for traveling from Bangkok to Ko Samui. You can in fact also take a bus and a night boat, which is possibly the cheapest option there is, but I have not had experience with this nor know anyone who has. I would recommend it only if you have a LOT of time, as the bus takes about as long as the train (and is much less comfortable) and the night boat is also a longer ride than the daytime ferries mentioned above.
My preferred method would be to go by plane and ferry, as it strikes a balance between cost and time. Whichever way you choose, in this case I truly believe that it’s not much about the journey as the destination. Ko Samui is an amazing place and you will surely feel that every penny and every hour you spent traveling there is worth it. For a sneak peek, I leave you with this: