Crossing Thai waters from Phuket to Koh Tao may seem like a feat, but all stresses can be avoided by booking a bus-ferry combo. There are many departure times to chose from. There are bathrooms on board the ferry, and the bus makes rest stops in lieu of a toilet. Both vehicles are well air conditioned.
To get from Phuket to Koh Tao you need to firstly take a bus to Chumphon or Suratthani, and then jump on a ferry across the Gulf of Thailand. Easy, right? Well, sort of. The total distance is 286 kilometers (177 miles) so it's a real traveler experience and not something typical tourists would consider. You're going to be on a bus with other travelers for just under eight hours.
There will, of course, be plenty of service stops for bathroom breaks and to grab a bite to eat and drink. The bus is also air-conditioned and seats recline to provide a fair opportunity to relax and get some rest. In fact, if you're taking the late night bus from Phuket to Koh Tao, you actually won't need to book any accommodation for that night so you'll also save your Thai Baht for something more exciting when you arrive on the east coast island.
The ferry from the mainland over to Koh Tao can take anything from three to four hours. Again, it's a relatively comfortable ride and you'll usually find an air-conditioned communal cabin below deck as well as a sun deck, up top. Ferries also feature bathrooms and some have small snack kiosks.
Once you arrive on Koh Tao it's a good idea to have somewhere to head to as soon as you step foot on Mae Haad Pier. Some guest houses and beach retreats will send a member of staff to pick you up so you don't have to worry about booking a taxi or lugging your luggage all over the place. Alternatively, there are bound to be lots of representatives for scuba diving centers and hotels looking to make your acquaintance upon arrival. It's up to you to decide if you prefer to have things organized in advance or whether you like to travel by the seat of your pants!
The bus journey from Phuket to Koh Tao takes you overland from west to east coast Thailand. This is either a great opportunity to save money on accommodation and get some sleep if you're traveling through the night or, alternatively, you can sit back in your reclining seat and watch the Thai mainland whiz past your window. From agricultural fields and plantations to brightly-lit street food stalls and ramshackle roadside houses, this is a side to Thailand that's rarely seen by the tourists sticking to the coast.
Buses make lots of stops at service areas which will usually have a washroom, canteen and overpriced gift shop. It's a good idea to visit a market in Phuket before you leave. Night markets are a great option if you're departing during the evening. Although you can buy food along the route it's always best to be prepared, especially when it comes to keeping hydrated. Bring your own bottled water, just to be on the safe side.
Once you reach the east coast, either at Suratthani or Chumphon you'll swap wheels for waves as you embark on a three hour ferry ride across the Gulf of Thailand. Daytime crossings usually allow you to catch some sun up on the top deck and look out over the waves to faraway islands on the horizon. Nighttime crossings might even allow you to get some more sleep although the air-conditioned communal cabin down below can get rather busy.
Taking a bus\ferry
The best way to travel from Phuket to Koh Tao is to book a bus-ferry ticket in advance. This enables you to get all the way from west coast to east coast and onward to the island without any of the stress associated with booking separate sections of the journey. You're going to be in this one for the long haul – total traveling time is around 10 hours plus – so the best advice is to enjoy the ride.
You can get to know fellow passengers on the seven hour bus trip or catch up on some sleep if you've spent the previous night partying in Phuket. If you're traveling during the day you can watch out of the window as mainland Thailand passes by. These authentic rural and urban scenes aren't going to be witnessed by casual coast-hugging tourists, and especially not by those that choose to fly rather than travel overland.
Getting a bus-ferry gives you a real traveling experience in Thailand. Both the bus and ferry have air conditioning which helps with the heat. Seats on both are relatively comfortable so you can expect to grab some rest - certainly so if you've remembered to pack ear plugs, neck support cushion and an eye mask. Also, don't forget to bring your own food and drink for the journey. It's going to be a whole day or night of traveling. There will be chances to buy supplies along the way but don't leave things to fate. Put yourself in charge of your own destiny – and your own snacks!
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