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Welcome to Koh Samui!
Welcome to Koh Samui! | © jipe7 / Flickr
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How to Navigate Transport in Koh Samui, Thailand

Picture of Sarah Williams
Updated: 16 May 2018
Koh Samui is a popular island in the Thai Gulf. Accessible by boat or plane, there are several ways of exploring the large island on your trip. Unlike many places in the Land of Smiles, however, Koh Samui doesn’t have tuk tuks or an organised public bus service. So, how can visitors get around? Here’s a handy guide to transportation in Koh Samui.

Songthaew

Songthaews are a typical Thai form of transportation. They are small converted trucks or pickup trucks with two benches in the back and a covered roof for shade. Often, there are tarpaulin sides that can be dropped down in the case of rain. The cheapest form of transportation on Koh Samui, songthaews generally have a sign on the top showing their final destination. These signs may not be accurate, though. People can hop on and off the vehicles anywhere along the route; simply stick your hand out to indicate that you want a songthaew to let you board and press the buzzer to get the vehicle to stop to let you off. Songthaews follow fluid routes around the island; most operate around the main ring road and along other major routes. In the evenings, many songthaews are available for private charter, operating like private taxis. You’ll need to negotiate the fare before starting your ride.

Local tip: You stand the best chance of flagging down a songthaew on a busier road. Do always check the destination and price before boarding.

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A Thai songthaew | © shankar s. / Flickr

Taxis

Taxis are a major form of transportation on Koh Samui and you’ll find them almost everywhere on the island. Taxis often spot you before you see them, and you’ll rarely walk far along a road before a taxi slows down and either shouts or beeps to see if you want a ride. Koh Samui’s two-tone taxis are generally yellow and red, unlike in other cities where it’s common to find taxis in all colours of the rainbow. It is almost unheard of for taxi drivers to use the meter – they know tourists have few options and are in a weak bargaining position. They operate in a tight-knight group so there’s often little point in comparing prices. It never hurts to try to negotiate the fare first, but don’t be too disheartened if the driver doesn’t budge. In any case, always agree the price before starting the journey. Ask your accommodation for an idea of normal rates to avoid surprises – taxis on Koh Samui are often more expensive than in other parts of Thailand.

Local tip: When you find a fair and reliable taxi driver get his or her phone number or Line credentials (a popular messaging app in Thailand). You can then contact them any time you need a ride rather than going through the bargaining process time and time again.

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Taxis in Chaweng, Koh Samui | © Aaron Toth / Flickr

Motorbike taxis

Motorbike taxis offer a door-to-door taxi service for one. Solo travellers and thrill-seekers can quickly and conveniently zip along Koh Samui’s streets, avoiding any congestion to reach their destination. As with taxis, it can be a good idea to find out general prices from an independent third party and you should always agree the price in advance. Motorbike taxis often wait in groups and the drivers wear high-visibility vests.

Local tip: Ensure that your driver gives you a helmet, even for a short distance. Thailand’s roads are among the most dangerous in the world and it’s a lot better to be cautious than to be sorry later.

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Motorbike taxi driver in Thailand | © Twentyfour Students / Flickr

Rental vehicles

Cars, scooters, and larger motorbikes can be rented with relative ease in Koh Samui. The requirements for renting a car are often a little more stringent. You should always have the necessary paperwork (license and insurance) in order before renting a vehicle, even if the company doesn’t ask to see it. Remember to drive on the left in Thailand. There are pros and cons of each type of vehicle. Cars are safer, more comfortable, can transport larger items, and can be used for larger groups, but they are more expensive to rent, there can be traffic jams, and finding parking can be a chore. Scooters and motorbikes, on the other hand, are cheaper to both rent and to fill with fuel, can avoid congestion, and it’s rarely difficult to find a suitable parking spot. They are, however, more dangerous and can only carry two people with minimal luggage. Both the driver and the passenger should always wear a helmet on a scooter or motorbike.

Local tip: Thoroughly check any rental vehicles before leaving the rental company and take photos of any pre-existing dents, scratches, and other defects to avoid any potential scams on your return.

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Scotters for rent in Koh Samui | © Lim Ashley / Flickr

Ferries and speed boats

Scheduled ferry and speedboat services connect Koh Samui with mainland Thailand and nearby islands. There are four main piers on the island: Nathon, Lipa Noi, Maenam, and Bangrak. Nathon is the busiest of Koh Samui’s piers and is where you’ll find the most car ferries. Services connect with Surat Thani and Chumphon on the mainland and several islands. Lipa Noi is a small pier with ferries to and from Surat Thani. Maenam pier connects with Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, and Surat Thani. Bangrak is the closest pier to Koh Samui’s airport. Services mainly connect with the islands of Koh Tao and Koh Phangan.

Local tip: Many travel agencies offer combination boat and bus tickets, which can be good value for money. Shop around for the best deals.

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Nathon Pier in Koh Samui | © Eli Duke / Flickr

Domestic flights

There is a small and privately owned airport on Koh Samui. Koh Samui Airport (USM) was built by Bangkok Airways. As such, most flights from the island are to Bangkok and operated by Bangkok Airways. Flights are frequent. Thai Airways also now operates some flights between Koh Samui and Bangkok, and there are a handful of international departures, serving Malaysia.

Local tip: Book your flights as far ahead as possible to get the best prices.

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Plane on the tarmac at Koh Samui Airport | © TGr_79 / Flickr

Transportation apps

Grab operates in Koh Samui, but there are much fewer drivers than the local ride-sharing app of NaviGo. Somewhat surprisingly, Grab prices are also often slightly higher than regular taxi fares. NaviGo, on the other hand, offers cheaper fares.

Local tip: With ride-sharing programs still relatively new on Koh Samui, don’t leave ordering your ride until the last minute, if possible, to ensure there is a vehicle available.