Thailand is overwhelmingly a touristic country, it received 32.6 million visitors in 2016 and arrivals increase every year. One of the most popular choices for tourists is visiting 3 southern islands, you probably have heard of them: Kho Samui, Kho Phangan and Kho Tao.
Each of them offers a slightly different experience to visitors. Kho Samui, the most economically developed of the 3, is famous for 5 star resorts and a very lively nightlife, Kho Phangan (though now infamous for it's full moon party) has a very vibrant counterculture, if you are looking for yoga retreats, meditation and detox programs this is the island you want to visit. Kho Tao, on the other hand, is the place to go for those looking to learn to dive, the little island is home to hundreds of diving centers and it's surrounded by many of the most impressive diving spots Thailand has to offer.
These 3 precious islands are also conveniently located off the coast of Surathani province and connected by the same ferry lines, making them the ideal island hopping destination for holiday seekers.
I just came back from a trip to said islands so wanted to share some insights about my own experience, I have noticed most people want to know about the ferry services that allow you to reach these islands since there are a few options and each of the offer different advantages.
It is also worth pointing out that there are a few scams in Thailand that take advantage of tourists, perpetrated by dodgy tour operators selling their services out of small travel agencies, these scams usually involve overpriced tickets and stealing from your luggage during the trip to the islands.
I suggest you take my advice to heart if you want to remain safe, the operators I will mention in this article are trustworthy and have been running their business for many years. I have been living in Thailand for over 13 years and tried all of these myself, so you can rest assured they offer a quality service.
Now, before we get into too many details, keep in mind there are 3 ways to reach Kho Samui, Kho Phangan and Kho Tao from Bangkok:
- Train + ferry
- Bus + ferry
- Plane + ferry
You can choose to disagree with me here, but I really do not see any advantages to the first 2 options, you will waste an entire day traveling to the islands and when you are on holidays, every hour you can get in Paradise counts more than the 200 Thai Baht you might save.
Let me discuss the 3rd option, ever since I discovered low-cost airlines, I have never looked back. Traveling by plane to the islands is, by far, your best option …
Booking a plane ticket and Ferry service:
Flying to Surat Thani
I'm starting with this option because is by far the best one in my opinion. Is the fastest (about 40 minutes from Don Muang Bangkok Airport to Surat Thani airport) and often the cheapest one, especially if you book in advance and get a bit lucky to score one of Air Asia's deals. I have traveled to Surat Thani for as little as 700 Thai Baht.
You can also spend some time looking for promotions on the other carriers: Thai Lion Air and Nok Air. You can use Skyscanner to see all flights available, the website works extremely well in Thailand and it gives you a quick overview of all your flight options.
I recommend you choose early morning flights, ferries only travel to the islands during the day and the last one leaves Surat Thani Pier at 4 PM. You need to take this into consideration when booking your flight.
Also, notice domestic flights will fly out of Don Muang Airport in Bangkok not the international terminal at Suvarnabhumi, make sure you clarify this with your taxi driver as these airports are in opposition sides of the city.
Taking the Ferry to Kho Samui, Kho Phangnan and Kho Tao:
There are 2 main operators I like to use for this leg of the journey: Songserm and Lom Phraya ferries.
They both have booths at Surat Thani airport so you can conveniently hop off your airplane into a bus that will take you directly to the Surat Thani pier.
Personally, I try to get Songserm ferry tickets when I can, their prices are lower and their service is great. I paid around 600 THB from Surat Thani airport to Kho Phagnan the last time I was there and the whole trip was on time and very comfortable. You should note they only offer 2 daily ferries, so you have to get your timing right if you are going to book your trip with them. You can always get in contact with them on their website's chat, they are very responsive and will advise you which flights to catch in order to make it on time.
Lom Phraya is the most expensive of the two but it also a bit faster and more more daily trips than Songserm, so if you could not get the timing right to catch Songserm ferry this will be your ideal option. You can check the time schedule here so you can plan your trip accordingly.