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 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.
Read on to get a vicarious thrill of the ferry and bus ride from Koh Phangan to Phuket.
Checking in at Thong Sala Pier
The waiting hall was eerily quiet when I arrived; no laughter of happy tourists, no ticket sellers shouting offers, nothing. Just a near-empty waiting hall and a few dogs lying in the shade. I couldn’t find any food stalls – probably due to the pandemic and the lack of travelers – so I stocked up on drinks and snacks at the nearby 7-ELEVEN and then walked to Raja ferry’s check-in counter.
“Do you have big luggage?” asked the friendly Raja employee. This question probably related to the two minibus rides on the second part of this trip; two backpacks were not an issue. Then, she passed me some document and said, “sign your name.” I had to sign that in order to get the ticket.
A minute later, she gave me the boat and minivan ticket as well as a sticker to stick on my tee and told me to head for pier 2.
Waiting to board the ferry
Ambling along the pier with the ticket in my hand, I glanced back at the island’s near-deserted Thong Sala Beach with its light-colored sand and mountainous backdrop and enjoyed the view of choppy emerald-tinted waters.
The scheduled departure time was 8 am, but the boat chugged into Thong Sala Bay at 8:20 am – not in the slightest hurry – as though it had arrived early. Then, cars drove off the massive ship one by one, causing the ramp to rattle wildly. A Raja guy blew a police whistle, and I was studying the people. There were only three farangs in the roofed waiting area; the rest were locals.
One of the foreigners was Koh Phangan’s original, “Beautiful,” as people call this contemporary kind-of-hippie with long hair and a beard, a love- and good mood spreading guy who lives in Koh Phangan.
I had a quick chat with this affable bloke, and then a Raja guy shouted, “Don Sak!” Engines started, cars drove over the ramp, and people boarded the rusty old ship. An employee tore off half of my ticket, and I was good to go, too.
Enjoying the ferry ride
There aren’t many toilets on the ship and they’re not easy to find. They’re hidden at the end of the corridor or near the onboard snack shop (there are two types of Raja ferries). The pleather chairs inside the cabin are so-so comfy, but there are also plenty of seats outside, some of which you’ll find in the corridor.
The engines were revving up with a delay of 40 minutes, making rattling sounds, billowing black clouds of diesel exhaust. Meanwhile, “Beautiful” arranged for good vibes. He was dancing for a few seconds and smiled, bare-chested, and the chain bells around his waist announced his presence. Then, in his likeable manner, he said, “Sa-wa-dee kaaaaa.”
After a while, I climbed the stairs and sat down on the floor outside in the top deck as the AC left a lot to be desired. Besides, I didn’t want to miss out on excellent views of the ocean and the islets rolling past.
At 11:35 am, we were approaching Don Sak. I loved the sight of these jungle-swathed limestone cliffs that pierce the sky like skyscrapers
Before long, cars were offloaded and people walked behind. The guys waiting at the pier spotted the sticker on my tee, told me which minivan to get on, collected the tickets and left within a few minutes.
Riding the minibus to Panthip’s office in Suratthani
Peeping out the window, I marveled at the sight of coconut palms and perfectly aligned rubber trees. Stretching away over millions of acres of exotic deep green woodland, the verdant color was pleasing to the eye.
It was a bumpy 1h-10-minute-ride to Panthip’s office in Suratthani that I enjoyed despite the not so comfy seats. The AC worked well after initial difficulties, and the views of towering karst peaks and glittering temples were wonderful sights.
Killing time in Suratthani
“Your bus is scheduled for 2 pm,” said a friendly Panthip hostess, smiling winningly. This meant I’d have to wait for an hour, which was enough time to get some proper lunch. The problem: most restaurants were closed, and there weren’t many.
I found a street vendor behind the old bus station that’s right behind Panthip’s office and got myself some scrumptious chicken fried rice with vegetables and a kai dao (a sunny-side up egg) for 40 baht ($1.33).
Enjoying the final leg of the journey
The minibus left on time. There were honking sounds, lots of traffic, exhaust fumes. The AC worked well, but I perceived that it had to fight hard against the heat in the packed minivan.
The seats were comfy now, but the bus was crammed full and some luggage was stowed between people’s legs.
Once we got out of Suratthani, I relaxed and enjoyed more views of palm and rubber tree forests. Skinny buffalos were grazing on vast plains as brown as the rivers nearby; they indicated that nature was all around me.
At 4:40 pm, the driver stopped for 20 minutes so people could relieve themselves and get some drinks and food.
Approaching Phang-Nga (not to be mixed up with Phangan!), limestone cliffs appeared in the famed Phang-Nga Bay – a sight for sore eyes.
At 5:25 pm, the driver stopped again, but only for a short time to let some peeps get on and off the minivan at Phang-Nga Bus Terminal.
As we got closer to Phuket, moms were holding their babies in their hands while their partners were riding the bike. Meanwhile, the driver delayed the journey slightly by his package delivery service along the way, which is quite common on bus trips in Thailand.
I assumed we’d arrive late as the scheduled arrival time was 6:30 pm, which was in 20 minutes, and we hadn’t even crossed the Sarasin Bridge that links Phuket to the mainland.
Just as I was jotting down some notes, Wat Na Klang, a jewel- or mosaique-encrusted temple caught my eye and derailed my train of thought.
A while later, we crossed the Sarasin Bridge, and some more people got off the bus near the red-faced warrior on the way to Phuket town, a shrine that features the God of Justice.
Only moments later, the driver opened the door, let me get off on the main street in front of Phuket’s bus terminal 2, confirming the first, well-organized impression I’d got of Panthip Travel.
Quick and easy, I thought to myself, and was surprised I’d arrived only minutes after 6:30 pm, despite the package delivery service.