Phuket is a mountainous rainforest-island in the Andaman Sea that has attracted both the international cinema industry and visitors from all over the world – for good reason.
Wide coves and bays, golden sunset capes, powdery beaches, a vibrant nightlife, and exotic markets are reasons why travelers flock to Thailand’s largest island, including myself.
After a short getaway in the Gulf of Thailand, I felt like seeing the country’s west coast too and booked a land-based trip from Koh Samui to Phuket. This guaranteed I wasn’t going to wind up with a canceled flight and an endless refund waiting time. Also, it was a lot cheaper than a flight, and I just loved the idea of watching the scenery roll past. Packing my bags, I was all excited and looked forward to wandering a tad longer.
Jump in and get a vicarious thrill of the ferry and bus ride to Phuket in late October 2020.
Checking in at Lomprayah Nathon Pier
Tour operator Lomprayah’s check-in desk was clearly labeled; I couldn’t miss it. Their employee was friendly and smiled as if business was going very well. In less than a minute, she checked me in and handed me a sticker to stick on my tee, two ribbons for my backpacks plus the bus and ferry ticket.
There were only a handful of travelers around, and I was the only farang at the industrial-like waiting hall that reminded me of defunct factory lands. There weren’t any food stalls; a section had been cordoned off, and the scaffold indicated that construction was going on.
Walking along the pier, I ended up going to the wrong ship. I didn’t think I’d be traveling on a speedboat because I’d expected a Raja ferry-like sea monster, but you live and learn.
Heading for Surat Thani
The speedboat with a capacity of 35 passengers was scheduled to depart at 12 pm, and boarding started twelve minutes before that. It was completed in no time since there was a gangplank, and staff helped people get their suitcases on the boat.
Just two minutes later, the engines started, making roaring sounds. The estimated 30 mask-wearing people on the boat had barely time to put on their lifejackets, which wasn’t mandatory; nobody forced me to wear one this time round. I loved the breeze that arranged for some ventilation as it was rather hot and a bit stuffy on the near-full boat.
It was cloudy, but the gentle winds weren’t strong enough to cause choppy seas. I didn’t mind and enjoyed the smooth ride, studying the seascape dotted with islets.
It was 1:11 pm when the speedboat slowed down, the captain steering deftly towards Lomprayah Tapee Pier. I failed to understand why the ride had taken 1 hour and 23 minutes so far. To put it into perspective, it takes 1.5 hours for the slow Raja ferry to reach Surat Thani’s Don Sak Pier from Koh Samui.
There were only cargo ships and Lomprayah boats as no other tour companies are allowed to operate here. But apparently, it wasn’t easy to control the boat in Tapee’s murky waters where mangrove trees thrive. Meanwhile, I was despairing because I had to make the bladder gladder and we just didn’t arrive; the ride was dragging on.
I didn’t think there was a toilet on board, but realizing that I couldn’t hold it in any longer, I asked, and my prayers were heard. There was one.
The last leg of the journey
I was one of the first who got off the boat and was pleased to find that Lomprayah was well-organized. Spotting my sticker, a woman approached me and said, “Phuket, right? Bus 42,” before I could even reply.
Besides, there was a fruit shake and coffee vendor that sold drinks, but the burger stall next door was closed. A minimart was open too, despite the relatively low number of travelers.
The minibus driver who informed me that we’d leave in 15 minutes was a genuinely friendly guy. I asked him, “Nang tee nee, dai mai kap?” (Is it okay if I sit here?), pointing at the passenger seat.
He was like, “Dai kap” (okay), and even offered to adjust the seat so I had more legroom. Also, I was pleased to learn that we were going to Phuket direct. This meant that no additional waiting in Surat Thani was required.
There were only four travelers on the minivan, but the chauffeur slammed the door shut and turned the ignition at 1:48 pm. The AC was great; the temperature was just right. I didn’t need a hoodie, though it was cool enough to prevent me from sweating.
The sights in the Surat Thani area consisted of brown rivers with a mountainous backdrop as well as rubber and palm tree plantations.
Passing little villages in the middle of nowhere, I became hungry, and before I knew it, we stopped to have lunch at 3:36 pm. I got myself some grub for 40 baht ($1.30) and was happy the break would be long enough to enjoy my spicy yellow fish curry and leak the lizard.
My fellow-travelers were already on the bus when I came back from the bathroom, but the affable Lomprayah bloke was smoking peacefully, radiating calm. He took a last draw on his sweet-scented ciggie, closed the door, and pulled out of the driveway at 3:58 pm.
Approaching Phang-Nga, towering limestone rocks appeared on the horizon – a majestic sight. I couldn’t help taking pictures.
It was 4:56 pm when we arrived at Phuket’s Checkpoint, a border-like crossing. The officer waved us through, and not much later, close to Phuket town, we approached a Chinese-style temple adorned with dragons and an emperor with a conspicuously long zen master beard and a moustache.
Seeing me shooting a photograph of it at 5:30 pm, a Thai sitting behind me said, “This is the shrine of the red-faced warrior Wuen – the God of Justice. If you come here to pray, he’ll protect you and help you be successful, also for examinations.”
“Justice in terms of what?” I asked.
“He’ll give back your lost success when a business partner cheated on you.”
“Oh, you’re saying he could help me get my money back from Traveloka for the canceled flight in April?”
“Yeah,” he replied and grinned sheepishly.
Moments later, after a 5h-45-minute trip, we arrived at some bus station for minivans close to Phuket’s Central Festival, and I was glad to be in good hands.