Exploring the hidden attractions of islands like Phuket and Koh Samui is likely to provide one of the highlights of your trip – but what’s the best way to get around?
Practical and fun, grabbing a boat taxi offers you a scenic means of getting from A to B
Getting off the beaten track and exploring Thailand independently could be one of the greatest adventures of your vacation, especially if you are staying in a private villa far from the tourist crowds.
A host of glorious landscapes await – from sweeping ocean vistas to mountainside lanes that wind through thick layers of lush jungle. However, getting from point A to B can sometimes be a little daunting – especially if you’re a first time visitor in Thailand, and aren’t sure of the transportation options available to you.
In fact, there are plenty of different means of transportation you can use to get around islands like Phuket and Samui, ranging from luxury private hire cars to breezy open-air buses, called Songtheaws.
If you’re planning to hit the road and discover the hidden gems of Thailand, check out our top tips on how to use the location transportation systems.
Travel in style
If you’re staying in a luxury villa, the property’s manager will be able to organise private transportation for you
If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of booking a taxi, hiring a car or walking to your destination, why not let your villa manager arrange private transportation for you instead? All you have to do is tell your villa manager where you want to go and what time you’d like to arrive – he or she will do the rest. Once the car rolls up to collect you, you’ll be able to sit back, relax and let the driver do all the work. Plus, because he or she is a local, they’ll be no worries about getting lost before reaching your destination – as this might be an issue if you were driving yourself, navigating the roads of Thailand for the first time. The standard of car often matches the high standard of your luxury accommodation. Cars rented through your private villa are likely to be larger, giving you the space to spread out and relax inside. You can also be sure that they’re air-conditioned.
Hiring a motorbike gives you the chance to get off the beaten track and explore independently
If you’re keen to have an adventure whilst in Koh Samui or Phuket, hiring a car of motorbike for yourself can offer a wonderful way of exploring the island. This option gives you maximum flexibility – you can go where you want, when you want.
If you want to rent a car, you’ll find that all of the big international chains – Avis, Hertz and Budget – are all operating in Phuket and Samui. Going down this route is very convenient, and you’ll usually have a selection of larger vehicles to chose from than if you hire your car through a local firm. On the other hand, you’ll be paying more. A local firm is probably unlikely to have as many rental terms as an international company. Local car agencies will most likely have a selection of cars, which often includes Suzuki 4x4s, plus Honda or Toyota compacts. When hiring your car, always ensure that it has seatbelts – not all of the vehicles in Thailand do!
If you’ve got experience driving a motorcycle, and would like the thrill of exploring on two wheels, you’ll find that most towns and villages on the Thai islands will have the facilities for you to rent a vehicle. Most companies charge per 24 hours, and you’ll typically be asked to pay in advance and leave your passport as a deposit for the bike. Before going ahead, it’s worth checking with your villa manager that you’re hiring through a reputable company. And our most important tip? Always wear a helmet – even if you see local people riding around without one.
If you want to rub shoulders with the locals, open-air songthaew buses are the way to get around
For the true local experience, you’ll want to have a go at riding round on the local bus, or even a songthaew. Pronounced ‘song-taow’, this vehicle is essentially an open-air pick-up truck with two benches running down either side in the back, with enough space for about 10 adults. There’s usually a handy luggage rack on top, too. This is by far the cheapest way of getting around – you’ll just need to get to grips with what the songthaew routes are first. In Koh Samui, the songthaews run a circuit along the island’s main ring road and other secondary thoroughfares. This main ring road cuts through most of the beaches on the island – however, it’s worth bearing in mind that the route is never set in stone. If you want to catch a songthaew in Phuket, you’re most likely to see them on the busiest roads. In Patong, this will be the beach road and in Phuket Town, this will be the market on Ranong Road. In both Phuket and Samui, there are no designated bus stops, so you can get off wherever you like.
There is no designated bus service in Koh Samui, although there is a selection of air-conditioned buses that serve the Phuket Town area, offering rides to beach towns including Patong, Kata, Karon and Rawai.
Grab and go
Grab Taxi is one of the most popular cab hailing apps in Thailand
After indulging in a few cocktails at your local beach club, the trek home to your private villa might suddenly seem a bit far. If there aren’t any cabs waiting near the entrance that you can hail, what’s the solution? Of course, the answer is to book a taxi through your smartphone. Not only will this save you time – you’ll probably have a few minutes for another drink before the taxi arrives – but you’ll also be confident in the knowledge that your taxi driver has already agreed to take you to your desired destination.
Grab Taxi was one of the original taxi apps to take Bangkok by storm, and it’s now popular in Phuket and Koh Samui as well. You’ll have seen these cabs – they’re the ones with the green ‘Grab Taxi’ sticker in the window. Booking through this app will allow you to select your pick-up destination and book the taxi. It will also estimate the cost of your journey. You’ll find that the cars available are fairly evenly spread throughout the island, though in Phuket they’re more likely to be found in busy areas like Patong, and in Samui areas like Chaweng.
If you’re in Koh Samui, Navi Go Samui is also another option if you want to book a taxi through your smart phone. Although the company is currently operating at a lesser scale than the likes of Grab Taxi, it still provides a safe and economical alternative to hiring a cab on the street.
Taxis with a difference
Sometimes hopping between beaches on a boat taxi is quicker than driving
For occasions when you simply want to travel to the next beach up the coastline, just around the headland, a boat taxi could be the fastest way to get there. This is particularly so when inland route is dominated by abundant jungle, and the roads are little more than tracks winding up steep paths through the flora and fauna. Practical and scenic, a longtail boat taxi is easy to spot – you’ll notice all of the colourful strips of fabric tied to the front. Your driver will sometimes want to wait until there are a few more passengers going the same way as you – but that just means a few more moments soaking up the sun on a gorgeous Thai beach.
Here are a few more top tips for travellers navigating the roads in Phuket and Samui:
- Some roads may flood during Thailand’s green season, so it’s worth familiarising yourself with a couple of alternative routes back to your accommodation
- Motorbike is often the preferred form of transportation on islands like Phuket and Samui. If you’re driving, always double check your mirrors so you’re acutely aware of any scooters or bikes nearby
- If you’re used to driving on the right side of the road, remember that in Thailand they drive on the left! This might take a few days of getting used to.