Thailand’s Longest Ferry Route

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Richard Barrow's Letters from Thailand
Richard Barrow's Letters from Thailand
This special dispatch is sent to you from onboard the Blue Dolphin, which is a ship belonging to Seahorse Ferries. Yesterday I left Sattahip, just south of Pattaya and we have just docked in Songkhla. I couldn’t actually send it to you during the voyage as we didn’t have a signal, let alone Internet, for most of the trip, but it was written during the 21 hour or so journey.

Thailand already has a number of different car ferry routes. A few that come to mind are to the islands of Koh Samui and Koh Chang. Then there was an attempt to bridge the gap between Pattaya and Hua Hin, which are two very different seaside resorts on opposites sides of the Gulf of Thailand. Unfortunately that route stopped before I had a chance to take it. Then came the news that Seahorse Ferries had bought a Japanese car ferry and would be operating it here in Thailand. Due to Covid-19 and some logistical problems, the launch of the project was delayed a number of times. They finally were able to launch last month on a route between Sattahip in Chonburi Province and Songkhla in Southern Thailand. 
I love doing trips where the journey is the highlight and not necessarily the actual destination itself. Which is one reason why I recently took the round trip sleeper train to Chiang Mai. I spent two nights on the train and only one night in Chiang Mai. It is not often in Thailand that you can get a chance to do a long boat ride unless you are on a cruise ship. So, as soon as I heard they had started the ferry route down south, I quickly booked tickets for the boat ride to Songkhla during my new year holiday break. Passenger tickets at the moment cost 1,000 baht one way. However, as I wanted to take my car, the cost for me was 5,000 baht, but the driver and one passenger go for free. For that you get a regular reclining seat, much like on airplanes. For 150 baht more, you can get a more comfortable seat in the VIP room.
The ship has 15 rooms, or cabins to use the correct term, with prices ranging from 3,500 baht to 6,000 baht. The basic ones don’t have a bathroom. Although this may seem expensive, they sell out quickly. In fact, when I booked this trip last month,  all of the rooms were already fully taken. So, I decided to go for the capsule which was 700 baht. These are basically dormitory style beds but with a bit more privacy as you don’t get people walking past you like on the sleeper train. The capsule is about two metres long which is enough for most people. There is a light and plug socket. There is also a curtain for privacy. There are male and female toilets nearby and also places for showers. Obviously you would need to bring your own towel and toiletries if you stay in a capsule or sleep on one of the reclining chairs.
I cannot really give you much more information about the capsule other than that, as I didn’t actually get to sleep in it in the end. When I was checking in at the pier, they told me that I was being upgraded for free to one of the suite rooms. There are two of them and this one room is usually reserved for shareholders. As it was vacant for this trip, they kindly allowed me to stay here. Normal cost is 4,500 baht one way. For that I got a double bed and a bathroom with a hot and cold shower and Japanese style toilet. By that I mean the automatic kind that also does many different things at a push of a button. The room came with a nice sized window.  So a room with an ocean view. Which was nice for the sunrise in the morning. I also had a table and chairs, a TV and a wardrobe. All of the comforts of a regular hotel room without a mini fridge. 
The Comfort Room with Japanese style mattresses on the floor
The Comfort Room with Japanese style mattresses on the floor
The next room up from mine is the Premier Room which is 6,000 baht. There is only one of these rooms and it comes with a bath tub. I am not sure why. The standard room is called First Class Room and there are eight of these. The cost of this is 3,500 baht and you get two single beds but no bathroom. The final kind of room is called a Comfort Room. This is basically a room with no bed but can sleep up to four people on mattresses you can spread out on the floor, Japanese-style. This room is also 3,500 baht and also no bathroom. There are four of these. I think most people slept on the reclining chairs which are much the same comfort as you get on an airplane. It also has the advantage of being included in the passenger ticket price. If I was doing this again, I probably would go for the capsule bed as that is the best value for money plus it would enable you to get some sleep.
The canteen onboard the ship
The canteen onboard the ship
Before I boarded, I wasn’t sure about the food situation, and so I brought some snacks along with me and also some sandwiches. Which turned out to be a good thing. They have a restaurant with fixed meal times and a set menu. I boarded the ship at 12pm and we set sail at 2pm. However, the first meal slot was between 5pm  and 7pm. Breakfast was served 7:30am to 10am. Then lunch was 11am to 2pm. But as we arrived on time in Songkhla, there was no need for lunch. I guess they prepare lunch just in case there is a delay. For dinner, I had Thai basil chicken with rice. That came with a fried egg and a bottle of water. The other choice was fried chicken with rice. For breakfast I went for the American Breakfast which was a mistake. I should have gone for  the Khao Tom (rice soup) with either chicken or shrimp. Lunch would have been Khao Mok Gai (Chicken Biryani) or Thai Basil Pork with rice. All meals were priced at 80 baht.
The vending machines
The vending machines
Even if you didn’t bring your own food and drink, there are vending machines onboard with prices not much more than a 7-11 convenience store. There was one vending machine just devoted to different kinds of pot noodles which sold from 20 baht. Other machines sold drinks. A small bottle of water went for 10 baht and various soda drinks for 15-20 baht. There were also snacks such as crisps (potato chips), peanuts, and cakes. But no alcoholic drinks. However, I did notice someone up on the promenade deck enjoying the sunset with a bottle of wine that he must have brought himself. There is also a coffee machine for 10 baht per cup and the vending machine had 3-in-1 coffee and Ovaltine for 10 baht. If you want real coffee, there is a coffee shop. There is also a hot water urn if you had brought your own drinks like tea bags. And more importantly, there were two microwave ovens. So, in theory you could bring some pre-prepared meals and heated them up yourself.
I’ve always said that I preferred a train journey over a bus journey as it is easier to get up and walk around to stretch your legs. But, a ship journey is far superior as there are multiple opportunities to walk around and also to visit different areas. I had my own private cabin with a view and so that was great. After we had left port, and after we had lost all phone signals, I watched a movie that I had downloaded from Netflix on my iPad. Luckily I knew in advance there wouldn’t be any Internet and so I had come prepared. After that, I went for a walk on the upper decks. The fresh air was great and also there was a spectacular sunset last night that went on for such a long time. There are no chairs up there but I did spot one person who had brought his own folding chair. I actually have one in my car but you are not allowed to go down to the car deck unless in an emergency. But, if I was allowed, I would have gone to get the folding chair, my Bluetooth speaker, an extension cord, and my coffee flask. 
The passengers without a cabin didn’t necessarily spend all their time on their reclining seats. Around the ship there are various areas with different kinds of seating arrangements. Also a mixture of hard and comfortable chairs.  Some with tables if you wanted to eat or do some work. Some had power sockets, but not all. I think an extension cord would have been useful in some circumstances. For families, there is an area with padded floor which you can sit or lie on if you don’t want to use the chairs. There is also a play room for children. I also spotted an area for keeping your pets such as dogs and cats. They have their own private door to the deck where they can run around in an enclosed pen. Although the journey was advertised as being a minimum of 20 hours, I never really got bored. I watched a couple of movies on my iPad. I explored the ship and walked around on the upper decks. I wrote this newsletter. And I slept for a straight eight hours last night without waking up once.
Arriving in Songkhla
Arriving in Songkhla
Before I left, I was a little concerned I would get sea sick like I normally do. So, I took a motion sickness tablet that I had bought at 7-11. But, for most of the journey, the sea was calm and I don’t think it was necessary. In the morning, we did hit a little bit of weather but nothing much to write home about. However, I did pop another pill after breakfast just to be safe. Overall, it has been a very good experience. I would certainly do it again. Even to the same destination. For this trip, once we reach Songkhla, I will be driving slowly back to Bangkok with about three or four overnight stops. If I came again, I would probably spend a week exploring southern Thailand in my car and then take the car ferry back home. At the moment, the ferry only leaves Sattahip once a week on Tuesdays and returns from Songkhla on Wednesdays. They are talking about adding a route to Samui next year which I would also be very interested in doing.
If you are interested in booking a ticket on this ferry, you can get information from their Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/fb.theseahorseferryofficial) or website (https://www.seahorse-ferries.com/Home/Home.aspx). The best way to communicate with them is through their LINE account (@theseahorseferry). 
Now it is time for me to start the long drive back to Bangkok which will probably take me around 4 days.
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Samut Prakan, Thailand