THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO FERRYING THE THAI ISLANDS
Traversing the Thai islands was my first time visiting tropical islands and navigating a journey between several islands, keen to see as much as possible.
Beginning to build my itinerary, I researched to figure out which islands I wanted to visit, and also ferry routes to figure out how to best travel among them.
There’s no easy way to do this, but it is an important step- you don’t want to plan something that doesn’t make sense in reality when it comes to the logistics of traveling between islands.
Two things helped me:
- Looking at a map of the Thai islands once I’d earmarked a few that sounded interesting, and identified them as ones I wanted to visit. Understanding which islands were on the Gulf side vs. Andaman side was necessary, but I also needed to see where they were in relation to each other visually so I could start to search ferry options
- Once I had a sense of geographic location, simply googling ‘ferry from Koh Lipe to Koh Lanta’ or ‘ferry from Railay to Koh Phi Phi’ helped me put the rest of my plan together. This part took a while and involved looking at a few different ferry schedules, in part because I was set on going to the southernmost island, Koh Lipe. If you’re simply searching how to navigate the Gulf Islands or the upper Andaman ones, it won’t take you nearly as long
In the end, I decided on-
- Fly into Koh Samui from Bangkok
- Return ferry to Koh Tao
- Fly into Krabi from Samui (note: you could also fly into Krabi from Bangkok or fly in/out of Phuket for the Andaman Islands)
- Long tail to Railay East
- Depart Railay West to ferry to Koh Lanta
- Ferry further south to Koh Lipe
- Ferry back north from Lipe to Koh Phi Phi
- Ferry Koh Phi Phi to Phuket
- Fly from Phuket to Siem Reap
I decided to skip Koh Phra Ngan on the Gulf side because I’d read it was overdeveloped and best suited for party-hardy backpackers or couples honeymooning.
And, on the Andaman side, I wish I had more time to visit Koh Yao Yai or Koh Yao Noi, or even visit the upper east coast of Phuket.
But, my itinerary worked well over two weeks, ensuring I had at least 2-3 days in each place. It was aggressive, but I was intent on experiencing a variety of islands, so it’s what worked best.
In total, I took seven ferries.
If you’ve even started searching ferry companies in Thailand, you already know there’s no shortage of options. Typically, at least two companies operate the same route so you’ll normally have a choice of provider.
While planning this trip, I wished I’d had a complete guide to ferrying the Thai islands. Without one, figuring out my schedule was a lot of Googling and review reading.
When starting to book ferries, I was nervous. If you look at reviews for any of them on TripAdvisor, they’re grim.
Think one or two stars, and tales of travel horror on the seas- delays, rough rides, cancelled ferries with no notice, etc. Thankfully, I experienced no such drama.
Are the ferries comfortable or luxurious?
If you want that kind of comfort, consider taking a speedboat between some of the islands. You’ll see it offered as an option when it’s available for shorter trips (Railay to Lanta). But know, it’s usually 3-4x+ the cost of taking the ferry and often only faster by an hour or so.
I’m pro-Thai ferry.
The only questionable ride I had was with Tigerline, but more on that below.
I haven’t travelled with all of the ferry operators, but did try to take as many different ones as possible, schedules pending, to best understand services offered.
The Complete Guide to Ferrying the Thai Islands: A Review of Ferry Providers
Lomprayah: Samui to Koh Tao
Without question, the best ferry I took in Thailand. The boat was the least grim (wouldn’t exactly say it was nice), and we left on time. Air-con was strong, and there was a snack back with food/drinks on offer.
Lomprayah boats are newer than some of their competitors, so they’re also usually a tad faster as well.
Seatran: Koh Tao to Samui
Adequate ferry ride, but the boat was noticeably older than the Lomprayah one. Seats weren’t as comfortable, air-con wasn’t as strong, no food/drink for sale, and it was an hour longer than the journey I’d taken with Lomprayah.
Left and arrived on time.
Really, I only took Seatran on the way back to Samui because the pier they go into was closer to my hotel than the pier Lomprayah travels to. This is also where Google comes in handy- some islands have one pier, others have multiple ones. I usually always go with which route brings me to a pier closest to my hotel to ease travel time and lessen taxi transfer cost.
Longtail boat shuttle: Krabi airport to Ao Nammao to Railay East
Travelling from the Krabi airport to Railay, you have a few options- you can take a long tail boat from Ao Nammao to the floating pier at Railay East OR take a longtail boat from Ao Nang to the beach at Railay West (there is no pier there, you walk in from the water).
I was staying at Railay East, so it made sense for me to do the former.
The longtail shuttles from Ao Nang and Ao Nammao leave every hour, and sometimes require a minimum amount of people to travel. I arrived about 20 minutes before one departed, and had no issues getting a ticket or making it to my hotel.
Princess Ao Nang: Railay West to Koh Lanta
Taking two hours to sail from Railay West to Lanta, no issues with this boat- by no means a delight, but it wasn’t overcrowded and was much cleaner than some other operators.
To make this journey, you take a longtail boat out to the ocean to meet the ferry- there isn’t a pier in Railay West. There, the crew throws (literally) your luggage up onto the ferry, then helps you climb up as well. This was a tad nerve wracking because of how the boats sway. Unsurprisingly no issues, which makes sense as I’m sure the staff does these transfers multiple times daily.
Bundhaya: Koh Lanta to Koh Lipe
This ride was a delight, despite it being almost three hours long- it’s a long way from Lanta to Lipe. The speedboat wasn’t overcrowded and it was smooth sailing.
I sat at the back of the boat with a guy I’d met on the pier and enjoyed chatting most of the way while admiring the scenery around us.
Tigerline: Koh Lipe to Koh Phi Phi, and Koh Phi Phi to Phuket
By far, the worst ferry experience for both quality and safety- however, we did get to each destination without error and close to on time.
From Lipe to Phi Phi was the roughest ride I’d had in Thailand. Even the crew was surprised by how we were being thrown around the boat.
They stopped/started the engine several times in the middle of the sea, so my best guess is something was wrong with the boat because it didn’t seem to be a problem with sea turbulence. If you’re prone to seasickness, this ride would have been very difficult.
From Phi Phi to Phuket, I opted for the larger ferry and while it was fine, it was an old boat and very dirty. There’s absolutely no regard for hygiene with Tigerline.
Would I travel them again? Maybe, if they were the only option. Otherwise, I’d book through another provider.
Once you’ve selected which ferry companies you’re going to take, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The Complete Guide to Ferrying the Thai Islands: Top Tips for Taking Thai Ferries
If it’s a lesser traversed or longer route, e.g. Koh Lanta to Koh Phi Phi, and speedboats are the only option, book in advance or risk space selling out. Every ferry company I came across gave the option of booking online or buying day of through your hotel or the company itself. For speedboat rides, I booked in advance. For the larger ferriers, which I knew were less likely to sell out, I booked day before or day of if the route had multiple time options, e.g. Phi Phi to Phuket.
Always check the ferry schedules before you book accommodation or activities. A ferry may only leave once or twice daily- don’t miss it by having a tour that gets back too late. Simple Google search is helpful for this, but I’d recommend double checking whatever you find on the ferry company’s website to ensure the info is up-to-date.
Save money by taking ferries over speed boats when you can, as long as the travel time isn’t ludicrously longer. I did this a few times, namely Railay to Lanta and Phi Phi to Phuket. Traveling to Lipe, speed boats were the only option because it’s a much longer distance.
Bring luggage locks, it’s likely your bags will be on the upper deck or in a part of the boat where you won’t be able to keep an eye on them.
Bring sun cream and top up as needed if you sit outside. Trust me, the sun’s glare off the water is strong. All of the ferries and speed boats I took had indoor or covered seating. Below deck is dim but also usually the coolest / strongest air-con.
There are toilets on board both ferries and speedboats, but they’re in dismal condition, and usually won’t have toilet paper.
It’s likely there won’t be piers at each destination, especially if you’re island hopping. Advice: Pack light (a backpack is the best vs. having to roll a suitcase through sand and carry over water), and wear pants/a dress you don’t mind getting slightly wet. It helps if your shoes are easy to take off too.
Boat staff will likely help you with large luggage on/off the boat, but I lost count of times I had to balance on a floating pier, or wade through water mid-shin deep to walk to shore. Once, we even had to climb from a longtail up onto a bigger ferry in the middle of the ocean.
You can book taxi transfers as part of your ticket if your hotel isn’t walking distance from the pier. Often, these transfers will be as part of taxi vans which, be forewarned, they PACK with people/luggage before departing. It’s much cheaper than taking a private taxi though- the only place I compared rates was Krabi where a shared van was 200 baht and a private taxi was over 600 baht- potentially worth it if you have people who can share the cost.
Some ferries will have snacks or offer you water for particularly long rides, but don’t count on it. Bring your own drinks/food if you think you’ll need it.
Final note, some of the ferry ports are what I’d best describe as raw.
Think: A few folding tables, chairs and squat toilets. This is just the standard of operation in Thailand- it isn’t luxurious. And while it might be slightly uncomfortable at times if you’re used to Western amenities, this is what traveling and experiencing other parts of the world is about.
Did you find this complete guide to ferrying the Thai islands helpful? Have you ever taken a Thai ferry? Any tips you’d add for travellers?
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