Ko Samui is the second biggest island in Thailand, and one of the most popular ones for tourists. Only two islands – Phuket and Ko Samui – have airports, but unlike Phuket which is connected to the land through a short bridge (so you can reach the island by car ), Ko Samui can only be reached by flying or cruising.
You can reach the island in various ways and transportation vehicles, and each way has its advantages and drawbacks. In this article you will find detailed information on the means of transfer to the island, along with useful tips and video. To demonstrate the regional geography, I will attach a map of the three eastern islands – the northern one Ko Tao, the middle one Ko Phangan and the southern one – Ko Samui, along with pier locations in Chumphon and Surat Thani (Tapee and Don Sak).
During my many years in Thailand, I’ve visited Ko Samui and Ko Phangan many times and arrived at the islands in indifferent ways – direct and indirect flights, driving and sailing combinations – so this review includes my own personal experience and not just plain details. Everything that is stated here refers to Ko Phangan as well, so keep that in mind.
This is of course the easiest and quickest way to get to Ko Samui, yet also the most expensive – the flight cost is higher than to any other destination in Thailand. This is because Ko Samui features a single, privately owned airport which belongs to Bangkok Airlines; the company operates all flights to the island, apart from very few flights by Thai Airways.
As a result, flying directly from Bangkok and Ko Samui will cost some 150-200 USD per passenger for one way (depending on the season, date etc.). This price is considerably higher than internal flights to other destinations in Thailand, which means that flight tickets to several passengers would cost as much as spending several nights in a luxurious hotel anywhere in Thailand.
Please note: if your destination is Ko Phangan – continue from Ko Samui airport to the designated pier (a 30-minute cruise) – a more detailed description is available in the Ko Phangan articles.
If you are not interested in paying the high cost of a direct flight, an indirect flight is an option; it’ll take you to the south, where you’ll continue to Ko Samui by combining transportation and sailing. Indirect flights are cheaper of course but cause quite a hassle.
Here you have 3 options, 2 of them rather popular and the other is less known
- Flying to Surat Thani (combined with transport and sailing): after flying to the airport near the city of Surat Thani, use transportation to the Ko Samui pier. In Surat Thani, there are two piers from which you can sail to Ko Samui – Tapee which is near the airport yet requires 2-hour sailing, and Don Sak which is 30 minutes away from the airport where sailing takes an hour and a half.
Tapee pier is operated by Lomprayah and Don Sak features several other companies – that will be covered later in the article. You can purchase combination tickets that include transportation and sailing in each of these companies.
- Flying to Nakun Si Thammarat (combined with driving and sailing): after flying to the airport near the city of Nakun Si Thammarat, take a 90-minute ride to the Don Sak pier and then a 90-minute cruise to the island. The main company here is Seatran and its pier is in Don Sak. In the past, Lompraya company also had a pier in Don Sak, but currently (July 2018), its cruises depart from Tapee pier near Surat Thani.
Pictured: Don Sak pier
- Flying to Chumphon (combined with a short ride and sailing): Nok Air and Lompraya operate a deal that includes a flight + sailing. The flight to Chumphon is followed by sailing to Ko Tao, Ko Phangan and Ko Samui (sailing from Chumphon to Ko Samui takes about 5 hours).
Pictured: the Chumphon pier
Transportation and cruises (without flights)
You can take a bus ride, use the train or a private transportation to Chumphon, and from there either sail or head further south to Surst Thani and sail from there to Ko Samui. Lomprayah company offers such combination packs from Bangkok and Hua Hin as well, towards each of the 3 eastern islands. This is the cheapest yet longest way.
Short Summary: the different ways of traveling to Ko Samui (Best way to get to Koh Samui)
Before I continue to review sailing – here is a quick summary of the options that were detailed so far.
Direct Flight – arriving from Bangkok to Ko Samui in the shortest yet most expensive way will take you at least 4 hours (traveling to the airport, waiting, flying, then taking a ride to your hotel in Ko Samui). If you are heading to Ko Phangan – add 3 more hours to the schedule.
Indirect Flight – it’ll take you twice the time – at least 8 hours, and to Ko Phangan 2 more hours.
Without a flight – double the time once again and you’ll get 16 hours of traveling to Ko Samui (and 16 hours back).
While sailing in one of the ships of the the big cruise operators may be comfortable and pleasant, it takes a long waiting and walking with your luggage along the piers, in rain or sun, before and after sailing, so this is quite a hassle that you should consider, especially when traveling as families with children.
There must be a very good reason to get to a certain destination, if it requires you to spend so much money or put as much effort. Please consider if Ko Samui or Ko Phangan are worth the trouble. Thailand has amazing beaches on the western side (Andaman sea), and excellent islands as well (Ko Lanta, Ko Samet etc), that can give you everything you wish for in a vacation, without requiring expensive flight tickets or going through all the trouble.
Sailing to Ko Samui
Among the cruise operators, Lomprayah and Seatran are the biggest companies sailing to the islands. Other companies like Raja Ferry also transfer cars from Don Sak to Lipa Noi pier in Ko Samui.
The big companies also have bus and van transports to different destinations, and you can also purchase combination tickets for transport & sailing.
Lompraya operates High Speed Catamaran in a route that resembles half a circle – from Tapee pier near Surat Thani to Chumphon. Its first stop is Ko Samui and then Ko Phangan, Ko Tao, Ko Nang Yuan and finally Chumphon (and the other way around with reversed order of stops).
Note: the map from Lomprayah website hasn’t been updated yet; sailing to Ko Samui is available only from Tapee pier at this time (July 2018).
Thus far, I’ve sailed many times to all eastern islands with Lomprayah, hence the details and video attached to this article refer to Lomprayah’s sailing service.
All cruises were comfortable and pleasant, as the ships are spacious and have several decks. The lower deck – Passenger Cabin is large, air conditioned but it is also the most crowded, and beyond the many seat rows (which remind you of plain seats), you’ll usually find a small kiosk, where you can purchase soft and warm drinks along with some snacks.
The upper Sun Deck is open and spacious with benches. If the weather is nice, it’s pleasant to sit and enjoy the wind and the landscape of open sea and islands along the way. Between the upper and lower decks there are middle decks, featuring VIP rooms with larger seats and more space.
There are two types of ‘rooms’ – the first is medium level, yet better than the lower deck, and features 50 seats; the second is the Executive Lounge, which features 20 spacious, extra comfortable seats.
Pictured: VIP room
To sit in one of these rooms, you’ll have to pay an additional 100 baht for VIP or 200 baht for Executive Lounge. If you saved a lot of money by taking an indirect flight + sailing, I recommend treating yourself with one of these rooms, and particularly the Executive Lounge, which is extra roomy and comfortable. There’s no need for that in short cruises between Ko Samui and Ko Phangan, but in other longer cruises – it’s a great experience!
Pictured: Executive Lounge
Short Summary of Sailing to Ko Samui
All the cruises I took thus far were comfortable – especially when taking the Executive Lounge – yet the main problem in all cruises (of all companies) is the long waiting and walking along different piers with your luggage, before and after the cruise.
Fortunately, the water was good and there was no rain in any of the cruises I took so far, plus my luggage was small and there weren’t any children with me. I can only imagine that walking along the piers in the rain with a big family, young children and/or heavy luggage can be unpleasant to say the least, so consider that while you plan your trip.
The pleasant sailing yet the annoying waiting, walking along piers with the luggage – and in fact the entire experience is hard to describe, even with so many words.
Therefore, I made the attached video for you, of the different piers and the route from Ko Samui to Chumphon – including Ko Tao and Ko Nang Yuan stops, the long waiting and walks along the piers. Hopefully it will help you.