Koh Tao is one of the most popular destinations in Thailand with several routes to get here, but all of them by ferry. As a famous backpacker haunt, direct journeys from Bangkok’s Khao San Road are available for cheap prices. The nearest link with the mainland is Chumphon, but the routes to Surat Thani and Samui are more numerous.
The quickest and most practical way to get to Koh Tao is to fly to Samui from Bangkok, and then catch one of several daily ferries from Na Thon Pier to the island. Alternatively you can bus it from Bangkok to Chumphon, which is halfway down the coast on the Isthmus of Kra, and from there ferries leave twice a day to Koh Tao, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Samui.
Samui International Airport
A tiny airport owned by Bangkok Airways and only open since 1989, Samui Airport has a unique design that matches the stunning natural beauty of Koh Samui. It has, in fact, won awards for architectural and environmental excellence.
The thatched roof and breezy gardens dotted with tall coconut palms are popular with passengers, and the open-air terminals are memorable. Located near to Bo Phut beach, in the north of Samui, the airport is also close to famous Chaweng beach. As you fly in, you’ll get a good glimpse of Samui and the surrounding islands, including Koh Tao.
As Bangkok Airways owns the airport, there are not a huge amount of budget flights here and rates are not as friendly as other destinations in Thailand. However, if you’re looking for a budget rate, you can try the early morning and late night flights. Along with direct flights from Bangkok, there are also flights from Chiang Mai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Phuket, Krabi and Pattaya. Other airlines with rights to fly in here are Firefly (from KL) and Silk Air (from Singapore).
The airport is tiny and you won’t have trouble finding where to go. Along with a souvenir shop and restaurant, there is also a post office and a spa. Unfortunately the taxis are mafia-run and fees are relatively expensive (for Thailand) to anywhere on the island. A taxi from here to Na Thon where the ferry pier is 400 baht, though they may try on 600-800 baht! The cheapest option is to walk outside the airport and take a songtheaw shared-taxi or a motorbike taxi.
Koh Tao car transportation
Private cars are not allowed on Koh Tao; however, it’s easy to get to Chumphon on the mainland by car before taking a ferry for the crossing to the island. The highway system is quite good in Thailand, and well signposted in both Thai and English. It takes roughly five hours to get to Chumphon from Bangkok, and then the ferry is just another two hours to Koh Tao.
Otherwise, buses leave from the southern bus terminal in Bangkok and there are also some very budget bus/ferry combos that can be purchased on Khao San Road. You should always remember to drive on the left and take great care while driving as there are many reckless drivers on the road. More on getting around Koh Tao.
Ferry is the only way to get to Koh Tao as there are no flights to the island. These depart from Chumphon on the mainland, Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan. It’s easy to take the ferry to any of those destinations, so many people dance the night away on Koh Phan Ngan for the full moon party and then hop the ferry for a spot of detox diving on Koh Tao.
Ferries to Koh Tao dock at Mae Haad, the main pier, and from there you can easily catch a songtheaw shared-taxi or motorbike taxi to your final destination. A high speed catamaran links Chumpon on the mainland with Samui, via Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan, offering two journeys a day in either direction.
There is a slower ferry between Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan linking with ferries to Samui and the mainland at Surat Thani. This is the only remaining way to leave the island when bad weather cancels the Seacat service to Chumphon. See Samui ferry timetable.
Koh Tao ferry timetable
To get to Koh Tao from Chumphon there are two departures daily on the high speed catamaran, leaving at 07:00 and 13:00 and arriving at Koh Tao at 08:45 and 14:45 respectively (600 baht). The earlier departure usually links up with overnight buses from Bangkok. There are also later sailings, but these are slower cargo boats. It is also possible to reach Koh Tao via Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan with the timetable in the next section. More on Koh Tao ferries.
Koh Tao ferries to and from Koh Pha Ngan
The Lomprayah high-speed catamaran ferries are the most practical option for this trip. They depart Koh Samui at 08:00, arrive at Koh Pha Ngan for a brief stop at 08:20 and then move on to Koh Tao at around 09:45 before continuing to Chumphon (600 baht). A second sailing departs at 12:30 arriving at 12:50 in Koh Pha Ngan and finally reaching Koh Tao at 14:15.
In the opposite direction, the ferry leaves Koh Tao at 09:30 and arrives at Koh Pha Ngan at 10:45 and Samui at 11:20. The second sailing form this route leaves at 15:10 arriving at 16:10 and 16:40 respectively.
The Raja ferry service starts out at Don Sak pier near Surat Thani (for those coming via train or from Phuket/Krabi), leaving at 10:00 and stopping at Koh Phan Ngan before leaving at 13:00 and arriving at Koh Tao at 14:30. In the return direction they leave Koh Tao at 10:00 for Koh Pha Ngan arriving at 11:30 before heading to Don Sak which it reaches at 16:00 (500 baht).
Koh Tao ferries to and from Samui
From Samui there is a ferry leaving Na Thon Pier to Koh Pha Ngan at 11:00 (45 minute journey) which connects with the Raja ferry to Koh Tao at 13:00. If you arrive at Koh Pha Ngan and need to transfer to Samui, you can catch the 12:30 ferry to Na Thon Pier arriving 45 minutes later. Typical taxi transfer to Samui Airport is 15 minutes from the jetty.
There are several ferries a day from Koh Pha Ngan and Samui to Don Sak and other piers near Surat Thani. This is useful if you need to then travel overland to Phuket (minibuses depart as the ferries arrive), or if the weather it too rough for the catamaran to travel to Chumphon. In addition, ferries depart hourly (on the hour) from Haad Rin Beach and reach Big Buddha Bay on Koh Samui 30 minutes later. From here it’s a five minute taxi ride to the airport.
Public transport on Koh Tao is limited to songtheaws (minibus pickups) and motorbike taxis. Unfortunately as the island is very small and songtheaws have a monopoly, rates (especially at night) are comparatively high. It’s better value with motorbike taxis or hiring your own motorcycle.
Visitors who are used to riding motorcycles will definitely want to hire one on Koh Tao, as there are some fun routes to explore. Car hire is out, as private vehicles are banned on Koh Tao. There is so much to see on the island that the most convenient way to get around is by motorbike.
There are motorcycles ranging from scooters with no gears all the way up to big mountain bikes. You can hire by the day, week or month and should bargain a good rate. It can be fun travelling from bay to bay and seeing all the pretty viewpoints.
Roads are steep and many are unpaved, and can be muddy in the rainy season. Motorbike accidents are frequent and you should be very careful, especially as rental motorbikes are found everywhere and some drivers are extremely inexperienced. The greatest concentration of hire shops are situated in Mae Haad and Sairee Beach. See our complete Koh Tao transportation guide.