Getting the bus to Koh Tao is the cheapest option of reaching the Thai Gulf island. These generally depart from Bangkok’s southern Sai Tai Mai terminal in the evening and arrive in Chumphon in time for the morning ferry at 07:00.
Combination tickets including the boat cost around 800 Baht, and can be purchased from the bus station or any number of Koh San Road travel agents.
A cheaper alternative than the government-vetted buses are the private services which depart directly from Khao San Road. The problem with these uncomfortable coaches is that thieves are GUARANTEED to search through bags stored under the bus and steal anything of value.
If you’re out of cash and must choose these services then never store anything except dirty washing in the luggage compartment and be vigilant even with your belongings onboard.
Once you get to Chumphon there are usually free transfers put on for the onward journey to the port if you have purchased a combination bus-and-boat ticket. Otherwise you will have to haggle with a taxi/tuk-tuk. There is always always a lot of waiting around with these journeys but buying a combination ticket does reduce hassle somewhat and usually work out cheaper.
Buses to Chumphon from Bangkok’s southern Sai Tai Mai terminal leave at 09:00, 12:00, 14:00, 20:00, 21:00 and 22:00 and take around nine hours at night or 10 hours during the day. Tickets cost around 400-700 Baht. The return journey leaves Chumphon bus terminal at 07:50, 08:25, 10:00, 12:20, 14:00, 19:50, 20:25 and 22:00, but remember to arrive early if you plan to buy a ticket for travel that day.
If coming from the south of Thailand then you may prefer to take the ferry from Surat Thani instead. These reach Koh Tao via Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, and so is a much longer journey than the Chumphon voyage at around six hours from Surat Thani. However, this is can be quicker if arriving from Phuket, Krabi or the deep south. Plus there is an airport at Surat Thani that handles cheap flights through Air Asia.
Surat Thani is a major transport hub and so buses come here all throughout the day from most major tourist destinations. Direct ferries to Koh Tao (via Koh Samui and Koh Phangan) leaving Ban Don Pier with Songserm Express at 08:00.
Trains to Koh Tao
An alternative to the bus is taking the train to Chumphon with nearly dozen services leaving Bangkok every day. But the best train to catch is the Express (Train no. 85) which leaves Hualampong Railway Station at 19:30 and arrives at 04:13 in the morning – with plenty of time to catch the 07:00 ferry to the island.
The Special Express (Train no. 39) departs the Thai capital at 22:50 and arrives in Chumphon at 05:49, but if it is even a little late then catching the 07:00 ferry becomes impossible and you’re left waiting for the 13:00 boat. This is the more popular option, however.