We spent a month living in Koh Samui in November 2013. If you’re spending more time on the island than a few days in a resort you will probably need a car. Taxis aren’t cheap around the island – a short journey can cost 300B easily, so hiring a car can really save you money and give you flexibility. You can hire a car for around 900B a day or a scooter for around 200B a day. But first…
A Word About Scooters
Before you arrive you would likely have heard there a lot of scooter accidents and think it sounds quite high, but the moment you get there, you can’t believe how low it actually is. Everyone is driving around on these little scooters, and about 1% of them actually wear helmets. Even the Farangs (the Thai word for foreigners), opt not to wear their helmets, and very often they are driving on these scooters for their first times.
Often you see a whole family travelling on these little scooters, with babies, children, shopping, panes of glass, appliances, anything that you can think of – and still no one wears a helmet. We saw quite a few tourists around the island, including children, who had clearly been involved in scooter accidents with huge grazes down the side of their body or face and broken limbs.
Unless you’re an experienced rider, don’t hire a scooter! And if you must hire one, get a helmet. We saw an accident one night where one scooter was overtaking another and clipped her front well. The driver flew off her scooter and I saw her head literally bounce on the concrete. No helmet. We stopped to make sure she was ok and she was, luckily, but probably ended up with concussion.
Driving in Koh Samui
When driving in Koh Samui you will never see any road rage. Simply because there is no time to lose your anger. Every moment you are in a state of survival mode. Continually searching your surroundings for the nearest onslaught of potential on road engagement. You’ll see everything and anything driving on the roads of Samui. There’s a lot of construction on the island so lots of big trucks and concrete mixers. We’ve seen huge parade-style floats driving down the road at 10 km per hour (and unfortunately been stuck behind them!). Pick up trucks with 40+ workers standing like sardines on the back. Scooters driven by 12 year olds. Workers hanging off the back of delivery trucks.
When driving you are entirely focused, and driving at relatively low speeds. You are seeking every potential danger ahead, it may be a stray dog about to jump in front of you, someone else overtaking on the inside of you, whilst someone else over taking on the outside, and a scooter is on the wrong side of the road. Even the pedestrians seem to have trouble remembering to look both ways when crossing the road. It has been known on numerous occasions of pedestrians actually walking into cars.
Dealing with roundabouts is tricky and confusing. They seem to work in the opposite direction on the island – you give way to cars pulling onto the roundabout (or anything that is bigger than you!). Everyone is always so worried the other car is going to crash into them, they give way to the traffic pulling out in front of you. But as this is so strange, and there are a lot of Westerners there, no one is ever quite sure whether they should go or not.
There are no parking wardens, so people park pretty much where they want. This might results in at times seeing cars that are still half on the road. Again another hazard you must be ready for.
If one of the locals crashes into you, I am afraid to tell you that it is still your fault. Their reasoning is, that if you were not here on their island, then they wouldn’t have crashed into you. You can try all you want to argue them out of this logic, but basically they know they have hit a payday, and I’m afraid they are you going to make you pay for it. Try to negotiate with the person who crashed into you, with a translator if necessary. If you involve the police then they will also want their cut, which can run you about 2-3 times the price.
Tips for Driving in Koh Samui
- Drive slowly and carefully. You never what is awaiting you.
- Do not get distracted, always stay alert and expect anything at anytime.
- Watch both sides of the roads. It’s quite common for drivers, especially scooters, to suddenly switch sides of the road to park on the opposite side of the road instead of pulling over and making a U-turn.
- If it’s ahead of you, it’s your problem. Keep enough distance between you and the car or scooters in front of you.
- When you want to stop, check behind you as well as in front. Don’t stop suddenly.
- If it’s bigger than you, it’s your problem and it has the right of way. Trucks, pickup trucks, cars and scooters have right of way in that order.
- Watch out for unexpected flooding. Samui has a unique climate which means it can be raining heavily in one area but not in another. It might not have been raining where you are but roads can still be flooded in the wet season.