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Getting There

By Plane -- Thai Airways (tel. 02356-1111; www.thaiair.com) now has at least a couple of flights each day from Bangkok to Samui, though Bangkok Airways (tel. 02270-6699 in Bangkok, or 07742-2234 in Samui; www.bangkokair.com) is the main server, with more than 20 flights daily. Bangkok Airways also has two daily flights that connect with Phuket (Bangkok Airways' Phuket office is at tel. 07622-5033) and another daily flight that connects with U-Tapao airport near Pattaya (Pattaya office tel. 03841-2382). They also have convenient direct flights connecting Ko Samui with Hong Kong and Singapore.

Ko Samui Airport (tel. 07724-5600) boasts open-air pavilions with thatched roofs surrounded by gardens and palms. If you're staying at a larger resort, airport shuttles can be arranged when you book your room. There's also a convenient minivan service from the airport that will cost you less than haggling with taxi drivers. Book your ticket at the transportation counter upon arrival, and you'll get door-to-door service for around 200B, depending on how far it is to your resort. A trip to the farther tip of the island (Laem Set) will take around 45 minutes. When you leave, keep in mind that there is a 500B departure tax from this airport.

By Ferry -- Songserm Travel (tel. 07750-6205 in Surat Thani) runs a loop from Surat Thani pier to Chumphon, stopping at Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Tao, and taking around 11 hours for the complete journey. Rates are 250B for Surat-Samui, Samui-Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Pha Ngan-Ko Tao; rates are 450B for Ko Tao-Chumphon. Lomprayah (tel. 07742-7765) links the islands by high-speed catamaran and runs some specialized trips, with similar rates. Seatran Discovery (tel. 07747-1174) offers a popular choice for comfortable interisland travel and day trips, and costs 140B from Surat to Samui. Car ferries run from Donsak pier, which is 60km (37 miles) northeast of Surat Thani. Raja Ferries (tel. 07742-3190) offers a car and passenger service from Donsak to either Ko Samui (cost 450B) or Ko Pha Ngan (cost 620B). (There are still no connections for cars between the islands.)

You can buy ferry tickets at the port, although many book a bus or train ticket with the ferry ride included, from Bangkok or other points in Thailand. Not only does this work out a bit cheaper, but it also means you don't have to be troubled by touts along the way.

If you book ahead at a resort, most will arrange transport from the Samui ferry pier at Nathon to your hotel. Otherwise, songtaews make the trip to most beaches on the east coast for as little as 70B, if they can get a packed truckload from the boat landing (and it can be very packed). Songtaews make stops along the way as required, so you can jump on or off. There are also private taxis at the pier; expect to pay at least 500B from Nathon pier to Chaweng.

Orientation

Though Ko Samui is the country's third-largest island, with a total area of 247 sq. km (95 sq. miles), its entire coastline can be toured by car or motorcycle in about 2 1/2 hours. The island's main road (Hwy. 4169), also called the "ring road," circles hilly, densely forested terrain. Ko Samui airport is in the northeast corner near Bo Phut. The ferries and express boats arrive on the west coast, in or near Nathon (depending on the boat).

Samui's best beaches are on the north and east coasts. The long, sandy east coast is home to Chaweng and Lamai beaches, both frenetic in high season. It's here you'll find the heaviest concentration of hotels and bungalows. The south coast has a few little hideaways, and the west coast reveals a handful of sandy strips, but few amenities.

Nathon is where the ferries dock on the west coast, and being the island's main town and community, this is where you'll find banks, the TAT office, and the post office.

Visitor Information

The TAT Information Center is at 370 Thawi Ratchaphakti Rd. just north of the main ferry terminal in Nathon (tel. 07742-0504). This office has TAT accommodation lists and information pamphlets, published annually, but such websites as www.kohsamui.org and www.samuiguide.com are often more up-to-date. Pick up free magazines, such as the Samui Explorer, Samui Guide, and What's On Samui, in restaurants, bars, and shops. Samui Dining Guide (www.samuidiningguide.com) lists the best restaurants on the island. You can also pick up any number of free maps with lots of adverts and info on spas, events, or fun local happenings.

Getting Around

By Songtaew -- These pickup trucks are the easiest and most efficient way to get around the island and advertise their destinations with colorful signs. They follow Route 4169, the "ring road," around the island. Hail one anywhere along the highway and beach roads. To visit a site off the beaten track, ask the driver to make a detour. Most stop after sundown, after which they tour Chaweng. Daytime fares are fixed at around 40B to 60B, but after dark they charge like taxis; night owls face steep fares (500B and up).

By Rental Car -- Renting a car is far safer than a motorcycle, though the mountainous roads here have many hairpin bends and steep gradients. Remember your defensive driving skills; they will be required to navigate around common obstacles such as motorcycles coming at you in your lane, a wandering dog, or an intoxicated truck driver with a death wish.

Budget Car Rental (tel. 07796-1502) has an office at Samui Airport and another at Chaweng Beach (tel. 07743-0022). Avis (tel. 084700-8161, mobile) and Hertz (tel. 07742-5011) also have offices at the airport. All offer a range of vehicles, starting as low as 1,200B, and do pickup and delivery.

Local rental companies and travel agents have good deals for car rentals and they're generally sound. Bargains can come as low as 900B per day, but don't expect comprehensive insurance coverage. Read all the fine print, particularly how much you must pay in case of an accident.

By Motorcycle -- The roads on Samui are busy, narrow, and poorly maintained, with plenty of novice drivers (usually gung-ho foreigners). Road accidents injure or kill an inordinate number of tourists and locals each year, mostly motorcycle riders, but two wheels and a motor is still the most popular way to get around the island, so stick to the left-hand lane and go easy. A 500B fine is imposed on anyone not wearing a helmet, so keep it on despite the temptation to feel the wind in your hair. Technically, you should have an international license, but small operators rarely ask to see it; they prefer to keep your passport in case of problems. Travel agencies and small operators rent motorcycles, and most resorts can make arrangements. A 100cc Honda scooter goes for around 150B per day, while a 250cc chopper or trail bike starts at around 500B. For the best big bikes, look for Ohm Cycles, on the far southern end of Chaweng (on the road heading to Lamai; tel. 07723-0701).

Fast Facts

All the major banks now have branches in every town, with their main branches in Nathon along waterfront Thawi Ratchaphakti Road. You will find numerous money-changers and ATMs across every part of the island, many with Western Union money transfer services; the latter has an office in Chaweng at the Centara Grand Beach Resort. There are post offices in Chaweng, Mae Nam, and Lamai -- all on the main Samui ring road. The main post office is on Chonwithi Road in Nathon, but you probably won't hike all the way back to the main pier just for posting. Most resorts will also handle post for you, and stamps can be purchased in small shops in beach areas; be warned that any postcards you send will probably arrive long after you have returned home. For Internet service, there are numerous places scattered throughout the island. Try the kind folks at Multi Travel and Tour (164/3 Moo 2, Chaweng; tel. 07741-3969).

There are excellent private hospitals and 24-hour rescue and evacuation services if required. They are expensive but will deal directly with medical insurance companies. Bangkok Samui Hospital (tel. 07742-9500) and Samui International Hospital (tel. 07723-0781-2) provide top-class medical care. Bandon International Hospital (tel. 07742-5382) is also a fine facility, with English-speaking physicians who make house calls. All are located around Chaweng.

For emergencies, dial tel. 1155 or 07742-1281 for Tourist Police.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.