Quite an experience! And not really a very pleasant one. We arrived by night train in Chumpon from Bangkok. Although we had already booked and paid our Ferry tickets online, we had to queue to show our booking and pay 50 bath pp for the bus to the pier. We received a ticket and a sticker to put on our shirt and took the bus half an hour later to the pier. There we queued again to get yet another ticket to take the ferry to Koh Tao together with a slip for the return ferry. We received another sticker to board the ferry and a sticker on each piece of luggage. We queued again to get on the ferry just when it started raining on the pier. The luggage was piled up on the front bow, and when that was full, the front space of the seating area below deck was filled with luggage. This resulted in two enormous piles inside and outside. The one outside was covered with plastic sheeting. We got into the boat before the real rain came down. We took a seat below deck, but people kept coming in who most certainly had to sit outside ( it was raining..) and eventually the boat left . The air-con made it very cold in the boat. The ride was pretty choppy because of the bad weather outside and seemed to get worse when getting more into the open sea away from the coastline. At first everything seemed fine, but slowly I heard annoying sounds and ferry personnel standing ready with plastic bags and paper towels. Since I am really prone to sea sickness I too ended up with a plastic bag…… (a black plastic bag smelling horrific inside…) Water came pouring down from the air conditioning, no one seemed to care. The ferry ride took about one hour longer, and seemed to take endless for many including me. When people asked how much longer, the standard answer was 20 minutes more, even if the last 20 minutes had already passed without arrival…
Upon arrival we saw people coming of soaking wet. No doubt they had sat outside on the upper deck. Everyone was trying to get his luggage which resulted in chaos, but with everyone getting his own luggage in the end. This all did not bode well for the return ride, which was six days away, so we tried not to think about it and enjoy our stay at Koh Tao.
Unfortunately the day of return came. We had checked the weather and it would only rain in the afternoon, and the sea looked calm. We took a taxi from our hotel to the pier. As expected there was a huge queue for the ferry to Chumpon, and the following bus ride. We had actually booked a train ticket from Chumpon to Hua Hin but had come to realize that we would never make it to the train in time, and had booked bus tickets for the Lomprayah bus from Chumpon to Hua Hin instead. ( all ferry’s seemed to arrive or leave late, especially in rainy season when the weather was unpredictable) We only lost 40 euro, which was not too bad…
So againwe queued for our tickets for the Ferry and the bus, received tickets and stickers to put on our shirts and stickers for the luggage…….. (the queue was quite impressive this time!) The Ferry arrived late and thus left late. The same piles of luggage were formed on the front bow and the lower deck. This time all the seats in the lower deck, as well as those on the first level outside (which was covered) were already taken so we were directed to the upper outside deck where benches were still free. When the benches were full, the staff came up with little plastic chairs for people to sit on, that were put in the middle of the deck between the benches. I could not imagine this being comfortable, or practical for that matter. This was going to be a windy ride…..
More people were coming up when a voice announced the Ferry would leave, but for this people should stand up and all move to the front of the boat otherwise the boat could not leave. “Say what???” This sounded like a bad joke, but yes someone from the crew came to ask people to move to the front of the boat, to make the boat tip to the front a little. I could not imagine what this looked like on the lower deck. We started to wonder about safety standards. The boat managed to leave and people returned to their seats. Neil worried about the rain in the distance, and went to take a look downstairs for free places. All seats had been taken. We took out our rain capes and started putting them on, when just seconds later it started to rain. And not just some rain, no it was a little storm that made us instantly soaked, even with our rain capes on. We and everyone else on the upper deck got up and moved towards the stairs to go down, to look for shelter because the rain really hurt when it struck your bare skin! We got to the top of the stairs trying too keep standing because of the hard wind. People stopped moving so I started shouting to people standing lower to keep moving since people were still looking for shelter and were getting hurt. This led to some movement, after which it got stuck again, and I started shouting again to the people standing lower to keep moving so that me and others got the chance to get out of the storm. After another frustrated shout from my side people seemed to understand the urgency of the situation and started to file down the stairs. This helped us getting out of the rain pouring down! We walked down two stairs and found some standing space next to the toilets. We sat down on some luggage lying there and took of our rain capes. We were soaked as were our backpacks. We checked if nothing valuable got wet ( cameras, tablets, iPhones ) Neil went out looking for something and came back with two plastic chairs , one of which I took, Neil took the other, my son sat down on the ground and my daughter sat down on some bags and fell asleep. (I actually wonder what happened to all the plastic chairs on the upper deck with no one on it. Some must have ended up in sea with all the wind and rain.)
My eye fell on the sign saying that you should keep valuables and breakable items with you since the Ferry company was not responsible for broken or lost goods. ( so no insurance with your ticket ) When some Lomprayah staff passed I wondered why no one of the staff came even looking when hell broke loose on the upper deck! I also realized that this ferry was heavily overloaded with people and goods, since another sign mentioned that you could find your safety vest under your seat, that is if you were sitting below, not for those on the benches on the two upper decks and all those standing around everywhere. And this was not even high season yet! How many people were stowed on the boat during high season I wondered? This seemed like an accident waiting to happen, ferries overloaded with people sink so often in third world countries. We sighed with relieve that the sea was apart from the cloud burst before rather calm but also felt a bit like refugees sitting pranged between the load and the toilets. The rest of the ride was luckily quite uneventful, and our clothes had some time to dry. Same chaos when unboarding and finding your luggage. And again queuing for the bus to Hua Hin and another ticket and another sticker to put on your shirt. You could say Lomprayah was all about queues, tickets and stickers. That is how far their organizational skills go, you pay and take all the risk, there is no place or person to complain too! I am now on the bus, and apart from it leaving late, I have no complaints about the bus so far, time to take a nap.
I have been reading Tripadvisor reviews on the Lomprayah service, and it seems that our trip is by far not the worst you can experience. Lomprayah obviously constantly overbooks its ferries, with over a hundred people without a seat (or life-jacket) on every trip. One can only hope that there will be no accidents with the ferry because it will surely lead to many casualties. If you have any alternative way of travelling, I advise you to spend the extra money and avoid Lomprayah.