Island hopping in Thailand
For those interested in island hopping from Bangkok, here is a rough guide on how to get to Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan as well as some ideas of what to do on the islands in Thailand. Phuket is located the opposite side of the mainland and in my opinion, the beaches are more attractive with soft, fine white sand. However these three islands are a little less built up than Phuket and ideal for island hopping in Thailand.
Personally, I get bored staying too long on a beach, even if trying my hand at some of the watersports and chilling out in the bars on the shore. However, getting to these particular islands from Bangkok can take a long time if you’re not flying, so you kind of need to spend more than just a few days island hopping in Thailand just to make your time travelling there worthwhile. However, a flight to Koh Samui costs from around 3000 baht each way.
How do you get to Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangnan from Bangkok
You can catch a joint ferry + sleeper train from Hualumpong train station in Bangkok to get to any of the islands in Thailand. An ideal time to catch this train is around 19.30 as this way you can get a decent night’s sleep rather than waste day time – the ferry arrives on each of the islands late morning the next day. If you book the joint ferry ticket you will be taken to a shuttle bus to connect you to the Don Sak ferry port from Surat Thani to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, respectively.
I recommend booking the train in advance for island hopping in Thailand though – it can get booked up at times, leaving you prime pickings for a stitching up by the tourist info people booking the buses. You can read my article on why you should book train tickets in advance in Thailand here. Trains to Surat Thani cost around 1300 baht each way (depending on the class).
Alternatively, for island hopping in Thailand you can also catch a bus straight from Bangkok to Surat Thani or Chumpon. From here you can take the ferry to Koh Samui etc. The bus to the Thai islands from Bangkok is slightly quicker and cheaper than the train but not as comfortable; it’s a pretty grueling journey being stuck on a bus for over 8 hours though. A joint bus + ferry ticket costs around 1000 baht if you book with Lomphraya – prices vary from company to company though. You can book tickets at any tourist office in Bangkok, it’s best to do in advance to avoid paying more or being stuck on the slower ferries and coaches.
Koh Samui is the largest of the three islands and more built up too. Koh Samui has plenty of places to eat, bars on the beach and five star resorts. For those visiting Samui for the nightlife, Chaweng is the busiest and liveliest area of Samui to stay. Ark Bar Beach Resort costs around 1500 baht per night and is ideal for the younger tourists to stay in Koh Samui. Bophut is quieter but still packed with plenty of restaurants and pubs on the seafront as well as other day time activities available. This makes it ideal for couples, families or more chilled out groups of friends staying in Koh Samui. Smile House is a very good hotel to stay in Bophut costing from 1200 baht per night.
- How to get to Koh Samui: You can book a ferry at any travel agents or directly at the main ferry ports such as Tong Sala on Koh Phangan or Surat Thani on the mainland. Island hopping on the ferry to Koh Samui takes roughly 1.5 hours from the mainland. Taxis generally charge around 600 – 900 baht to transfer you to your hotel from the ferry port on Koh Samui, there are some minibuses around though – one company called Travel Hut seems pretty reasonable. They have an office located around the port and charge 150 baht per person to drop you to your hotel. Alternatively, you can hire motorcycles for 250 to 400 baht per day (dependant on the engine size). It can be a fun way to explore Koh Samui island and it’s beaches, although the islands in Thailand are quite famous for their particularly dangerous roads so take care.
Walking Street, Fisherman’s Villaage
- What to do in Koh Samui: If staying in Bophut, it can be a good idea to make sure you are staying in Koh Samui on a Friday. In Bophut fisherman’s village there is very lively ‘Walking Street’ every friday night, complete with fire poi shows, traditional thai performances and many stalls selling silks, clothing, handmade coconut beauty products, artwork and authentic Thai snacks. During the daytime, chill out on the beach or try your hand at windsurfing for 360 baht per hour. The conditions in Koh Samui are apparently the best in the world for windsurfing so it’s not a bad place to try it out if you’re interested. As well as windsurfing in Koh Samui, you can also rent kayaks for 250 baht.
Koh Phangan is primarily known for it’s famous Full moon parties and Jungle parties. The best place to stay for groups of friends and good nightlife on Koh Phangan is Hat Rin. V2 Seagate Hip Hotel is situated right in the middle of the nightlife in Hat Rin at a reasonable price too. For families and couples though, a good place to stay on Koh Phangan is perhaps Than Sadet. Mai Pen Rai bungalows on Than Sadet beach are very cheap at around 500 baht. They are located off the beaten track with their own peaceful, secluded beach.
- How to get to Koh Phangan: A ferry to Thong Sala from the other islands costs around 400 baht and it is worth booking in advance with one of the tour offices during the full moon party time. You can also catch a slightly cheaper long tail boat from Maenam beach pier on Koh Samui but you cannot book this one in advance. Again, you can hire a motorcycle once in Koh Phangan but I would only recommend this for very confident drivers as the roads can be very steep and.. jungly.
- What to do in Koh Phangan: There are other beach parties throughout the month in Koh Phangan as well as the full moon party, you can check the dates here to plan when to go. You can hire snorkels for 100 baht per day and kayaks for as little as 100 baht per hour. For fans of the tv shows Takeshi’s castle and Wipeout, you must visit Koh Phangan Wipeout located not too far from Thong Sala pier at Laem Son Lake. It costs 500 baht for the day and they are open Tuesday – Sunday 10am until 6pm.
Than Sadet Beach
Koh Tao is the smallest and most unspoilt of the three islands which makes it ideal for nature lovers and scuba divers island hopping in Thailand. There is an abundance of sea life and coral reefs for diving. Koh Tao is popular island with divers and younger travellers, it’s ideal for groups of friends looking for adventure and cool nightlife.
Sairee beach is the most popular and lively area to stay on Koh Tao but the beach is rather dirty and neglected – it’s worth a visit for the nightlife on the evenings at least though, especially the bars along the beachfront. There are many other more secluded bays such as Ao Leuk and Mango bay for prettier beaches. Koh Tao Resort in Chalok is a good medium with a cool divers community and small, sandy beaches.
It’s best to rent a scooter for 150 baht per day to get around Koh Tao as you cannot catch taxis for any less than 250 baht per journey. Taxi drivers on Koh Tao will generally want between 50-100 baht per passenger or 400-500 baht per journey and will not be haggled down to less than 250 baht.
- How to get to Koh Tao: Again, you can book a ferry to Koh Tao for around 400 baht from either Koh Samui or Koh Phangan. To get from Bangkok to Koh Tao, you can catch a coach to Chumpon pier and take the ferry straight to Koh Tao. It’s slightly quicker to get to Koh Tao from Bangkok than it is to get to Koh Samui or Koh Phangan; the bus can get there in 6 hours and the Lomprayah catamaran ferry 90 minutes. You can book joint ferry + bus ticket for around 1100 baht per person. Alternatively, you can hire a minibus and driver from 3000 baht for the day, it may well make a fun road trip.
- What to do in Koh Tao: There are absolutely loads of different companies which offer scuba diving courses on Koh Tao, from 1 day to 7 days in length and it is the most ideal island to do this out of the three. Alternatively, if you feel there is not enough to keep you entertained on Koh Tao alone to make it worth staying, you can just book a day trip there instead through any of the Tour agencies on the other islands for around 700 baht. This usually includes some lunch, snorkel hire and a trip to Angthong National Marine Park as well.
You can rent ATVs for around 1000 baht to get around Koh Tao, not only are they good fun and safer than scooters, but they can also get you to some of the more isolated and more beautiful bays of the island too. Koh Tao also has a shooting range and an island-to-island zip wire for more beach-unrelated fun.
Island hopping in Thailand. For more Thailand travel ideas and tips, click here.