When our visit to the Thai island of Koh Lanta was over, we headed to Langkawi, Malaysia, by ferry. It was an interesting trip and process, and I hope that documenting it might prove useful for others who might be interested in making the same journey. The first part of the trip is the same if you just want to go to Koh Lipe, Thailand.
We had booked our trip online, directly with the ferry company, Tigerline, at tigertravel.com. Booking ahead is recommended. Our boats were full, so in hindsight it seemed to be good advice. The route included a ferry to Koh Lipe, where we would go through immigration to leave Thailand, and then another ferry from there to Langkawi.
Our ticket included pickup from our Koh Lanta hotel at no charge. We were to call the day before to receive a pick-up time, which we did.
Our ride showed up right on time. We were the first passengers, but the driver informed our hotel manager, who came to see us off, that there would be a total of 10 people with luggage. We weren’t sure how that was going to work and thought he might be teasing us, but after one of our bags was tied to the outside of the truck we realized that it was probably true.
Sure enough, after we made two more stops and picked up 8 more people, we were on our way to the ferry.
At the dock, our driver pointed us to a line. When it was our turn, we showed our passports and tickets (on our phone). We were provided with a handwritten ticket that we would use to get onto the second ferry from Koh Lipe to Langkawi. We were given small lengths of color-coded raffia to tie to our large bags and either KL (Koh Lipe) or LK (Langkawi) stickers for our shirts.
It got a bit confusing after the ticket desk. They just waved us past and we weren’t sure where to go. When we got outside, we were surprised to see what looked like a long and busy shopping street to our left. Had we been smart, we might have taken a few minutes to check out some of the shops and pick up a bit of food for the trip. Instead, we turned right to see where we would board our boat. This wasn’t clear either, but Ken asked an official and they pointed us ahead into the waiting area and to the left side for our particular boat.
Within a few minutes, someone started calling Koh Lipe, Koh Lipe and indicating that everyone should bring up their color-coded large bags to get them ready for loading. We asked about Langkawi, and one of the crew took our two bags to start another stack separate from the huge pile of Koh Lipe bags. Additionally confusing was that our bags sported blue raffia, the same as all of the other bags lined up waiting to board. I think it was at that point that I realized there would be several opportunities for our bags to take a different trip than we were taking, so from then on I paid careful attention to where they were at all times.
Once the boat arrived, the crew began loading the bags and the passengers. I’m not entirely sure how it happened or why, but once we were seated one of the crew brought our two bags down and placed them on the seats across the aisle from us, patting them and saying Langkawi. We were happy to have our bags nearby.
We were about 30 minutes late leaving the dock, so departed at about 11:00 am. As we got close to Koh Lipe at around 2:00 pm I checked our next ticket and saw that we were supposed to be at a resort on Koh Lipe, ready to board, by 2:00. Well, that clearly wasn’t going to happen.
A sign at the Koh Lanta dock said that there was no pier on Koh Lipe and that passengers would have to pay 50 baht ($2 CAD) directly to the fishermen to get a ride on a longtail boat from the landing point to the island. Sure enough, we pulled up to a large covered floating dock. Everyone started to disembark, but it wasn’t clear if we should try to take our bags from down below or not. Since the crew had put the bags right near us and separate from the other bags, it seemed silly to leave them, so we pulled them off the seats and started to haul them toward the steps. The bags were taken from us by crew members and set up on the deck, again separate from the others.
When we got to the top of the boat ramp we mentioned Langkawi again. Another crew member led us to an empty bench in the waiting area away from the line where people were purchasing longtail tickets. After another 5 minutes, the same crew member led two more passengers (both sporting LK stickers) in our direction. He took us all over to a ladder that led to a longtail boat and told us we would need to purchase a ticket, but that he would do it for us. We gave him our combined 200 baht and he headed to the ticket table, bypassing the line, and shortly returned with our tickets, which he handed to the boat driver. They loaded our bags, the four of us plus what now seemed like our private crew member hopped aboard, and our boat headed off toward the beach.
Realizing we’d have to climb out into the water, we removed our shoes to get ready. The water was beautifully clear and warm, and only about a foot deep where we had to disembark. Our bags were unloaded for us. The large ones were added to a growing pile a short way up the beach and we were directed by our private crew member to the immigration counter behind them. (On our way to land I had spotted a sign showing that the resort we were to meet at for departure was right there as well.) We asked our guide why he was staying with us. He pointed to the Tigerline logo on his shirt and said that it was his job to stay until our passports got stamped and we were through immigration. It was quite comforting to be spirited through the process by someone in the know.
While waiting in line, we chatted with an Australian fellow who had obviously done this before. He warned us that the passport control officers would take our passports and they would be returned to us on the boat. It didn’t make sense to us at the time, until we realized that, though we had gone through immigration and passport control, and our entry/exit tickets had been removed from our passports, we were actually free to roam Koh Lipe. We assume now that taking our passports is a way to ensure we get on the boat and leave the country as planned.
At the immigration desk, the officers checked our passports and tickets, and provided us with new blue tickets to board the next boat. They waved us to the set of windows behind us, which was passport control. Sure enough, our passports were taken and we were told we would get them back on the boat. Glad we had been warned!
At the water in front of where our bags were stashed was a blue plastic lego-like boat ramp. We had asked our crew member if we would have to get a longtail back out to the floating dock to board our next ferry. He said that, yes, we would, but that it was included in the price. We were to stay with our bags and the company would make sure we got to the boat.
Hoping we had a few minutes before we were whisked away, we scooted around the area to use the facilities and grab some fruit and a few snacks for the next journey since we weren’t due to arrive at our destination until 6:00 and we hadn’t had lunch.
Snacks in hand, we were called down to the blue dock. Again there was confusion since many went down without their big bags and had to go back to pick them up. I had heard the fellow say to bring our bags, so we came to the line prepared. They checked our new tickets and let people on in groups as empty longtail boats pulled up. Away we went, but not to the floating dock. This time, our longtail pulled up alongside our ferry, and between the ferry and longtail crew, they hoisted us and our bags up a ladder and onto the boat.
Shortly after we departed, we heard country names being yelled out, and looked up to see a couple of people holding stacks of passports. When Canada was called, we stuck up our hands, they compared the photos on the passports to the real live versions, and then handed our passports back to us.
We arrived in Langkawi in a misty rain. This was quite OK with us since we were escaping Pabuk, the newsworthy tropical storm that was about to hit Thailand just as we departed. We had been warned in Koh Lanta that we might have to stay a night on Koh Lipe if the water was too rough to leave. The water wasn’t bad at all and we were happy to arrive safe and sound, if a bit wet.
The dock led straight up to Malaysian immigration, where we waited in line to have our passports stamped again.
From there, we walked out the door to waiting taxis. I would have summoned a Grab (like Uber), as recommended by our accommodation host, but we didn’t yet have a Malaysian SIM card for our phone and there was no WiFi at the port that we could use. Instead, we took a shared van/taxi and headed away from the port, another journey successfully completed.
- Cost of ferry from Koh Lanta to Langkawi: 2,430 baht each ($100 CAD)
- Cost of taxi in Langkawi: 450 baht or 50 RM (~$20 CAD)
- Speedboat: There is supposed to be a speedboat that makes the trip from Koh Lanta to Langkawi. We only found a trip that was labelled as a speedboat but had the same schedule as the ferry (and the boat that we took from Koh Lanta was labelled a speedboat). After booking I noticed a speedboat sign at one of the Koh Lanta hotels. The trip is supposed to be shorter but more expensive. Might be worth searching out if time is critical.