Longtail Boats of Southern Thailand

‘Longtail’ boats, or reua hang yao as they are called in Thai, operate through the Southern Thai islands. The design concept dates back hundreds of years and is closely related to the design style of the boats of the Moken (‘Sea Gypsy’) people who originated further south in what is now Malaysia. There has, though, been one big change to the design in the 20th Century, the introduction of a propeller: before that these crafts were driven by sail or oar.

It takes a lot of practice to master driving a longtail boat. They sit low in the water and can become easily unbalanced. If you take a small longtail boat for a journey the boat operator will normally have to ask you to sit in the front to avoid unbalancing the boat. If the weather is bad then there might also be a need to start bailing out water as the waves splash over the side of the boat. In addition to this, the distinctive propulsion system, a propeller attached by a long metal rod to motorbike or car engine directly without gearing, increases the difficulty in controlling the boat. To steer a longtail, the whole engine has to be turned making controlling the boat a physically demanding activity.

There are, however, benefits to the design. They are extremely manoeuvrable, and because of their shallow profile and semi-submerged propeller (more efficient than a fully submerged engine) they are much more fuel efficient than most other types of boat. They can go very quickly as well if the water is calm. They are also relatively cheap to maintain as they use a motorbike or car engine and avoid the notoriously costly maintenance expenses associated with maintaining purpose built marine engines.

The actual wooden hull of the boat though is relatively expensive to buy. The majority of these boats are made by hand by a dwindling number of master craftsmen who work without drawing and plans. Most of the hand-built boats are made with natural materials as well. The gaps between the planks for instance are typically treated with cotton thread soaked in the resin of the breadfruit tree. However, the high initial outlay of cash on making the boat is offset against the very low ongoing repair costs. There is nothing on these boats that, with basic tools and material, the boat owner can’t repair themselves which is handy if you live in a remote area and you have a small irregular income.

Longtail boats operate off most beaches in Koh Phangan. Because of the better road network on Koh Phangan there are few places on the island where you need to take a longtail boat because you can’t drive and it is too far to walk. Nonetheless, no visit to the islands is complete with taking a longtail trip. It is an exciting ride and an experience of Southern Thailand’s maritime culture and traditional craftsmanship.

Popular longtail trips around Koh Phangan include:

• Thong Nai Pan to Koh Ma
• Haad Rin to Haad Thien and Haad Yuan
• Bottle Beach to Than Sadet

Longtail drivers on Koh Phangan are mostly independent operators and something of a law unto themselves when it comes to pricing. You need to negotiate. As a guide you should never pay more than 1,500 THB for a trip except on the Full Moon Party Night or a journey across to Koh Samui.

The way to find a longtail is simply to go down to the beach and ask. On many beaches, including Thong Nai Pan Noi and Yai, there are one or more booths where drivers sit waiting for custom. At Haad Rin you are likely to be approached by a longtail driver offering you a trip to Haad Yuan. In Bottle Beach or Than Sadet you should ask at your resort.

One last word of advice: you will get wet getting on and off the boats and whilst you are going to your destination. Wear shorts and flip-flops. From October through to mid-December, and in stormy weather, you are ill advised to use longtail boats – on occasion they sink in rough seas.

 

Ferry Services from Koh Phangan to Koh Samui

There are now 6 companies providing ferry services between Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. This means there is an excellent array of options now for getting between the two islands in the Gulf of Thailand. This is good news for people wanting to pop over to Koh Phangan to catch a Full Moon Party or for those needing to get to Koh Samui to renew a visa or do a spot of shopping. This post will focus on the options for getting from Koh Phangan to Koh Samui.

Timetables

Timetables change because of the season, the weather and other logistical reasons. Below is an autmatically updated timetable of the current ferry timetable between Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. Clink on the link in the timetable to go to online booking.

Ferry Koh Phangan - Koh Samui ฿ 200–450 20m – 2h 30m
  •   Catamaran 07:20, 11:00, 12:00, 16:10
  •   High Speed Ferry 07:00, 08:00, 10:30, 12:30, 16:30
  •   ferry 10:00, 13:00, 15:00, 17:00
  •   Catamaran 06:30, 08:00, 09:30, 10:15, 10:30, 11:15, 12:00, 12:30, 15:30, 17:15, 17:30
  •   High Speed Ferry 07:50, 08:00, 08:30, 09:30, 11:30, 12:30, 12:50, 13:00, 13:30, 16:00, 16:30, 16:40, 17:00, 18:00
  •   ferry 06:00, 08:00, 09:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00, 16:30, 17:00, 18:00
  •   Speedboat 19:00, 20:00, 21:00, 22:00

Lomprayah

Lomprayah

Lomprayah operates a catamaran ferry service between the islands. It is the fastest ferry service available. You will need to check which pier in Koh Samui is closest to your destination as there are 2 options.

Boats leave at 07.20, 09.00, 12.00 and 14.40 from Thongsala pier heading to Nathon in the south of Koh Samui. The journey takes just 30 minutes.

Boats leave at 11.00 and 16.20 from Thongsala pier arriving at Pralarn Pier in Koh Samui. This journey is slightly quicker – just 20 minutes. Pralarn Pier is at Maenam in the north west of Koh Samui.

BOOK LOMPRAYAH FERRY

Seatran

Seatran

Seatran operate a reliable ferry service with medium-sized boats. They have plenty of seating inside and there is a small shop where you can buy drinks and snacks.

The Seatran ferry leaves Koh Phangan from Thongsala Pier at the following times:

08.00, 10.30 and 16.30.

Journey time is 30 minutes. The ferry docks at Bangrak Pier in the north of Koh Samui near Big Buddha. From Bangrak you can get to Koh Samui Airport in 10 minutes.

BOOK SEATRAN FERRY

Songserm

Songserm

The Songserm ferry is the smallest ferry to leave from Thongsala. The boat can rock quite a bit in rough seas. Be prepared if you get boat sick. The main advantage of the Songserm ferry service is that it is a little cheaper than using the Lomprayah and Seatran services.

There are 2 boats a day going from Thongsala in Koh Phangan to Nathon in Koh Samui. They leave at 07.00 and 12.30. The journey takes 45 minutes.

BOOK SONGSERM FERRY

Raja Ferry

Raja Car Ferry

The Raja ferry service is essential to the Koh Phangan economy as it a ship with a large hold that can transport cars, motorbikes and trucks. It is the safest boat to use in bad weather and the only way to bring a rental vehicle to the island.

There are 3 ferries a day you can catch from Thongsala to Lipa Noi in Koh Samui. They depart at 07.00, 12.00 and 16.00. It is a long journey – it takes 90 minutes. Lipa Noi is just south of Nathon, the administrative centre of Koh Samui.

BOOK RAJA CAR FERRY FERRY

Haad Rin Queen

Haad Rin Queen

The Haad Rin Queen is the only ferry service that starts from Haad Rin Pier. It is a small boat. You sit on deck and have an awning to protect you against the sun and rain. As you might imagine, the Haad Rin Queen gets very full just before and just after the Full Moon Party.

You cannot buy tickets for the Haad Rin Queen online. Tickets are sold at the counter next to the pier in Haad Rin. It is usually possible (outside peak times) to get a ticket on the day of travel.

Haad Rin Queen timetable

Boats leave at 09.30, 11.40, 14.30 and 17.30. The journey time is 50 minutes. The Haad Rin Queen uses Big Buddha Pier in the north of Koh Samui. This is near Big C Supermarket, Tesco Lotus, Bangkok Hospital and Koh Samui Airport. A one way ticket costs 200 Thai Baht.

ticket office for Haad Rin Queen

It should be noted for those arriving at Koh Samui Airport in the late afternoon looking to make it to Koh Phangan on the same day that the Haad Rin Queen is the last boat to leave Koh Samui for Koh Phangan. This boat is at 18.30.

Thong Nai Pan Express

The Thong Nai Pan Express runs only a seasonal schedule. It runs from January to October. During the rest of the year the sea is too rough for the small boat to operate.

The boat starts in Thong Nai Pan Noi and visits Thong Nai Pan Yai, Haad Than Sadet, Haad Thien and Haad Rin before heading off to Koh Samui. The boat docks at Maenam. The crew wait 90 minutes before doing the return journey to Thong Nai Pan.

The Thong Nai Pan Express leaves Thong Nai Pan at 09.00 and gets to Maenam at 10.30.

You can buy a ticket on the boat. Tickets cost 300 Thai Baht. No online ticket services are available.

The Thong Nai Pan Express offers the only scheduled ferry service for the remote east coast beaches of Koh Phangan.

Conclusion

Use the book buttons  and the links in the timetable to check travel times and make online purchases of ferry tickets. If you are on a tight schedule and cannot afford missing a connection then use the bigger ferry companies – Lomprayah, Seatran and Raja.