Sunday, January 24, 2016

Koh Samui for Green Travelers

Posted by Amanda Villaruel | |
Tomorrow I'll be leaving for a business trip to Myanmar. When I have to travel halfway around the world, I thought, why not combine it with a trip to Thailand ? :-)

I believe it's called "bleisure" these days ;-)

The Koh Samui-series will include general travel information for Koh Samui, and when I return from the trip, I'll be writing separate posts about vegetarian/vegan restaurants, and green activities. Stay tuned!
Koh Samui at night. Photo courtesy of iStock/savoia.
Koh Samui at night. Photo courtesy of iStock/savoia.

So, why Koh Samui? When there are other gorgeous islands in Thailand that are less crowded?

Koh Samui has an airport, which was the decisive factor. Especially when I only have five days available in the country ;) Another important factor was: "where are the vegetarian and vegan restaurants?"

Definitely, Koh Samui!

All links below are non-commercial. 

How to get to Koh Samui from Bangkok

Alternative 1: Fly directly to Koh Samui with Bangkok Airways. Thai Airways has a few departures to the island, but Bangkok Airways has a lot more competitive prices and have many departures from Suvarnabhumi airport.

Price: around 4,400 B one-way from Bangkok. They offer tickets at lower prices, but I was too late and got stuck with the expensive ticket.

Once you arrive at Samui airport, you can choose to take a taxi or the shuttle bus. The ticket price for the shuttle bus cost 130 B.

Post travel report: If you're staying around Chaweng beach and want to head to the airport, you can grab a taxi or ask the hotel to arrange it for you. I found taxis along Chaweng road, and all of them wanted 300 B to get to the airport. I suggested a price of 200 B and the taxi drivers were OK with that.
A typical sunset in Gulf of Thailand - here: Koh Pha Ngan, 2010
A typical sunset in Gulf of Thailand - here: Koh Pha Ngan, 2010

Alternative 2: Flight to Surat Thani airport. Check out Nok Air and Air Asia for flights from Bangkok to Surat Thani, that depart from the domestic airport Don Mueang.

Price: Nok Air offers some pretty cheap tickets (current price 645 B + taxes).

When you've collected your bag at the Surat Thani airport, continue to the Lomprayah desk and buy tickets to Koh Samui (three departures from Surat Thani airport). A ticket (600 B) includes bus from the airport and ferry to Samui. Ferries leave Don Sak pier.

Lomprayah ferry times from Surat Thani city, airport and Donsak pier.

I have mentioned Lomprayah a couple of times now. There are other ferry services to Koh Samui, but many travelers use Lomprayah's services to get to the islands of Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and Koh Samui.

If we compare Lomprayah and another service - Raja Ferry Port - two of Lomprayah's departures are supposedly faster. I've used the Lomprayah services three times before (ferry twice - to Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao, and the bus service from Chumphon to Bangkok once). The ferries then were indeed fast, but packed during the high season. The bus transport from Chumphon to Bangkok was a mess. Here's my description six years ago;

"Lomprayah's VIP-buses aren't comfortable; hard seats, no leg room and some woman's plant was touching my face during the entire trip. We didn't get any refreshments either which I'm used to when taking the government buses in Thailand." 

Raja Ferry Port on the other hand offers many departures from Don Sak pier, and the tickets are cheaper (110 B from Don Sak pier).

  1. Lomprayah: 10.10 - arrival 10.55. Raja Ferry Port: 10.00 - arrival 11.30. 
  2. Lomprayah: 12.30 - arrival 13.30  Raja Ferry Port: 12.00 - arrival 13.30.

Alternative 3: Night train to Surat Thani from Bangkok (Hualamphong station), leaving in the evening and arriving after approx. 9-12 hours depending on the train. The train station is not in Surat Thani per se, but is located 14 km west of Surat Thani, in Phun Pin. 

Check timetable and fares at State Railway of Thailand.

When you arrive at the train station, wait for the next bus that takes you to Don Sak pier! :-)

Which beach to stay in Koh Samui?

That was the one million dollar-question when I started to research my trip to Koh Samui :-)

I made it simple because of lack of time. I was interested in staying at a beach with close proximity to vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and the airport. With the help of Happy Cow, I found out that some of them are located in Chaweng beach (north). I used Google Maps to pin the restaurants that were mentioned. 

You might be thinking - the party beach?

- Yes, that's correct. I didn't want to stay and sleep in the middle of party center and wake up during the night because of some drunk people across the street. The challenge was to find a hotel that was secluded enough.

After several hours on Tripadvisor, I found one hotel called Rattana guesthouse and bungalow. I'm excited to see if the guesthouse really is "sound-proof" ;-)

You can also find vegetarian restaurants or restaurants with vegetarian menus in Bophut beach, Chaweng Noi (south) and Lamai Beach. It's worth noting that some of the health food stores and cafes are near Lamai beach - Lamphu Health Cafe and Thai Organic Life.

Post travel report: Chaweng beach was without a doubt loud and crowded. A new type of loud with enormous speakers loaded on the back of a truck, advertising the next Happy Hour or where you can watch a Muay Thai fight or get a Japanese massage. 
Chaweng beach (north) in Koh Samui, Thailand
Chaweng beach (north) in Koh Samui, Thailand

I'm glad that I stayed at Rattana guesthouse and bungalow, because in the miraculously way I couldn't hear any noise from the streets. I slept like a baby.

Next time I won't be staying in Chaweng. The beach is beautiful, but the whole scene lacks personality. After talking to local people and fellow travelers, I'll probably head for Choeng Mon beach the next time, or Bangrak. These places are supposed to be quieter. 

If you stay in Bangrak, you're not far away from the vegetarian-friendly restaurants around Bophut beach ;-)

How to get around Koh Samui (post-travel report)

The most practical and easiest way is to rent a scooter (motorbike), starting at 150 THB per day.

If you don't want to ride a motorbike yourself, you can always locate a moto taxi. From Chaweng north, I paid 100 THB to reach Bangrak (one-way), and 100 THB to reach Chaweng Noi (one-way). Look for the guys in yellow vests! :-)

The red and yellow colored taxis is also an option, but the price will be tripled (at minimum). I couldn't find any moto taxis in close proximity in Chaweng Noi, and had to pay 300 B for a return to Chaweng north with a regular taxi. Always make sure that you have an understanding of the price before you get in the taxi. Well, unless you don't care about the price ;-)

After taking a closer look at my expenses in Koh Samui, I spent more money on transportation than food and alcohol altogether.

Eco-hotels and resorts on Koh Samui

Finding eco-friendly places to stay on in Koh Samui is difficult, if you can't afford staying at resorts. The ones I found are located on Bophut and Mae Nam beach. Bophut is only 15 minutes away from the airport by bus/taxi, while it takes approx. 20 minutes by taxi to get to Mae Nam.

All prices below are subject to change.

Bophut beach: 

Zazen Boutique Resort & Spa.

According to the hotel, their sustainability practice consists of:
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle - anything from purchasing recycled paper to making compost for waste reduction
They go into details on how they practice sustainability, which I find more trustworthy than a resort that doesn't. The resort was given the "Green Gold Awarded Hotel", based on certification standards established by Thailand's Department of Environmental Quality Promotion.

Price per night: from 7,930 B (one room, two people, end of February).

Read more about their sustainability practice on their website.

Read reviews of Zazen Boutique Resort at Tripadvisor.

Six Senses. 

On this page, they don't go into details on how the resort handles their environmental responsibility. They mention that they have a recycling center, and that they have initiated many projects to minimize the impact on the environment and local community.

Price per night: from 13,690 B (one room two people, end of February).

Read reviews of Sex Senses at Tripadvisor.

The Tongsai Bay. 

A well-established resort that opened in 1985. According to their site, they have a rigid Green Policy that ensures that all their waste is recycled. Chemicals and plastic bags/wrappings are forbidden.

Price per night: from 10,000 B (between Jan 6-March 16, 2016).

You can read more about the resort's green projects at Green Pearls. They use energy-saving light bulbs, have an organic garden and give training to local people about energy saving.

When they built the hotel and the pool, they removed/transferred the trees to make room for the pool. But these trees were replanted elsewhere on the hotel's ground. Protection of trees is supposedly very important to them.

Read reviews of Tongsai Bay at Tripadvisor.

Mae Nam beach:

Hotel Saree Samui. 

According to their site, the resort was built with eco-friendly materials. At their restaurant, you will find organic food (wherever possible). Glass, plastic and paper are recycled.

Price per night: from 8,836 B (Tropical villa w/ breakfast, one room, two people, end of February)

Read reviews of Hotel Saree Samui on Tripadvisor.

Be sure to stay tuned for a post about vegetarian restaurants, and green activities in the future! I have to finish packing :-)

Continue to read:
17 personal tips on how to travel sustainably and ethically.

Tips for ethical shopping in Cambodia.

Review of vegetarian food in Koh Samui.

Have your say about what you just read :)

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