Some of Thailand’s most famous islands can be found along the Chumphon Archipelago. Koh Samui, which put Thai beaches on the tourist map, continues to invite visitors to enjoy it’s warm waters and ocean views. Koh Pha Ngan is the place to go to dance, drink, and glow-in-the-dark paint your cares away. Koh Tao offers top notch snorkelling and scuba diving with sea turtles, fish, and whale sharks to tantalize even the most seasoned divers. It’s all there waiting for you – you just have to get there!
If time is tight and you’re headed to Samui, you can fly directly to the island. Koh Samui Airport is small but lovely. Bangkok Airways operates the airport and is the main flight provider. If you’re looking to avoid the skies, then take to the tropical seas on a high-speed catamaran!
Lomprayah Ferry has a slick setup to get you to the island of your choice. With piers in Chumphon (closer to Bangkok) and Surat Thani (closer to Phuket / Krabi), this is a great option to make your transit into an experience.
GETTING TO THE LOMPRAYAH PIERS
Both Surat Thani and Chumphon have airports and Lomprayah has deals with Thai Smile Airways, Nok Air, Thai AirAsia, and Thai Lion. Flights, shuttle, and ferry tickets can be booked as a package. You can also book bus, minivan, and train tickets as a combo to get you to / from Chumphon Pier from Bangkok and Hua Hin or to Surat Thani (Tapee) Pier to / from Phuket and Krabi.
Cars and minivans have strict rules on luggage (think backpack) and may charge you extra if your bags require extra space. The airline partners are all Thai budget airlines so check out their baggage fees. The coach buses and trains also have weight and piece limits, but they seem to be looser in their enforcement.
We drove ourselves from Bangkok and made use of the Chumphon Pier parking lot. Covered parking is on a first-come-first serve basis. After that it is uncovered parking. The cost was 50 Baht / day and you pay cash upfront to an attendant when entering the parking lot. Keep your receipt to show when leaving. The drive took about 6 hours on the way down and 9 on the way back (thank you very much, holiday traffic).
We reserved and paid for our tickets online in advance using our credit card (Visa or MasterCard is accepted). You can also purchase tickets at the piers but you may not get what you are looking for. Combo tickets, such as the Fly and Ferry option, are also available through the airline websites. We had a digital copy of our reservation ready, but photo ID (passport) was enough to pick-up our tickets in person. Be sure to arrive no later than 30 minutes prior to your sailing time.
AT THE LOMPRAYAH CHUMPHON PIER
If you’re driving yourself, any GPS app can get you there. Whatever form of transit gets you there, once you arrive, it is all very straight forward. Signage is clear and is well done in English and Thai. Start with the information / ticket counter and make sure you have all of your papers sorted. With that done, you can stock-up in the minimart, head to the open air restaurant, make use of their bathrooms, or sit in the waiting area (which has a few power plugs). Prices were decent and there was a good variety of options.
In addition to your tickets, you’ll be given colour coded stickers for people and bags. The colours depend on which island is your stop. About 30 minutes before departure, a queue will start to form. Grab your bags and get in line near the front so that you are undercover and shaded from the sun. Waiting in line is only made worse by frying while waiting in line. Safety videos and instructions will play and be ignored while you wait. When it’s time to go, have your tickets and photo ID ready. Staff will check tickets and then take a picture of your passport.
The walk down the pier is lengthy and a little bumpy. We brought our pram / stroller and one rolling suitcase. As you pack, keep in mind that you will be schlepping your stuff. Boarding was done via ramps at the back of the boat. They were narrow and had grips which made it difficult for our umbrella stroller but safer to walk. The doorways have raised thresholds which were also a stroller challenge.
The main deck is nearly all indoor seating. With 3 seating sections separated by 2 aisles, staff will have you proceed up one aisle, drop you bags at the front of the cabin, and then proceed down the next aisle to find a seat. By the time boarding is completed, the front of the main deck passenger cabin looks like a Tetris wall of luggage. The overflow luggage is stored outside under tarps and straps. This cabin has AC and 2 TV’s playing adverts. There is a small paid snack bar in the middle. We sat in the front row by the windows for the extra room the bulkhead afforded. It helped us fit our stroller without having to collapse it. As Em found out, it’s also one of the bumpiest sections on the boat. Apparently the back, middle is the smoothest ride.
The main deck also has 2 washrooms and they were simple but functional (for puking too). The middle deck is a mix of indoor and outdoor seating and the top deck is a sundeck.
LEAVING THE BOAT IN KOH TAO
After a brief stop at Koh Nang Yuan, the ferry skips over to Koh Tao. Human nature kicks-in somewhere between these 2 islands. In the 5 minutes it takes to sail from one pier to the other, people panicked about their stuff and the aisles were soon clogged with people jostling to dismantle the Tetris wall of luggage and claim what is theirs. Choruses of “excuse me”, “can I get through”, and “grab my bag too” rose above a squish of people elbowing and angling to get to the front. We sat in our seats knowing we needed clear aisles for the stroller. Thankfully any luggage that is outside the boat is transferred onto the pier by staff. So we walked off the boat down clear aisles and grabbed our bag on the dock. You might try the same (hint hint).
Mae Haad Pier is a madhouse as so many bodies try to navigate it’s narrow walkways. Prepare for this level of chaos by having things tucked into bags and your hands free. The pier is fairly well signed and has access to taxis and a parking lot where hotels do pick-ups. There are Koh Tao guidebooks available at no cost and you should pick one up at the info desk in the waiting area with the metal chairs. Snacks, souvenirs, day-trip adverts, and people hustling you along are all waiting for you here.
RETURNING TO CHUMPHON
We caught the mid-morning ferry back to the mainland. You must arrive 30 minutes prior to departure. The Lomprayah office is not as swank on this side and it tucked down a small alley from the street or through a doorway from the pier. We were given our return tickets on our trip to the island and so we simply had to check-in at the desk and get our new round of people / luggage stickers. Not everyone needs to check-in so we made camp in the waiting area (metal chairs pictured above) while one parent went and did the paperwork. To find the Lomprayah ticket office from the street, look for the Coffee House Cafe and turn down that small street. You will see the yellow awning of the office. From the pier, look for the check-in sign and go through the covered doorway (see pictures below).
There is a blue covered section to the pier with bench seats. Once your sailing is the next one, you can wait here. A sign by the entrance states the timing of the sailing. We suggest getting a spot here as it is shaded and out over the water. By the time we had to board, the line was packed into the pier and waiting area where there was little airflow or personal space.
Disembarking in Chumphon was simple, though that pesky human nature reared it’s ugly head and the aisles once more turned into a circus. Staff were on hand to guide people to buses, vans, and parking lots and soon the crowd thinned out.
As a family, it was an interesting added element to our trip and something that can be done easily. Pack intelligently and be mindful of anyone with mobility issues. So parents, you can do this. Island life is waiting for you.