It’s one of the simplest (and yet relatively unknown) ways to get from magical Malaysia to Thailand: A ferry gliding across the Andaman sea and connecting the laidback Malaysian island of Langkawi to Koh Lipe, the first of the southern Thai islands that you can almost just spot (if you squint just right) as you step on board. But what should you expect from the ferry journey?
We recently did the crossing between the two islands and have got everything you need to know about this breezy 90 minute jaunt.
Booking your tickets
You’ll see that there are essentially three operators running the Langkawi to Koh Lipe route, all operating twice a day: Around 9:30 am or 2:30 pm. The difference? Where they leave from.
Bundhaya Speed Boat heads out from the Kuay Jetty, near the southern tip of Langkawi while both Tigerline and Satun Pakbara depart from the Telaga Harbour, on the eastern side and near the famous Langkawi Cable Car.
Tigerline and Satun Pakbara also seem to work together in that we booked with Tigerline but were ushered onto the Satun Pakbara boat, so don’t worry too much about which vendor you book.
Once you’ve booked your tickets online there is no need to print them – just arrive with your mobile phone in hand!
Checking in to organised chaos
Arriving at the Telaga Harbour Park, you might feel like the check-in process is a little chaotic (we sure did!), but there is undoubtedly method to the madness.
First stop is ‘checking in’, where your passports and tickets are inspected. They are taken away from you (this will happen several times during your trip), and then you are called back to collect it again, along with a printed sheet with your booking confirmation.
From there it’s around the corner to another window, where you’ll be issued with your boarding pass and Thai immigration forms. You’re then in for a wait until about 15 minutes before the ferry is due to board, and the Malaysia immigration office opens for business.
Once the doors slide open, you’ll probably need to jockey for position – we saw people swarm in a very disorderly queue to line up at the Immigration office – and wait your turn to have your documents checked by the Malaysian border officials, followed by the sweet sound of your border exit stamp.
Pro tip: If you are travelling with small children, we don’t suggest you wait in the designated waiting area but instead near the immigration office itself. Otherwise you might find it difficult to get into the queue and might then struggle to find seats together on the ferry.
Coffee and cakes at the harbour house
In case you’re wondering, the Telaga Harbour Park doesn’t have too much in the way of shops or restaurants. While we didn’t use it, we noticed a pretty good coffee and pastry stall in the waiting area which serves flaky croissants and cappuccinos, as well as bottles of water.
There are two toilets – one male and one female – in the building which are basic and relatively clean.
And we are off! Loading and leaving
If you’ve made it through customs and border control, it’s smooth sailing (pun intended) from there on out. As you walk onto the ferry, the awaiting staff assist you with your luggage, which is placed near the front of the top deck. You can then wander around the boat and either snag a seat on the top or bottom seating decks – there is the possibility for a few people to get up top in the outdoors but there are no seats and it’s not the most pleasant ride!
We got ourselves settled in for a (hopefully) uneventful crossing that we knew would take around 90 minutes.
Now the boat itself is quite stable and generally the ocean is calm, but you might find the middle section (approx. 40 minutes in) more bumpy as there are no surrounding islands which act as buffers from the waves. With Lee a little ‘ferry shy’ after a bad experience a few months back in Cambodia, she found that bit quite challenging, although everyone else on the boat seemed happy or, mostly, entirely asleep and already dreaming of the sandy shores of Koh Lipe.
The ferry isn’t brand new so don’t expect modern facilities on board. While the chairs are comfy enough, there are no conveniences like plug points or wifi; and the entertainment is generally an older movie. There is one toilet which is passable but not the best – take wet wipes, tissues and hand sanitiser!
Lucky us had devoured a huge breakfast at our hotel before setting off; smart because there are no snacks sold on board. Make sure to pack your own.…
Arriving into Koh Lipe
Blink and the 90 minute journey is over, as you first spot the azure blue waters of Koh Lipe and see other beach bums already scrunching up their toes in the brilliant white sand.
However, the ferry doesn’t dock on the beach or even at a floating platform, like others you might have taken. It anchors about 200 metres off the beach and a handy system falls into place: long tail boats pull up on the right-hand side to load the luggage and the left to load the passengers.
We slowly shuffled our way to the front and, along with about ten other guests, were taken to the shore to await our first steps on Koh Lipe.
If the disembarkation process was unorthodox, the immigration process is even more unique. Along with the other travellers you’ll find yourself seated and awaiting your passport ‘name’ to be called. From there it’s a short walk to the Thai immigration office to get your entry stamp and fingerprints and then again back to the beach to finally collect your luggage and head to your hotel or hostel.
Pro tip: After your turn at immigration, you’ll be corralled back to the beach via a makeshift tent which is where you’ll pay an entrance fee for Koh Lipe. This is a 200 THB tax for your use of the ‘Tarutao National Park’, the area which includes Koh Tarutao, Koh Adang and, of course, Koh Lipe. If you don’t have Thai baht yet, don’t worry – you can pay in Malaysian Ringgit or US dollars too.
Overall, the ferry was good. The crossing was safe, the staff were very friendly and the amenities – while basic – were comfy. While the paperwork and waiting around it were quite laborious, they are worth it in the end. After all, you’ve made it to one of the last outposts of authentic Thai ‘island life’, the laidback, coral-rich haven of Koh Lipe.