Island Hopping in the Gulf of Thailand

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In this post, I’m taking you on an adventure through Thailand! We’re going Island Hopping in the Gulf of Thailand in 2024. And here’s everything you need to do to make your trip smooth and memorable.

The year started with a premium 1-year visa in Mauritius. How then 2 months later did I find myself lounging on a beach in the Gulf of Thailand?

Halfway through January, I boarded a flight to Bangkok, knowing that on arrival I would be quarantined for the umpteenth time in a hotel, unable to do much of anything other than wait for the results of PCR tests and wait for my 3x a day meal delivery… fun…

Getting here was not easy. But that’s a story for another time. Luckily for you though, getting to Thailand isn’t that hard anymore!

Let’s skip ahead to where I am now, Koh Phangan. And more importantly, how you could find yourself island hopping in the Gulf of Thailand in 2022. The ‘after-era’ of COVID travel is officially starting, and since Thailand brought in its test and release scheme, the beaches of these islands have been filling up quickly with backpackers, gap years, and nomads.

What exactly does ‘test to release’ mean?

Also referred to as Test and Go, it simply means that when you get your test result after arriving, you’re free to go explore the island.

What are the requirements for the Test and Go program?

You will need to meet some requirements to be eligible for the “Test and go” program. These requirements include the following:

  • COVID-19 Travel Insurance: Your COVID-19 travel insurance policy coverage shouldn’t be less than US$ 20 000 for medical emergencies.
  • A COVID-19 Recovery or Vaccination certificate.
  • The Day 1 hotel confirmation letter confirmations that you’ve pre-paid for accommodation, airport transfer, and RT-PCR test. The letter needs to be issued by one of the approved Alternative Quarantine (AQ) or SHA + Hotels.
  • Flight reservation to Thailand

They’ve even scrapped getting tested before you come! So now, with a one-night stay in an approved hotel, you’re free to explore. (if you don’t have COVID of course)

For more information about the Test & Go, check here.

You’re here, so that must mean you’re interested in island hopping in the Gulf of Thailand this year. For that, I’m going to recommend you fly into Bangkok, or if you’d like, Koh Samui. In this Thailand island hopping guide, I’m going to be sharing the 3 islands I’ve been staying on in the Gulf of Thailand.

  • Samui – my first stop on my island hopping grand tour
  • Koh Phangan – where I am now
  • Koh Tao – a divers paradise island (seriously. Spit into the wind in Koh Tao and you’re going to hit a divemaster or instructor)

Tip | I’ve been using Agoda lately because they let you filter by hotels that offer the 1-night TEST & GO program! This makes it easy to book your first night, tests, and transport, all in one go! To find your first night in Thailand, click here.

Island Hopping in the Gulf of Thailand in 2022

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Best time to visit Islands in the Gulf of Thailand

Thailand is hot, wet, and humid. Pretty much all time of year. But I’ve been told the hot season is starting in April. And in January/February we had a lot of rain here. Since March started though, we’ve only had one or two rainy days in Koh Phangan.

I find that island weather can never be trusted, and the only people who really know what it’s going to be like are the locals! So that’s what I did! I asked the locals and found that the best time of year on the islands in the Gulf of Thailand is May-October.

Keep in mind that’s the Gulf Islands. On the other side of Thailand the islands in the Andaman sea experience much more rain during the months of July to October. More rain means more humidity, but in all the time I’ve spent in South East Asia, I’ve never found the rain to be a problem! Sure it might downpour for half the day, but it’ll clear up and you can generally spend the other half of the day at the beach. Or you just end up looking like a drowned rat all the time…

Thailand Island Hopping Routes (for the Gulf of Thailand Islands)

There are more islands in the Gulf than we’ll be covering in this post, mainly because I haven’t been to Koh Si Chang, Koh Samet, or Koh Chang, so I don’t have much expertise to tell you where to go or what to do there.

We’ll be working our way south. Starting in Bangkok (you can skip if you’re starting from flights in Koh Samui) and heading down to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and finally visiting Koh Tao. From Koh Tao, you can easily loop back to Surat Thani or Chumpon to return to Bangkok or literally go anywhere else in Thailand from there!

How to get to the Southern Gulf of Thailand Islands

The amazing thing about Thailand is that you have options. You can be anywhere in Thailand, walk into a travel agent and say, “I want to go here” and that person will book you a ticket there. They’ll pick you up, drop you off, pick you up again, and so on until you get to your final destination. It is so easy to travel in Thailand.

Starting from Bangkok, and wanting to end up in Koh Samui gives you 3 options. You can fly, take the overnight bus, or you can take a sleeper train.

The best way to book any travel in South East Asia is with 12 Go Asia. We book all of our transport through them. 12Go has fair prices and options to get you anywhere you need to go, from taxis to trains, flights and buses. Explore 12Go here.

Flying to Koh Samui

When you’re island hopping the southern islands in the Gulf of Thailand, the closest airport is going to be Koh Samui. You can fly directly to your destination, but Koh Samui is the only island that has an airport. So anywhere else you want to go is going to involve ferries!

You can usually find a flight within your budget, depending on how quickly you need to get there. These flights are usually from Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) and cost around $65/£45 one-way but this usually includes check-in baggage allowance. You can also fly between Koh Samui and Phuket.

My first time visiting the islands I flew to Koh Samui which was just over an hour with Bangkok airways.

Tip | Thailand is one of those places where you really don’t need to book ahead. Plans change very quickly and you can walk into any tour agency to check their prices for flights, buses, etc. Many combo tickets include pick-up and onward transfers to make life just a little bit easier.

Sleeper Train to Koh Samui

Trains in Thailand are comfortable and cheap. You can get to a lot of places by train, and usually, when you book a train ticket with a tour agent, they’ll also pick you up to and from the train station! And when you’re saving a night on accommodation this can be a great option. Trains are the only time that you’re going to have ‘sleeper’ options.

You’ll be taking the train from Bangkok to Surat Thani. From Surat Thani, it’s very easy to arrange a ferry from the city’s port. Ferry tickets cost around 400 THB ($12/£9) to Koh Samui, 500 THB ($15/£11) to Koh Pha Ngan, and 750 THB ($23/£16) to Koh Tao. Or if you’ve booked your tickets with a travel agent, they’ll have handled this for you!

Tip | When trying to decide between a sleeper bus and train, consider what your final destination is. The trains run on a national schedule, where the buses usually run in tandem with the ferries. Meaning you could have a 6-hour wait from train to ferry, but less than an hour wait for bus to ferry.

Overnight Buses in Thailand

I’ve taken more overnight buses in Thailand than most people will ever have to do in their life… but here’s the thing… they’re EASY. Usually, the hardest part is getting yourself to the ferry/bus station. They handle everything else for you. And they usually leave from more convenient places. For example, the bus in Bangkok leaves from Khao San Road.

I think taking buses around Thailand is even more popular and convenient than trains, plus there are routes that can get you anywhere. Similar to the train for our Bangkok to Koh Samui route we’re going to be stopping in Surat Thani. From Surat Thani, you’ll then hop on the same ferry to Koh Samui.

The buses are comfortable, the seats lean way back, and you usually have one stop halfway through to stretch your legs and use a toilet/get some food. In this ‘post-covid’ traveling world, you can book your bus ticket a few hours before the bus leaves. But if you’re attending a full moon party, or if travel has picked up, you’re going to want to book a few days in advance.

Island Hopping in the Gulf of Thailand Islands in 2022

Luckily you’ll learn as soon as you hit the islands it is SO easy to travel between them. Every main strip/walking street is going to have 100 tour agencies that can help you book your tickets between the islands. And trust me, it is so normal to use these agencies. At first, I kept thinking I’m a travel blogger… I do not need the help of a tour agency to get anywhere!

But in Thailand, it’s quite normal to book your travel this way. Just pop in to a couple and see what tickets they have available. You can also book your tickets directly at the pier, but prices won’t be much different to skip the lines and book with an agent.

If you know what your plan is you can book as early as you like, but I found in Thailand my plans were always changing! So booking your ticket to the next island the day before you want to go should be plenty of time.

Thai Island Hopping Tips

Now before you embark on your journey, I want to share some additional tips with you. These things are very common in Thailand, but if it’s your first time traveling you might be a bit freaked out… say for example when your bus stops in the middle of nowhere and tells you to get off and wait… until someone comes to pick you up where you then ride in the back of a pickup truck to your next stop… (I told you, Thai people will do anything to help you get where you’re going).

But here are a couple of things to know when booking combination tickets through agencies in Thailand:

  • If your ticket includes transfers (i.e. from the pier to the station) you will be picked up by someone who is just ‘delivering you’ to the next stop. You may even have to sit on the back of someone’s pickup truck.
  • There’s usually a lot of waiting around at stations and piers. This is because the departure time you were told by the agency is different from the real departure time. They just want you there early.
  • Don’t be scared if you are transported to a small floating pier in the sea. The smaller islands can’t handle big ferries.
  • You may find that you will have to arrive by long-tail boat as part of your transfer. This is where the people with the long pants and large suitcases wish they were in swim shorts and had backpacks (yes I am referring to myself!)
  • As well as your ticket, you may be given a sticker/number. Look after it! When they tell you to wear your sticker (usually several stickers by the end of your journey) just wear them, no matter how dorky you look with your Koh Phangan sticker stuck to your chest for 24 hours. This helps both YOU and the staff know where you’re going next.

Islanding Hopping in the Gulf of Thailand in 2022 on Koh Samui, Phangan and Tao

Now for the fun part, you’ve made it to Koh Samui where you can explore, relax and EAT! Before heading off to Koh Phangan and Koh Tao as part of your island hopping trip in Thailand.

Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan is home to the world-famous Full Moon Party and to be honest, I avoided this island for a while, writing it off as a party island. Every month, on the night of the full moon, thousands of people gather on Haad Rin beach to party until the early hours (though I’ve been told it’s not quite early hours anymore, with the island police showing up to shut the party down around 1 am.)

Though I’ve learned that Koh Phangan is an incredible island to visit, even if you’re not interested in partying. In fact, Koh Phangan is home to my favorite beach in Thailand (that I’ve found so far). I spent weeks just relaxing, working and reading on this beautiful island.

Koh Phangan also has a huge expat community if you’re looking for somewhere to live where other people might be living and working like you!

Book your hotel in Koh Phangan!

Koh Tao

Remember when I said you could spit into the wind in Koh Tao and hit a dive instructor? Well, this little divers paradise is home to hundreds of dive schools offering EVERYTHING. Underwater photography classes, divemasters, intro courses and so much more. I recommend going to Koh Tao for diving, but even if you don’t want to head underwater, there are still plenty of nice things to do on this little island.

One of the best things to do in Koh Tao is to visit nearby Koh Nang Yuan, a tiny little island with the most beautiful sandbar you’ve ever seen.

You will notice right off the bat that Koh Tao is much smaller than Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. And everything costs more than the other two islands. While I loved it, I did talk to a couple in a travel office who was not as impressed, so I really think this island depends on what you do while you’re there.

Book your hotel in Koh Tao!

Koh Samui

If Koh Pha Ngan is for backpackers and Koh Tao is for divers, then Koh Samui is the all-rounder. Popular with families and couples, there’s a little bit of something for everyone on this developed island. There are the usual white beaches and clear waters but you also have with it comes larger hotels, shopping centers, and better road conditions.

Unfortunately, when I was on Koh Samui it was still pretty quiet, and I didn’t meet many people or have much of a social life. But on the flip side to that, I did have the most popular long stretches of beaches all to myself!

Book your hotel in Koh Samui!

Where Will You Go On Your Thailand Island Hopping Adventure?

Have I been able to convince you to add the Gulf Islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao to your bucket list for 2022? With Thailand opening up more and more, it’s becoming easier to travel to paradise. Why not book yourself a trip to the land of smiles for later this year, and enjoy island hopping in the Gulf of Thailand in 2022?

Personally, I can’t wait to explore the islands in the Andaman Sea next! I did visit Koh Phi Phi and Phuket, but that was years ago so I’m sure a trip back needs to happen soon. I’ll also be adding Chang Mai and Pai to my list… WOW, Thailand really does have a lot to offer.

What questions do you have about traveling in Thailand? You can follow along with my day-to-day adventures in Thailand over on Instagram. You can also ask questions either here or there. I just ask if you loved this guide, be sure to share it! The easiest way to share and save this post is on Pinterest. I’ll drop some pins below that you can choose from.

I’m going to work on specific Island Guides with itineraries for Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao. Which one are you most interested in reading first? Let me know!

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