If you’re travelling around Thailand there is a good chance you’re going to be hopping on a boat or ferry at some stage of your journey. Whether it’s to explore the canals of Bangkok or go island hopping in the Andaman Sea, a boat trip can be an integral part of any Thailand itinerary. We’ve put together some advice to help you book your trips and safely enjoy Thailand’s waterways.
Booking boats and ferries
Boats and ferries can be booked in person once you are in Thailand. Many hotels and guest houses will be able to arrange tickets for you or you can visit any local tour office.
Further below we list details of some of the best-known and most popular boat operators in Thailand. Although bookings can be made online, the websites aren’t always the most user-friendly. As an alternative, you can also book through online agents such as 12Go Asia who will usually charge a small booking fee. One thing to note is that online sites don’t always list all of the available services. This is where booking in person at a local tour office has the advantage.
Taking a boat trip along the Chao Phraya River is the ideal way to get an overview of the Thai capital. Boats run north from the central Sathon pier (adjacent to Saphan Taksin BTS Skytrain station) to a number of Bangkok’s best-known tourist attractions including Wat Arun, the Grand Palace, and Wat Pho. In addition you can enjoy stops at Chinatown, Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market, and the impressive riverside shopping centre at Icon Siam.
If you’re visiting Bangkok for the first-time the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat is a great option. Although it’s a little more expensive than the ordinary boats, this hop-on hop-off service is far more spacious and also provides helpful advice in English.
The ordinary boats are primarily a commuter service, but can be used by anyone. They are cheaper than the dedicated tourist boat, but can get crowded especially during the morning and evening rush hours. Details of routes and useful stops can be found on their website here.
A relatively new service, MINE Smart Ferry, commenced operations on the Chao Phraya River in 2020. The eco-friendly electric ferries are another good alternative to the busier commuter boats.
To explore Bangkok’s canals, longtail boats can be hired privately at a number of piers along the Chao Phraya River. In some cases a fixed price will be shown on a brochure. Unless you or your travel partner can speak Thai, negotiations over price aren’t always straightforward and it can be easier if you get your hotel or a local tour office to arrange boat trips for you.
For the adventurous, the commuter boats on the central Khlong Saen Saep canal can be a handy way to travel from downtown Bangkok to attractions like the Golden Mount. Be warned though; these are not for the faint-hearted. The boats travel at speed and don’t give passengers much time to get on or off.
Over on Thailand’s east coast, the effects of the rainy season and subsequent impact on boat services varies in intensity. Pattaya and Ko Samet enjoy relatively sheltered locations and lower rainfall compared to the Ko Chang archipelago.
Although boats operated by the Koh Chang Ferry company run throughout the year, some smaller boat services to the other islands in the Ko Chang archipelago only run from October-May.
Boat services to Ko Samet run from Ban Phe on the mainland in Rayong province. Travelling from Bangkok or Pattaya is the most popular option with tourists and in both cases combination bus and ferry tickets can be purchased at local tour offices. Combination tickets can also be bought from Bangkok’s Ekkamai Eastern Bus Terminal.
The island of Ko Larn is a popular day excursion from Pattaya. Many of the people travelling to and from Ko Larn do so as a part of large tour groups and boarding ferries and speedboats can be haphazard. Whichever boat company you use, check they have safety measures in place.
Boat services on the Andaman Coast run throughout the high season (November-April), but a more limited service is in operation during the rainy season months (May-October). There are a number of different ferry and speedboat companies running services between islands such as Phuket, Phi Phi and Ko Lanta. Amongst some of the better known are:
If you’re flying to Krabi, Phuket, Hat Yai or Trang, boat and ferry transfers to nearby islands can be arranged at the airport on arrival.
Unlike the Andaman Coast, the rainy season for Ko Samui and the other Gulf Coast islands usually runs from October through to December with November typically being the month with the most rainfall. Although it doesn’t rain all day every day at this time of year, tropical storms and rough seas can disrupt boat services.
As with the Andaman Coast, there are a number of different companies offering services between Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao. These include:
For boats to Ko Tao, the main gateway on the mainland is Chumphon. For Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan, Surat Thani is a more convenient option.
If you’re flying from Bangkok, some budget airlines (e.g. Air Asia, Nok Air) offer a ‘fly and ferry’ service to the Gulf Coast islands. But even if you don’t book a combination ticket, onward boat services can be arranged on arrival at Chumphon, Nakhon Si Thammarat or Surat Thani airports.
Full Moon Party
The monthly Full Moon Party on Ko Pha Ngan sees a surge in visitors to the island. There have been incidents in the past of overloaded speedboats travelling to and from nearby Ko Samui. Ask your hotel or guest house for local advice on the safest boat operators and use your own discretion.
How safe are Thailand’s boats and ferries?
Millions of travellers visit Thailand each year and countless boat journeys are made without incident. However, there have also been accidents involving speedboats and longtail boats which have resulted in fatalities. There are strict maritime laws in place, but rogue operators have been known to overload boats or go out in rough seas when reputable boat operators stop running.
In recent years, Thai authorities have stepped up efforts to improve maritime safety for tourists. Safety measures in place include:
- Comprehensive testing for anyone applying for a boat operator’s licence
- Regular checks by port officials to ensure operator licences are up to date and passenger numbers not exceeded
- Boat operators subject to drug and alcohol checks before and after journeys
- Severe penalties and bans for any businesses or boat operators that break the rules
- Marine speed limits based on engine size
- Mandatory GPS devices for boats that carry more than 12 passengers
- Boat passengers are required to wear life jackets at all times when on the boat
- Port officials enforce the use of red and green flag signalling to warn boat operators about weather conditions
- CCTV systems installed at ports
Good to know
- If you’re planning a boat trip, check local weather forecasts before you head out
- Ask your hotel for local advice on the safest boat operators
- Wear a life jacket on boats
- Get travel insurance before you travel to Thailand
- Keep your passport close to hand; you may be asked to show your passport when booking tickets
- If you are prone to motion sickness, opt for the slower boats or larger ferries wherever possible. Try to face forward in the direction of travel and keep your eye on the horizon.
- Sitting on the top deck of a boat can be a good way to alleviate the effects of motion sickness, but be careful of sunburn or dehydration even on cloudy days
- If you book a shared minivan to connect with ferries, luggage space is limited. If you have large luggage (over 20kg) you may be required to pay extra.
- Some islands (e.g. Ko Lanta, Phi Phi Don) impose a small entrance fee (10- 20 Baht) which is collected in cash on arrival
- There is a fee to enter Thai National Parks and Marine Parks. The rate varies (around 200-500 Baht) and may sometimes be included when you book a ticket. If in doubt, ask. At other times you may need to pay at the pier at the point of departure. Keep the ticket with you.
- To ask for assistance in case of problems, contact:
Marine Department Helpline on 1111 or the
Tourist Police Hotline on 1155 (service is available 24 hours)
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