So! This is a really long story but if you're interested, keep reading.
I just recently came back from a trip in Thailand - nothing short of AMAZING! I thought I'd share some useful information about boat/ferry tickets with those that don't know or have questions. There's a handful of islands in Thailand that you can visit. But here on this particular blog, I'm going to address Koh Samui, Koh Pha-Ngan and Koh Tao.
Coming from Phuket, I had to decide how I was going to get to Ko Pha-Ngan. Only way I could get there is from Koh Samui. Looking on the internet and reading forums, I was thinking of time, cost and convenience. Even with all the forums and their suggestions - if you've got the end destination in mind - you could make up your own trip to get from Phuket to Koh Samui. Depending on whether you had a backpack or luggage, you could always hop on a bus, a car taxi, a moto-taxi, hitchhike or fly - and believe me, I've done all these options of transit during my time there.
I decided to fly. Of course I wanted to stretch my money out as much as I could on my holiday. However, time meant more to me, so flying out of the Phuket (HKT) was what I settled on. Mind you, my schedule was open and I didn't have set plans - but I also didn't want to waste an entire full day on voyage with the little time I had on this trip. So off I went on an hour or so flight and arrived in Koh Samui (USM).
It's a super cute and small airport. Very island, very beach-feel as most airports are big and stale. I had been in Koh Samui before so I didn't bother sticking around for a night to cruise this particular island. So after my flight arrived, I waited for my bags and headed immediately to what I needed - a travel desk to sell me a ferry ride to Koh Pha-Ngan. I had taken so much time out of my day, trying to decide whether I should buy a ticket online beforehand to save myself a few bucks but I'm glad I didn't. Reason being was that earlier, when I had arrived to HKT, I was bumped up to an earlier flight because they had additional room. If I had bought a specific ferry ticket earlier online, a couple of scenarios could've happened. Since I come to USM earlier than expected, I would have had to either buy another ticket to jump on an earlier ferry or waited for the ferry that I reserved (inhale big breath, there's so much more to share).
There's a few websites you can buy ferry tickets off of when you do a search online. Keep in mind, you're buying only ferry tickets. You'll still need to arrange a taxi to get to your pier that ferry works out of that you've chosen. In Koh Samui, there are four piers (Nathon Pier, Bangrak Pier, Maenam Pier, Lipa Noi Pier). I was looking for the one closest to the airport when I was looking online - Bangrak Pier - but that particular one wasn't available until the late late afternoon (all these ferries all run at different times, with different destinations). I would also still have needed to pay for a taxi to drive me to it which is about 10-15min away - the other piers are over 25min travel from the ferry from what I read. With all this in mind, that was why I did not buy a ticket beforehand.
So back to the travel desk. It's one of a few at USM but I chose the one that looked readily available. I greeted myself in Thai fashion (Thai people are SO incredibly polite, you can't help but practice being super nice back), then asked what the earliest ferry was that I could take - after she asked me where I was staying in Koh Pha-Ngan but don't assume they know every lodging on that island. At first I thought she asked because there was a quicker way to get dropped off closer to my location but there's only one pier in Koh Pha-Ngan which you have to taxi out to any stay, so her question was irrelevant. She also didn't recognize the place I was staying at anyways. So she told me there was a ferry and taxi combo that came to 400 baht (approx $15 CAD) and it was coming in 30min - awesome! So I took that. She gave me a sticker and two tickets - one ticket for the taxi, one for the ferry.
The sticker you wear on your chest or wherever visible on the outside of your clothing. It's meant for the ferry coordinators to quickly glance at your type of sticker and figure out where you're supposed to be. With language being a bit of a barrier and sometimes dealing with the occasional drunks, they probably came up with this method of organizing large groups of people and herding them in the right direction after many a failure. It's smart! So when you're thinking you're missing your boat, you're not unless you've wandered off into the distance on your own. They try to keep their eye on you, so don't go hiding. After I purchased my ticket, I walked to where she told me to. A guy was there to glance at my sticker and point to seating where I was to wait. Wifi in Koh Samui is awesome - instant connect when you log on, by the way.
Now that guy is waving to me to go catch my taxi. This is where the Wifi disconnects - pick up at the covered front of the airport. A bunch of other people are also taking the same taxi, piling in and handing over their luggage for the driver to put into this van. The drive to this particular pier was a bit longer than usual but it was because the driver was dropping off some other tourists to their hotel that was on the way. All good, it wasn't like we were going to miss our ferry. We arrive to the pier, we grab our bags, now we check in.
Advice to everyone travel-ling is to ask ask ask. If you're uncertain about something, ask a few people. Then use your own judgement to see which answer you trust. I could see this one counter was the correct counter to check in with the sign above it written in English but of course, I had to ask to make sure. I walk over, get in line, wait a bit and then provide the ticket I was given at the counter to the ladies operating the check-ins. They sign you in, you're done, then you go find somewhere to sit and wait for the ferry. Mine was called Lomprayah. They make announcements as to docking and boarding in both broken English and Thai. Another piece of advice is to look at others who have the same sticker as you. Pay attention to where they go. If you're hard of hearing like I am, or travel-ling solo, you just have to take it upon yourself to be more aware so that you don't get lost or miss your ride.
I'm now on this boat. If you have luggage, before you dock the boat, there are boat guys that will take your luggage and add yours to a pile in the boat. Be sure to take note of which guy took your luggage and where your luggage ends up as you're leaving it behind. When you go to pick up your luggage, you'll have an idea of which area it's in because it could get moved later by the boat guys or the boat itself. There's a few floors to choose from but if you're one of the last ones boarding, the seat you want is more than likely to be taken. So I had to opt standing next to a couple of large open garbage cans because there simply was no where else I could sit or go. I had a nice lovely chat with some super cool German family that shared their potato chips with me during the 20-30min boat ride.
The boat is now docking and people are lining up to herd out - we are now on the island of Koh Pha-Ngan. Remember where your luggage is? Yes and some luggage looks the same so you're always crossing your fingers no one takes your bag or vice versa. When you get off the boat, immediately there are taxis everywhere trying to get you to come ride with them. Again, time, money and convenience are the deciding factors to who you decide to go with - but in this case, the drivers here at Koh Pha-Ngan are pretty organized so a couple of drivers will be assigned take only people who are going in one direction and the other couple of drivers will go out to somewhere else - efficiency. It could get you pretty anxious with a bunch of people calling out for rides and you're in the middle of all this commotion but stay cool. The drivers will ask you where you're going so they can assign you to a ride going in your direction. Ask the price before you get in. If you're happy with the price, then hop in. Otherwise you can barter but I felt like - on this island - they're rather a tight knit community so you're not going to get as much of a "deal" as in Bangkok. My place was 10-15min away from the pier and I accepted the ride at 200 baht. For couples, they paid 300 baht.
Now from Koh Pha-Ngan to Koh Tao. This time, I decided to buy a ticket beforehand at one of the many tour shops on the island. Right before I left my stay, I had thought I had my boat ticket in my bag as I had played with it earlier an hour before. I hitched for a taxi (200 baht) and hopped in a ride with a couple of cute Polish girls. I get to the pier and it's packed. I look for my ticket to check in - nope, I don't have it, of course not. The ticket was 350 baht which I lost and had to re-buy another one at the same price. Lesson to myself not to everyone else - just buy a ticket upon arrival instead of beforehand because this always happens when I try to plan too much. At this pier (Songserm) there is a fruit stand, beverage stand and food stand serving a variety of quick to-go Thai dishes for you to enjoy while waiting.
Not going to lie but this was THE choppiest ride I had ever ridden in my life. It was part roller-coaster, part water-slide (I was out at the front of the boat where all the waves came crashing in and drenched all of us in this area). I've never been the one to be seasick but I had just eaten some greasy pad-thai earlier. So I retreated into the cabin on the lowest level after the last cold splash from outside, closed my eyes, did some breathing techniques and fell asleep somehow. It's about an hour or so, maybe a bit longer because I as in and out of consciousness and depending on the weather, I'm sure it could have been a smooth ride but not that time.
Now at Koh Tao, the same process to grab your luggage is the same. There's a long narrow pier you walk down from the boat and depending on your mood or how tired you are, you're either looking up to see your surroundings or looking down to avoid people. The taxi situation is intense here as well. I was staying at the Pinnacle where it's situated on top of a severe, steep and broken up road. The guy asked for 500 baht and I got him down to 400 baht. I understood afterwards why he was asking so much after the journey to there.
Now leaving Koh Tao and getting back to Bangkok. Either I take a ferry out to Koh Samui and take a plane out of USM or save some money and lose time using a ferry and bus. I figured this is where I'll sacrifice my time for experience - experience to write out this blog and to say I did that one trip. You can buy tickets to Bangkok out of anywhere - there are so many travel stores here on this island. The only difference between all of them may be 100 baht over or less, and some stores only offer certain boats which offer different destinations and times. Out of convenience, I bought tickets for 1100 baht from my hotel because they offered free shuttle to the pier an hour before I had to board. When I went to go check in with my ticket, that's when I noticed my driver from the hotel holding a sign that read "Pinnacle" was calling out to the new arrivals. It was then I realized, if I had had my head up upon my arrival to this island a few days ago and wasn't so tired, I would have seen him and gotten a free ride up to my hotel rather than paying 400 baht to get up there. Oh well, another lesson learned. Pays to pay attention.
The ferry was Lomprayah again and the ride was about an hour or so. You arrive on the mainland at Chumpon where you check in, get tickets and stickers and wait for your connecting bus to arrive. There's a restaurant, food stands and a minimart for you to buy stuff. There are washrooms but no toilet paper or soap - so be sure to have that handy on you. After an hour of waiting, they make an announcement over the speakers in regards to the color of your sticker. Your sticker color coordinates with a specific bus. That bus will have a number (which you will be given at the time of check in) and marked with the same color as your sticker on the front of it. When you load in, your ticket will also have a seat number where you're assigned to sit in for the next 8-9hours. The bus I took was a big tour bus with two levels and is air-conditioned. The ride is long but there is a small 30min break hours later where they take you to a rest spot with a very clean cafeteria/grocery store and washrooms. Afterwards, you'll arrive at Khao San road eventually and now you are officially in Bangkok!
Usually this is where you're at the end of your trip in Thailand and stay a few days in Bangkok buying gifts and souvenirs before you catch a flight back home. Again, long story but I wanted to share. When I was reading forums myself, I had wish someone was super detailed - so here it is!