If you’re coming from anywhere in Thailand, there are only two major airlines serving Koh Samui: Thai Airways (with a couple of flights a day) and Bangkok Airways (with the most flights). The very small Koh Samui airport is also at capacity, with no room for budget carriers. Since the service is essentially a duopoly, and Koh Samui is a holiday destination frequented by foreigners, flight prices are steadily and predictably high. A really good domestic sale fare to Koh Samui is around $100 each way. More often, you’ll be paying $200 each way. For a 1-hour flight from Bangkok, the fares are astonishingly high.
Enter Nok Air who has come up with a fairly innovative solution. They don’t fly to Koh Samui, but you can fly to Surat Thani, the nearest place on the mainland. This is a destination served by many budget airlines and close to the island ferries. Nok Air sells a combination air/bus/boat ticket to Koh Samui. The travel time is considerably longer, but for all-in fares as low as $50, the extra time may be worth the savings.
I used the service today, and am writing from the Surat Thani airport. There is one big main ferry dock in Koh Samui, but several operators. The operator that Nok Air uses is called Lomprayah and you need to check in at their dock 30 minutes in advance. When you buy a ticket, it’s not clear exactly where you need to check in, but Lomprayah called me on the morning of my flight and reminded me that I should check in at the ferry dock, not at the airport. Apparently a lot of people go to the airport by mistake. It cost me 500 baht (about $18) for a taxi to the ferry dock; the other direction, you can use a minibus organized by Lomprayah and it will cost 200 baht to anywhere on the island.
The catamaran ride was fast and smooth, and took about 45 minutes. It arrives in a place about an hour’s drive from Surat Thani airport, at least at the speed the minibus driver went. He was driving at a breakneck speed and passing every other car on the road, the limiting factor in speed being the top speed of the vehicle, not any concern for safety on the driver’s part. After a hair-raising journey we arrived at the Surat Thani airport.
Unfortunately, Nok Air leaves a lot of room in the schedule for the boat/bus connection to the airport, and I had a 3 hour layover at the airport. There is really nothing to do at the airport, it’s very small and there are only a couple of concessions. However, the prices are surprisingly reasonable for airport concessions. I had an iced cappuccino and cheese toast for only about $5.
Nok Air is not a member of any airline alliance and they are a low cost carrier. This means they do all of the standard annoying things like setting unreasonably low luggage limits (15 kilograms) and charging $1.50 extra for credit card processing. Also, the fare inexplicably ends up being around $10 more than advertised no matter what you do. So, be sure to factor in the “drip pricing” when considering whether the savings are worthwhile. Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways don’t play these games so it’s easier to comparison shop.
It’s worth noting that many other low cost airlines fly between Surat Thani and other locations in Thailand, in particular AirAsia who has a very large number of flights. So, you could organize your own boat and bus itinerary from Koh Samui to the Surat Thani airport. Nok Air just makes it really convenient because they do it all for you, and the price is about the same as if you organize the same thing on your own.