Tuesday, 12 August 2008

From Bangkok to Koh Phangan

On our latest holiday to Thailand, my girlfriend made it her mission not to fly Bangkok Airways because the price of the flights was artificially high. In comparison to what we paid to fly Singapore Airlines from Manchester to Bangkok, it just didn't seem to make sense.
I was initially going to write an extensive post about the available options to get from Bangkok to Koh Phangan, but I actually found a really good overview on Travelfish.org so I won't be reinventing the wheel on this occasion.
There indeed is an extensive list of options available, so I will just explain which options we were considering and what we finally chose. And, was it worth not flying with Bangkok Airways?

The options we were considering:
1) The bus-ferry combined ticket with Lomprayah or Seatran Discovery. We finally didn't go for this option because we would lose an entire day and bus rides are not my favourite means of transportation.
2) The night train from Bangkok to Surat Thani. We almost went for this option because the first class cabins are really ok and you get some decent catering on-board, please have a look at the Seat 61 web site and make sure to watch the videos. The added advantage of the night train is that you don't have to pay for accommodation that night, which means extra savings.
3) Flying to Surat Thani with AirAsia and taking a ferry to Koh Phangan.

We opted for flying with AirAsia:
The flights with AirAsia were really cheap, so we decided to fly into Surat Thani and take Raja Ferry from Donsak Pier to Thong Sala on Koh Phangan.
At the AirAsia check-in it became clear pretty quickly how AirAsia manages to offer really low fees. The luggage allowance is pretty low at 15kg/person for checked-in luggage, so we were hammered with excess luggage. Since we don't really master the art of travelling light, we needed to pay an additional 2,000 Baht. A cost we would also incur on the way back ... this reduced our initial savings, but we were still much better off financially in comparison to flying with Bangkok Airways. A tip: if you have excess luggage, have a snorkel or flippers sticking out and put a few Padi stickers on your luggage. It seems that diving gear (and golf gear) won't be charged to the same extend. I am not sure about this but someone explained this to us while we were queueing to pay for excess luggage, so it might be worth giving this a try?
On arrival at Surat Thani airport, the entire process of getting to Koh Phangan was painless. At the airport (which is quite small) the buses of Phantip Travel are waiting to take customers directly to the ferry, Raja ferry in our case. You get on the bus and pay a combined fare for the bus and ferry (450 Baht to Koh Phangan, much less to Koh Samui). The bus ride takes about 1h30 to Donsak Pier. There are several "terminals" at Donsak Pier, but the bus drops you at the correct one in function of where you are going. When traveling to Koh Samui you leave from a different pier.
At Donsak Pier there is a restaurant where you can have some food and a drink while waiting for the ferry. While we were there, a girl was selling accommodation on Koh Phangan. She was very knowledgeable about places to stay on the island and was an independent "agent" really. Her prices were the same than what you would pay by booking direct and she offered good advice, although she "forgot" to mention construction noise near a resort when people were informing about it.
Raja ferry itself, was what you would expect from a ferry really. Big, ugly and not really comfortable ... but it got us to Koh Phangan in about 2h30.

To get back from Koh Phangan to Bangkok we had booked an early flight from Surat Thani (no choice anymore), which meant we had to spend a night on Koh Samui. We decided to stay near the Nathon pier on Koh Samui.
Since we now had to get from Koh Phangan's Thong Sala pier to Koh Samui we booked a Seatran Discovery ticket to get us to Nathon. This boat would supposedly take us directly to Nathon pier, but on our arrival on Koh Samui we weren't very impressed about the fact that we now had to jump on a mini bus to actually get to Nathon, which implied more luggage dragging.
The hotel we were staying at on Koh Samui had arranged a taxi for us at Nathon pier, so it all went a bit pear-shaped timing wise. We decided our taxi driver shouldn't be the victim of this so we called him back and waited for him to come back and pick us up at the pier, where we were dropped by a bus... The taxi driver was really friendly and he confirmed some stuff for us concerning our early ferry to Surat Thani the next morning. Basically you have to go to Phantip Travel's office in Nathon and from there they handle everything for you to get to Surat Thani Airport. Transport to Nathon pier, ferry and a bus from Donsak pier to the airport. It is all stress-free really with Phantip Travel, you just have to know where their office is in Nathon and be there in time.

Conclusion, was it worth it?
Hmmm, we did end up saving quite some money which allowed us not to worry about money for the rest of the holiday. We kind of made this an incentive. "If we don't fly Bangkok Airways, we will just treat ourselves to everything we want." Spa treatments, food, drinks, ... all paid for by not flying Bangkok Airways! Well, except for our night out in Bed Supperclub/Bangkok ;-)
If you think in Pounds, the money you save by not flying Bangkok Airways could be negligible. However if you compare this amount in Pounds to its Baht "purchasing power" equivalent, you get a very different picture.
Would we do it again? Go through the hassle of extra buses, longer ferry trips and wasting time to save money? Not sure really. I think it would strongly depend on the amount of time we can spend in Thailand. If you have more time than money, then the alternative transportation means are worth it. If however you have more money than time, then it's a no-brainer > go for Bangkok Airways and save yourself the hassle!


Ray said...

Nice post Greg, your attention to details is fantastic.

As you said you really cannot beat the BKK-Air flights to Samui for saving time. If you manage to book early enough then the early morning and late evening flights are usually available, these tickets cost about 2,300 Baht each way which is a bit of a saving on the other scheduled flights.

The train although is a very good proposition. The sleeper train takes 12 hours from Surat to BKK and it only costs 1,200 Baht. You have always got to make sure you get a lower bunk though as the aircon makes it freezing in the upper bunks, I am speaking from experience; three blankets and still freezing.

Courtney said...

Hi there, just reading about your trip. Can you tell me which flight did you take from Bangkok to Surat Thani? There are two flights from Bangkok one that leaves 1145 and one at 1405. I am just concerned about making the ferry if we take the later one but would prefer to take the later flight!

Any ideas?

Gregory T'Kint said...

Hi Courtney,

Well I actually flew out to Surat Thani at 9am because I didn't want to get to Koh Phangan too late. Now, if the flight leaves at 14:05, lands about 15:20, you are cutting it really short but Phantip Travel does aim to get you there in time (5pm Raja Ferry to KP, I assume this is what you are aiming for? please make sure to check the schedules are still the same). Unfortunately I can't really help you out with this one. It's a risk/reward situation. The earlier flight gives you peace of mind, but means you might have to spend a few hours being bored at Donsak Pier. The later flight might eventually get you stuck in Donsak or on Koh Samui (you'll always be able to get to Samui) in case anything goes wrong, such as flight delayed, bus breaks down, etc.
All the best...