How to Island Hop • Island Hopping Guide
I had a great conversation last night with one of my ex-adventure travellers about the ‘Where Next’? He had been on 2 previous organised tours and was looking for some advice on where he should go next. It was a real eye-opening conversation for me as I realised not everyone has the same approach to travel as you might expect. We are funny things us humans and what goes on in our brains can be both wonderful and terrifying. His issues were:
• Travelling solo.
• No idea where to start.
• To go on an organised tour or not.
• Going back to the same countries he knows and feels comfortable at.
I am making a point of these as I reckon he is not the only dude in the world to be faced with such issues. To the die-hard hairy man (i.e. me) they would seem to be a no brainer, but to others these are perfectly reasonable worries to have, for all it’s awe and mystique you do need to be ‘up for’ the adventure. It is a bit of a cliche but completely true that “the world is not a small as we think” and jumping on a plane to Bali for £300 and BOOM next day you are there can be, again, both wonderful and terrifying.
For me I thought he was ready to go solo and so gently pushed him by saying ‘DUDE buy the ticket, take the ride’ his exact reply was, ‘I really wanna, that sounds ballsy, and i like ballsy’ and we really do (even if you don’t own any testicles), all travellers share the same thrill and buzz, we all are addicted to that fear/excitement of the unknown, sometimes it just takes everyones favourite & friendly Bamboo coordinator to throw you off the cliff and take that hop towards that random spot on your dog-eared map.
Which leads me quite nicely to this first part of a mini guide on ‘HOW2 island hop’-Thai style, so that if you are ever in the area, possibly alone or with a friend, and you can’t figure out where to go or if to go by plane, train, boat or swim these few pointers should make your eye-opening experience all the more jaw-dropping.
Bamboo guide to Island Hopping Thailand
There are ‘arguably’ 4 main areas in Thailand where you can hop, skip jump between some of the world’s most stunning islands (Quick Tip ‘Koh’ means island in Thai). Amazingly each island caters to a different crowd from ‘peace to pandemonium’ so before you embark on which area to go, you need to figure out what your motive is. This is by no means an exact science as you will find that each island caters for everyone in their own unique way but for the sake of keeping it simple the four areas and their vibe are:
North Thai Gulf
Koh Chang, Koh Samet, Koh Kut • ‘Laid back, under-developed, reggae’
These are the closet group of islands from the capital, Bangkok, the closest of them being:
Koh Samet where you can be from bustling city streets to tropical island in about 3 hours. If you wake up nice and early get yourself to the Ekkamai (AKA Eastern Bus Terminal, close to Ekkamai BTS Train Station) and get on a bus to a place called ‘Bang Phe’ which will take you to the pier to Samet Island. The bus costs around 100 baht (£2) might be a little more or less and takes about 2 hours. When you arrive at the pier you can either James Bond it on a speed boat which will get you to your exact beach of choice (Negotiate hard with the ‘captain’) or the cheap option is to go by public ferry which is about 100 baht. The ferry goes on the hour every hour between 8am and 5pm so you could be out of Bangkok and on the beach sunning it by 9am having your eggs and bakey sea side.
Koh Samed island itself is chilled and relaxing, it is a hit with Bangkokians so on the weekends expect more Thai’s than ‘Farang (Foreigners)’ which can actually be quite refreshing. Prices for rooms vary dramatically so do your research and check out Agoda or AsiaRooms, the liveliest stretch of beach is probably Haad (‘Haad’ means beach) Sai Keaw, and the liveliest bar/restaurant/hotel is probably SilverSands with fire dancers and cocktails in a nice chilled setting.
As for Koh Chang (Elephant island) this bigger boy is a little further afield heading in the direction of Cambodia. One of the most popular, and cheapest, ways to get to Koh Chang from Bangkok is by public bus. You can catch a bus again at the Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekkamai) in Bangkok, or at the Mo Chit Northern Bus Terminal, relatively close to the Mo Chit sky train station. Buses from here go to Trat and takes around 6 hours. In Trat, hop on a ‘songtaew’ (the small open-sided pick-up trucks used as bus-taxi services in most parts of Thailand), which will take you to Laem Ngop pier. The ride takes about 25 minutes. Boats run every hour or so, through most of the day. Bus fares to Trat are based on the type of bus you take. VIP buses are more expensive, but are comfortable and airconditioned. They cost around 300 baht (£6). Second-class buses, sometimes air-con, sometimes not) are about 180 baht (£3).
The island is lush with jungle providing great opportunities to explore. Not as hedonistic as some but a bit livelier than others so a good balance if you fancy mixing it up. The lively part of the island is known as ‘White Sand’ beach with the ever glow of neon, reggae tunes and the occasional beach side dance club. The latest trend is to head to Kai Bae as it is supposed to be the up and coming area of the island, cool vibes, mojito lounges and great views.
Koh Kut is that little bit further towards Cambodia but you can actually get a speedboat from Koh Chang which takes a thrilling 1-2 hours (depending on conditions) from Kae Bae pier (once a day at 9am) and costs around 900 baht or from Bang Bao (Twice daily at 9am & 12pm) again 900 baht and includes a pick up from most hotels on the island. You can then legitimately call yourself an island hopper!
South Thai Gulf
Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, Koh Tao • ‘Backpackers, Moon Parties, Diving’
Probably the most traveled area in all of Thailand with an epic 4 million visitors a year the journey down is very simple.
Every journey begins with a single step, for this one your first step should be to a company called ‘Lompraya‘ who have offices on all 3 islands plus a main one near the infamous Khaosan road, there are others but this one is probably the biggest and offers the best service. It is also worth mentioning that you can take a train to Chumphon or a Airplane direct to Koh Samui. For Lompraya you must book in advance, can be the same day but probably the day before if you want to plan properly. Go to the office and speak to the ‘lovely’ staff and book your spot on the bus/boat. Depending on what island you are heading to (all 3 is a must) depends on the cost but look to spend around 1300 baht. The buses are VIP and play movies in English which takes the sting out of the journey. Buses leave at 9pm and get you to the pier at Chumphon at around 5am for your boat at 6 or 7am. The boat is usually a high speed catamaran ferry thing (technical term) which can be bumpy. They do sell seasickness tablets at the small kiosk at the pier which for those who suffer is a wise choice, I have witnessed vomit inducing carnage during the 2 hour journey to the first Island:
Koh Tao which translates as ‘Turtle island’ due to its shape is the smallest of the 3 with it’s baby sister connected by a sand bank ‘Koh Nang Yuan’. This is one of the diving meccas of Thailand with dive shops literally everywhere, if you are interested in learning to dive this is probably the cheapest place in the world without sacrificing safety and professionalism. This is also the home of our Marine Conservation program which looks after the turtle and coral population on and around the island. Out of the 3 Koh Tao is the most laid back and arguably most beautiful. The roads are steep and bumpy so be careful on your rented bikes and always always always wear a helmet. The best areas for the night life is the beach at ‘Sairee’ which can get really busy for such a small island. The vibe is relaxed and happy with divers mixing with families mixing with young gappers. I would recommend getting a guest house within walking distance to it all but not directly in the thick of it, but what ever floats your boat.
Koh Phangan is without doubt one of the craziest places I have ever been and for good cause. Once a month 15,000 people descend on her to celebrate the full moon (check out our full moon guide) and it certainly is the biggest beach party in the world. About 1 hour from Koh Tao (again you can take the Lompraya ferry or other options). You will arrive on the bustling pier at the administration heart of the island known as Thong Sala. From here unless you have pre-arranged you can jump on a taxi which will take you to your hotel on the island. We HIGHLY RECOMMEND our brothers from another mother at Beach Village for your stay as they have nailed it when it comes to being in a relaxed, cool environment but not far from the main party beach at Haad Rin. If you book with them mention you heard of them from the Bamboo crew and I am confident they will look after you every step of the way. If you miss the full moon do not fear as their is literally a moon party for everything, check out the half moon party in the Jungle, the black moon party by the sea, the oh-look-their-is-the-moon-in-the-sky-so-lets-drink-and-dance-party which happens every single night everywhere in Thailand. There are other options to bear in mind, Koh Phangan is a medium sized island with not only the moon to look at. The best spot to watch the sunset is a mountain side bar called the Amsterdam (1 guess to what else they offer) the view of the sunset is spectacular and is well worth the climb to the top. You can also go Elephant Trekking (not the best in Thailand) watch an old Thai man dance with the biggest snakes you have ever seen, play water sports at the only Wipeout™ obstacle course in Asia, climb waterfalls, go kite surfing, go to a Temple sauna or simply bake under the sun and enjoy the views. We offer two unique tours to this island so if your interested chat to us or check out Thailand Rediscovered or the Thai Island Hopping pages for the immersive way to see them all.
Finally Koh Samui is by far the posh big sister of the 3 boasting fine dining, luxury hotels and an airport. It does have it’s charms although maybe not as adventurous as it used to be you can still discover a few hidden gems if you are able to go off an explore. This is also the home of 2 of our volunteer projects giving back to a small little fishing community on the non-touristy side of the island check out our Teach & Beach and Beach & Build projects for more information how Bamboo works with this lovely part of the island.
Their are 2 main lively spots with Chaweng being the biggest and the infamous ‘Green Mango’ night area and the more laid back ‘Lamai’ beach for beach side dancing and big comfy bean bags to sip your mojito from. I really like the Fisherman’s Village area near Bophut which offers a mock-traditional take on a fisherman’s village without the fishermen, go on a Friday evening as the walking street is buzzing with great foods and little shops. TIP: Taxis are a nightmare charging whatever they like to whomever they like so be prepared to pay and my advice is that it’s better to simply walk away than get into an altercation with the some-what mafiaesque nature of these guys, some hotels offer a good service to and from areas and again you can rent a bike but I do worry you know!
To end this part I would like go back to my mate from the top story, who now I hope is preparing for his epic journey into the unknown, the heart beating and sweat pouring with your world in a backpack and your map by your side and your smile as your only currency, I am jealous of that feeling and hope that he goes at it a zillion percent and takes these wise words from one of my all time favourite authors to heart, we can all keep this in mind when faced with the “Where Next?” question.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” ― Hunter S. Thompson
COMING SOON IN PART 2…
The Andaman Effect (The other side) Koh Lanta, Koh Lipe, Koh Jum, Phuket, Krabi, Ao Nang, Railay
BLOG PROMO for anyone who reads this! Our Island Hopping for the 4th of July is only £495 $790 €594