February 2018 Update. Looks like you’ll have to wait a year or two before you can buy boat tickets.
Reality seems to have sunk in and the ferry company has realised that using Bangbao pier isn’t practical. Something they would have realised if they had visited Koh Chang before announcing the service. Instead, a new public pier is to be built somewhere on the island.
This was announced by the Prime Minister during a visit to Koh Chang in early February. The aim of the project is to one day have passenger boat services linking the south of Vietnam to Cambodia and Thailand. Expect speculation for the location of the new pier to being in the coming months. I’ll go with Salakphet as there’s already a pier there in a sheltered bay which can be used for large boats. Plus vacant land nearby that could easily be used for offices, parking etc. Dan Mai would be second choice , again there’s an old pier. This was the gateway to Koh Chang years ago and it would be a boost to the village which is now ignored by visitors. But the problem would be a lack of space for parking etc.
October 2017 – Still no news regarding when (or if) the new service will start. I’m a bit pessimistic as a ship this size will need somewhere for passengers to wait before boarding. That doesn’t exist in Bangbao and there’s no sign of even a ticket office being set up. In Pattaya, Hua Hin, Sattahip the ferry company have invested a lot of money building facilities for passengers. On Koh Chang there’s been nothing at all.
August update – The service from Sattahip to Bangbao pier, Koh Chang to Klong Yai (near the Cambodian border) is now scheduled to begin in September according to a report in Thai Rath newspaper.
On 19 August, ‘Royal 3’ sailed from Sattahip to Bangbao, Koh Chang on a test run for the new service. No announcement on ticket prices yet.
According to a report in the Bangkok Post, Royal Passenger Liner Co. Ltd, which recently launched a Pattaya to Hua Hin service is also planning to launch a Sattahip to Koh Chang service in May 2017. Sattahip is a naval base 45 minutes drive from Pattaya city centre.
The operator of the Pattaya-Hua Hin ferry service will launch two additional services in May — Sattahip-Koh Chang, and Sattahip-Hua Hin, Marine Department director-general Sorasak Saensombat said.
The first additional route planned by operator Royal Passenger Liner is between Chuk Samet pier in Sattahip district of Chon Buri and Bang Bao pier on Koh Chang island in Trat province. The service will connect two seaports on the eastern coast.
Mr Sorasak said the company is in the process of acquiring two new vessels, each with capacity for 350 passengers, and obtaining permission to use the seaports, and setting fares.
The aim of the new service is to provide an alternative means of getting to Koh Chang for tourists staying in Pattaya and Jomtien. However, passengers will still have to get from their hotel to the pier. As soon as this was announced there were a lot of comments on how having a boat load of stereotypical Pattaya tourists landing in Bangbao everyday would be detrimental to the island.
But will that be the case? I’m betting it won’t be.
There are various reasons for this.
Firstly, the initial route from Pattaya to Hua Hin was aimed at tourists who wanted to save time and take the shortest route between the two sides of the gulf. Going direct by high speed ferry takes around 2 hours. And that saves around 3 hours over driving. However a couple of factors have led to the service not being too popular.
One issue is that the ferry can’t cope with waves very well. It wasn’t designed for use on open seas. Just for the river and delta near Shenzhen. The service was delayed due to moderately rough seas in January and other services were cancelled. There weren’t any storms, just normal sea conditions for the time of year. And yet the boat couldn’t leave port.
Another was that the one way ticket price was set at 1,250 Baht. Far more than making the trip by bus or minibus. ( You can buy tickets for a direct, air-conditioned bus for 390 Baht ) So the aim obviously wasn’t to attract the ‘cheap charlie’ crowd.
Sorasak said the Pattaya-Hua Hin service carried a total of 10,689 passengers in February and March
The ferry, which was previously used for almost 25 years by a Chinese ferry company, can seat 350 passengers. It does a return trip daily. This works out at around 90 passengers per trip. So it’s operating at around 25% capacity during High Season.
This is one of the Royal Passenger Liner boats when it was known as the ‘Qi Jiang’ filmed at Hong kong harbour a few years ago. (More details of the ferries previous life in China when they were owned by Chu Kong Passenger Transport )
So what do we know about the Sattahip to Koh Chang ferry service? Not a lot.
The company has already bought or agreed to buy two additional ferries of the same type as already in service. So it’s safe to assume that they wont be able to cope with waves either. And that the cruising time from Sattahip to Bangbao pier will be around 3 and a half to four hours. As it’s around 60% further from Sattahip to Koh Chang than Pattaya to Hua Hin, the ticket prices will have to reflect that. Around 1,750 Baht one way doesn’t seem unreasonable.
But that’s not cheap. And, when the time to get from a hotel in Pattaya to the pier in Sattahip plus from Bangbao pier to a hotel on one of the west coast beaches on Koh Chang, is factored in, then the savings in time by going by boat won’t be more than an hour or two.
On the plus side, it will be an experience. And on a calm day I’m sure it would be a great way to travel here. I’m definitely going to try it out. But I can’t see the mass appeal. So, I doubt the good people of Koh Chang have anything to fear from this new service. It won’t result in an increase in visitors from Pattaya. But will provide a small number with an alternative means of getting here in good weather.
Reason for optimism?
Yes. One possibility that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere is that this service ties in nicely with the planned development of Utapao Airport.
Utapao is a military airbase that is now being used by an increasing number of airlines. It’s also in Sattahip. So this ferry service will allow people flying into Utapao Airport, to transit quickly to a ferry to Koh Chang. That is the best and most obvious customer base for this service that I can see. It ties in perfectly with the government’s plan to develop Utapao Airport and increase the number of flights and airlines using it and their initiative to connect the east and west of the Gulf of Thailand by passenger ferries then the services should run for a while.
I’ll update this page when more details are known.
1 May – The two additional ferries, ‘Royal 2’ and ‘Royal 3’, that will be used for the new routes have now arrived in Pattaya. These are the same type as already in service.