Getting around Koh Samui is not at all difficult thanks to a modest but adequate range of transport options. Being a mere 25 kilometres long and 21 kilometres across, most journeys around Thailand’s third largest island will be pretty short, but there is a choice available to suit any distance and any budget.
Most of the transport options which are common in Thailand’s top tourist destinations have also found their way to Koh Samui, though there are one or two notable exceptions. The island has no tuk tuks, for example, and no proper formalised bus service. However, the public transport will be able to get you to most of the key destinations and vehicle rental is available for those hard-to-reach places.
Songthaews (Pick-Up Taxis) in Koh Samui
The nearest thing Koh Samui has to a bus systems is the songthaew. Its name meaning ‘two benches’, they are generally little more than a pick-up truck with a roof covering two benches fitted in the back. During the day, they follow set routes and the truck will generally have its destination painted on the front in English. There are no official bus stops, so you can flag one down anywhere.
Using a Songthaew does require that you have a reasonably good idea of where you are going. The road network of Koh Samui is far from complicated, so this will not require much effort. The problem is that, with set routes and no route maps available, you have to just keep riding until it is as close as possible to where you want to go. When you want to get off, ring the bell (you’ll find doorbell-like buttons on the ceiling in the passenger compartment) or bang on the roof to get the driver’s attention.
Songthaews are the cheapest method of getting around Koh Samui, costing as little as 50 baht per person, and obviously increase the further you go. In the evenings, some songthaews operate as private taxis. This means they will take you directly to your destination, but they will also charge you considerably more for doing so. You will need to discuss exactly how much with the driver before setting off.
Taxis in Koh Samui
While the taxis of Bangkok come in a huge range of vivid colours – each denoting a different taxi company or collective - the taxis of Koh Samui are uniformly yellow and maroon. This, obviously, means that there is only one company operating on the island, which unfortunately does make this one of the more expensive methods of getting around. While most of the vehicles do have a meter, very few ever use it, with drivers instead negotiating a fixed price for the journey – often quite a high price relative to the distance. With no other taxi company to use, there isn’t much of a choice. In fairness to them, taxis are certainly the most comfortable of the public transport options, with vehicles almost all well maintained and air-conditioned. They will also take you directly to your destination instead of following fixed and indistinct routes.
Considerably cheaper (and less comfortable) than four wheels, motorbike taxis in Koh Samui can be found by looking for the riders in brightly-coloured vests. Being small and manoeuvrable, motorbike taxis can zip through traffic and narrow back streets, making them much quicker for short journeys around towns. As with other forms of taxi, you will need to agree a price in advance, but you won’t need to bargain as hard to get a fair one.
Renting a motorbike is certainly the most economical way to get around Samui. Rental rate per day ranges around 200-300 baht, while gasoline costs about 30 baht per litre. An international driving permit is necessary to legally drive a motorbike in Thailand. Please note that if you don’t carry a motorcycle driver’s license, police may let you go, but your insurance might not cover you in case of accidents. Driving a moped to explore the island is a real pleasure but you need to be really, really careful. Due to extremely poor education on traffic rules and safety, Thailand ranks among the highest in the world when it comes to road fatalities. With that in mind, be very vigilant when driving your motorbike around Samui.
Car Rental in Koh Samui
Renting a car in Koh Samui is among the safest, most comfortable and most convenient means of getting around available, though it does come at a cost. You have a choice of places to hire from, ranging from well-known international brands like Avis, Hertz, Budget Car Rentals and National Car Hire all the way down to local independent firms and private individuals.
You can rent a car from as little as 800 baht per day, but such a great deal will often mean getting a less-than-ideal vehicle, usually without insurance. Given that Koh Samui has one of the highest rates of traffic accidents in Thailand, this could prove considerably more expensive in the long run. Safer options, such as hiring from a well-established local or international company, can cost around 2,000 baht per day.
If you plan to explore the island a lot, and particularly if you intend to visit the hilly interior, a 4 x 4 is strongly recommended. Those of Koh Samui’s roads which aren’t just sandy tracks are often in a state of considerable disrepair and the roads leading inland can be particularly steep. As with riding a motorbike, a valid Thai or international driver’s license is required to drive in Koh Samui and, while the smaller outfits might not check that you have one, the reputable global organisations certainly will.
Bicycle Rental in Koh Samui
If you’re feeling particularly energetic and eco-friendly, there are some shops available for renting bicycles. A good mountain bike will generally cost you about 80 baht per day, making this one of the cheapest methods of getting around Koh Samui. However, given the state of the roads and the island’s hilly topography, it is also the slowest and most exhausting method.