Sunday, April 24, 2011

Getting to Koh Tao, by Lomprayah and it Sucks

Koh Tao is an island north of Samui, north beyond the full moon party island of Phangan. No direct flights and the only way to get there is by your personal yacht or the daily ferries departing from Bangkok, Hua Hin, Chumphon or Samui.

I recommend the Chumphon route, so as I did enjoying the 7 hours drive from Bangkok at 3am in the morning, followed by the Lomprayah twin hulled high speed ferry departing at 1pm. The boat journey was an hour and a half. One could get to Chumphon in a short 5 hours if needed to, forgoing all the coffee breaks, the toilet visits, the export outlet shopping and the meal stops along route in mega petrol stations so many in Thailand.

Take your time, drive a slow pace and enjoy the pleasant experience from darkness till dawn and into the daylight morning I say. Recently, they had a new service introduced. Its called Solar Air. You take a propeller plane from Bangkok to Chumphon airport, then a bus followed by the ferry service. No need to wake that early in the morning for self-drive. It cost about THB3,000 one way.

Bookings for the ferry could be done in advance over the Lomprayah web site, that was what I did and luckily I did so too. If not, one will have to endure the slow services of the check in counter as I write later. Getting to the ferry terminal is a challenge. The directional map on the website ain’t clear at all, could end up in Burma. So, in this post I had attached a snapshot of Google Maps for references (Long 10°21'30.60"N, Lat 99°16'1.80"E).

Lomprayah in Chumphon, they provide safe overnight parking looked after by the residence for THB50 per day to watch over your precious ride. Just make sure you get a shady spot for your car if you do not want it to be baking under the glaring sun. And to do so, wait for the return ferry from Koh Tao an hour before your trip, many folks will be driving their cars out on the return trip to Bangkok and that’s when you have the luxury to choose lots under the shade. Not much point arriving too early in advance as the parking could be full.

Now, heaps of whining, Lomprayah, no queue system, no baggage services and very slow checking-in process. Checking-in took more then 10 minutes per person as the counter was only a served by single slow laid back country woman scribbling your bookings onto notebooks. They have speed limits in terms of work but strangely, no one in the queue was complaining. Haven’t they heard of computerization?

Then when it was time, I had to lug and roll my baggage over the fifty meters of creaky wooden jetty under the searing sun, I got my tan even before landing on the beach. The ferry has two levels, the top so labeled VIP and you will have to pay THB100 extra to be in (it was THB 50 last year). But you may not get it as wished. Experienced riders rushed towards the boat in an instant after the onset of announcement to board. I had sat in the mass area below, powered by only three air conditioning systems. It was hot and humid, it ain’t a pleasant ride.

And so on my second trip to Koh Tao, I opted for booking VIP when checking in, ensuring I would get that seat upstairs instead of sauna room below. I was given a special VIP sticker, pasted onto my shirt, it was suppose to indicate to all that I had special privileges. Then, no special privilege encountered, I still had to join the long queue as per normal. Waltzing into the VIP with expectations that there will be available seats waiting for me, I was greeted by a scene of chaos instead. Large noisy families, hordes of noisy Thai folks engaged in frantic throwing of belongings onto empty seats reserving them for their mothers, kids and whatsoever extended families further down the queue. And they did not have the VIP stickers, they just conquered that VIP room in a stampede. To top it off, I did not see any staffs of Lomprayah coming in to check on who had the VIP stickers and who not, by right those who did not had to pay that extra THB100, it did not happen. And when I asked the Lomprayah staffs about why those people were not being charged, here was how it went:

Me (to Staff of Lomprayah):
Excuse me, we are supposed to pay extra when we sit VIP right?

Yes sir.

Why no one come to check on me and ask me to pay extra THB100?

Staff (started looking at each other to find excuse, realizing they forgot to check who was VIP and who not):
Oh we will do so….

Paused… confusion among staffs…

Er sir, can we have a look at your ticket… ?

Me hand over ticket… .

Staff: Oh sir… you already are VIP, we no charge you extra.

Me: What about the others? Did you check on them?

Paused… confusion among staffs…

Staff: Oh no need sir, we know who VIP and who are not. So we will charge those without VIP tickets and stickers.

Me: Why I never see you charge those with normal stickers then? I have been sitting up there for 1 hour already?

Staff: That’s because we know those without the VIP stickers currently upstairs had already paid for the extra VIP charge when checking in, the check in staffs had radioed us to tell us who they are.

Bull shit, utter bullshit. Totally bullshit, how could they recognized them all? And if they did paid extra, they would have got VIP stickers!! Lomprayah is full of bullshit but why should they bother to improve services since they are the only company that monopolizes the only ferry to Koh Tao!! Assholes.

Working here for 7 years, that day, I realized why my Thai friends had told me repeatedly that Thai people are very good at telling lies in my course of work as a warning. They don’t call it lies, my Thai mates had said, they simply call it “don’t finish the sentences” that’s all. Thais are very good at twisting the story and changing the facts. This, I totally witnessed on that day.

So my advice to all, forget about opting for VIP during check in and paying in advance. Many of us with VIP stickers ended with no seats because of these ill-mannered folks who horded the VIP level. Pity the other Caucasian tourists who were squeezed out of VIP rooms and made confused by the Lomprayah staffs who gave all kinds of bullshit reasoning. I am just wondering what the Lomprayah staffs had told those who paid but did not get a seat. I got mine because I screamed at the Lomprayah staffs when I had no seats during the beginning of the journey.

My holiday in Koh Tao was almost perfect except for Lomprayah. But do we have a choice?

Full photo sets here under Koh Tao Feb 2010 & Koh Tao Apr 2011.


Anonymous said...

Things have improved greatly to get to Koh Tao. The Chumphon Airport now has a number of flights daily that connect to the high speed catamarans to Ko Tao.
Here's some update.
Chumphon Airport is located 30km north of Chumphon City in Pathio District (alternative spelling Pathiu). It has direct daily flights connections with Bangkok's two airports, Don Meueng Airport - Budget & Low cost flights (DMK) and Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK). There are also onward flights to Ranong Airport (UNN). Flights from Bangkok are around 60 minutes. The airport is located 1km from Ao Bo Mao beach Pathio on Cap d'Pathiu, Chum Kho.
Airlines serving Chumphon Airport, Pathio.
Nok Air operates two daily flights between Bangkok (Don Muang, DMK) and Chumphon Airport, Pathio District, Chumphon (CJM). Happy Air operates a flight between Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi Airport BKK) to Chumphon and onwards to Ranong, 6 times a week.
Services at the Airport.
The airport has transit agents for onward travel to Chumphon and the islands of the a Gulf of Thailand including Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and onto Koh Samui. The TAT Tourism Authority of Thailand, Chumphon has a tourism information counter at the airport offering information on the region.

Jewie said...

Good to hear that and thanks for being very informative. I have found the information pretty useful for my next trip to Koh Tao. I miss that Island.