Ko Samui is an island on the east cost of Thailand and it's a second biggest island in Thai kingdom. Pha Ngan is a much smaller island not far from Ko Samui and it's mostly known for its Full Moon Party which is being hosted there once a month. I'd got a lot of positive feedback about those islands from my friends so I finally decided to visit Ko Samui and Pha Ngan for a few days.
I was surprised that it's possible to move cars to any of those islands and the only thing you have to do is to drive to Surat Thani and take a ferry from there to either Ko Samui or Pha Ngan. Our car trip From Phuket to Surat Thani took about 4.5 hours and we needed an additional 1.5 hours to get from Surat Thani to Samui by a ferry.
Buying ferry tickets wasn't as easy as we expected because the sales office employees told us that it is not possible to buy a one-way ticket. Eventually, we were able to convince them that they should sell us those tickets because their website allowed this type of booking. One of the first lessons I've learned after moving to Thailand is that you should never assume that things will work as expected.
After we booked a ferry at Surat Thani, we didn't want to waste time trying to pick the best place to have lunch so we picked a restaurant called Vanilla, pretty much randomly. Luckily for us, it was a fantastic place: the atmosphere was great, the service was superb and the food far outstripped our expectations. There are many gems like this scattered across the other not so popular regions of Thailand and I think that those places are probably less spoiled by the recent boom of tourism so they put more effort in delivering best value for money.
Using a ferry in Thailand is always a gamble because you never know if you will get a comfortable ship or a floating dumpster even if the price is the same. The first ferry we took (Surat Thani -> Samui) was more or less average. It provided decent Sun protection and it had a basic ventilation system on board. The second ferry (Samui -> Pha Ngan) was great: the chairs were super comfortable and the passenger room was well conditioned during the trip.
It's painful to remember our third ferry (Pha Ngan -> Surat Thani) because the passenger room didn't have any window protection from the Sun and all of the fans were broken. Luckily for us, we departed at 5 PM and the Sun tends to set quite early in Thailand so it felt less horrible after 6:30 PM.
Picking a decent hotel is another kind of gamble, especially in Thailand. First of all, hotel “stars” mean nothing so don't even bother considering them as a factor. After browsing through a few dozens of hotels, I've noticed a familiar name: “Ibis” and I thought that it might be wise to stick to a brand name because most of the brands try to deliver consistent and predictable experience in every location.
Well, it was a horrible mistake: the service was extremely slow and their receptionists tried to take our payment cards “hostage” during our whole stay. We asked them for clarification and we tried to explain that it's a gross violation of the terms of service of any payment card. The card should never leave the sight of the cardholder during the payment process but the Ibis employees didn't seem to care. Finally, they backed off but I wouldn't advise anyone to use this hotel.
The beach nearby our hotel turned out to be the worst beach on the island. Anyway, at least our breakfast was nice and we had transport to explore the island. There are many other beaches in Samui and they are actually pretty nice. Here are a few pictures:
Other Places in Samui
Speaking of other places, Samui does not look that different from the rest of Thailand. You can find many temples, national parks, contact zoo, safari experience and many other “standard” tourist attractions. It feels like a smaller and less developed version of Phuket and it has all of the basics to stay comfortably for a long time but don't expect to find many shopping malls, decent hospitals or even an Apple store there.
Trip to Pha Ngan
Our next destination was Pha Ngan island. Conveniently for us, we found a ferry company that could transfer us directly form Samui to Pha Ngan. The first impression was great: the district around a port felt comfy and welcoming, the hotel was good and almost all of the restaurants nearby had suspiciously high ratings of 4.7 stars and more. We tried a few of those places and they were actually pretty good.
Pha Ngan is a tiny island, mostly known for its Full Moon Party. We were 2 weeks early to the next party but we decided to go check the “party district” anyway.
Most of the places there were closed but some restaurants and entertainment centers seemed to work every night, despite the obvious lack of visitors.
The north-western part of Pha Ngan seemed more alive and more contrasting with both the port area and “Full Moon Party” beach. This part of the island was filled with yoga schools and their customers: hipsters and hippies. It reminded me of some of the old movies about the hippie movement in the US. The overall atmosphere there makes you feel “off the grid” and it's one of the strangest places I saw in Thailand.
There are also a few beaches in that area but we managed to visit only Secret Beach:
It wasn't bad but it had a lot of stones so it wasn't easy to get in or get out.
After a couple of other activities we've decided to move back to Surat Thani. As I mentioned before, the ferry was awful but we were tired enough not to care about that too much.
The last ferry departs at 5 PM so you can see the sunset from it.
Samui and Pha Ngan are nice islands to visit for a few days. I enjoyed most of the trip and I'm thinking of going back to Pha Ngan to visit Full Moon Party and to do some SCUBA diving nearby the island.