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Getting There

By Plane -- While Thai Airways (www.thaiairways.com; tel. 02356-1111) has a couple of flights each day from Bangkok to Samui, Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com; tel. 02270-6699) has the lion’s share of flights, with up to 25 flights a day in season. Bangkok Airways also has daily flights that connect domestically with Phuket, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai, and international flights to Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Chengdu, and Guangzhou. Flights from Bangkok take roughly an hour but cost an average of 4,000B one-way. During high season, book seats at least two months in advance.

Ko Samui Airport (tel. 07724-5600) boasts open-air pavilions with thatched roofs surrounded by gardens and palms. Most resorts can arrange an airport transfer when you book your room, but some add a hefty fee for this convenience; if it’s over 1,000B, you’d be better off taking a cab (those average 500B).  

By Ferry -- 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 400B from Nathong or 600B from Surat Thani. 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 130B per person, or 450B with a car) or Ko Pha Ngan (cost 150B/person, 550B with a car). 

You can buy ferry tickets at the port, although many operators sell 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 3 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 (www.tourismthailand.org; tel. 07742-0504). This office has TAT accommodation lists and information pamphlets, published annually. Siam Map Company (www.siammap.com) prints free booklets on the island’s hotels, spas, restaurants, and more. They’re widely distributed at hotels and the airport, and the Samui Guide Map is a terrific resource for tourists. 

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). If you plan to do a lot of exploring, renting a car will be more cost effective.

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.

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. Most of the usual multinational chains are also on island.

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. 

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 (www.bangkokhospitalsamui.com; tel. 07742-9500) and Samui International Hospital (www.sih.co.th; tel. 07723-0781-2) provide top-class medical care. Bandon International Hospital (www.bandonhospitalsamui.com; tel. 07742-5382) is also a fine facility, with English-speaking physicians who make house calls. All are located around Chaweng. The public hospital is Ko Samui Hospital (www.samuihospital.com; tel. 07791-3200) is near Nathon Beach on the northwest side of the island. 

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.