Thai islands practicalities

How to get to and get around on the koh (islands) of Southern Thailand's Malay Peninsula

Popular Thai Islands
Ko Samui
• Ko Phi Phi
• Ko Phangan
• Ko Lanta
• Krabi - West Railay
Getting to the islands in the south of Thailand is a snap. In Bangkok, travel agencies litter the backpacker enclave of Khao San Road and its parallel, Rambuttri, where you can pick up cheap Bangkok Airways tickets to Samui ($90 each way) for the Gulf Islands or into Krabi ($60 each way) or Phuket ($70 each way) for the Andaman Sea—though be ready to pay $2 to $10 in "arrival" and "departure" taxes at every airport you use.

Thai Airways flies to Samui now as well, but its planes are actually larger than the Samui runway's safety requirements allow (Thai gets around that by merely paying the fine) so I'd steer clear. Besides, Bangkok Airways treats you better, with first class–style waiting areas—snacks, drinks, newspapers, and super-slow Internet terminals, all for free—in its terminals.

Sure, you could take a bus or train instead for only $15 to $25. But the 400 miles from Bangkok to Surat Thani (gateway to Samui or Phangan—via a two-hour ferry ride) takes 10 to 12 hours, and it's 534 miles/14 hours to Phuket (gateway to Phi Phi), or 620 miles/16 hours to Krabi (gateway to West Railay). Planes only take 60 to 90 minutes.

Navigating between the islands is insanely easy. Ferries ply the waters between popular islands many times daily for $5 to $10, and every town is stuffed with little travel agents that display routes and departure times, and can book tickets.

Short hauls that lack ferries are served by longtail boats—oversized canoes with a speed motor roaring at the back—for about $1 to $4. Flights between Samui and Krabi cost under $50.

To get around the larger islands, songathews (pick-ups and minibuses), tuk-tuks (three-wheeled taxis), or scooter taxis cost just a few bucks on any run—though if you book a hotel in advance, they'll often send a ride to the airport or ferry dock to meet you.

English is widely spoken—though starting your conversations with a sawat-dee greeting and ending with a kwap khun (thank you) is always appreciated (to be extra polite, end your sentences with a sharp khap if you're a man, a lilting kha if you're a woman).

It may seem crowded—especially during the November through February high season—but don’t panic about lodging. No reservations? No problem! With rare exceptions, supply exceeds demand and you can always find a room even at the last minute. Calling ahead can always help score a better room, of course, so if you have your heart set on that beachside bungalow, book a few days in advance.

Rooms with air-conditioning cost more than fan-cooled ones, but many people actually prefer fan rooms and mosquito netting on the beds. You get a much more relaxing feeling when you can throw open the windows to the tropical breezes and sounds of the forest and gentle surf, rather than close yourself up in a sterile, musty A/C room.

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in April 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.