Saturday, 23 February 2013

Raja Car Ferry

The Raja Car Ferry is in many ways the life blood of Koh Phangan. It is the only car ferry serving the island. As such it is responsible for bringing in many things to the island which allow it to cater to hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

In 1981 the Samui-Kanom Ferry Co., Ltd was set up. It was only later the company changed its name to Raja. The company found quick success setting up car ferry services between the mainland of Thailand (Donsak) and both Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. The company capitalized on the booming tourist industry developing on both islands with its need for vehicles, motorbikes, imported food goods, furniture, electrical equipment and so on.

Now there are 40 boats in the Raja fleet. They all have plenty of sitting space, a bar, a restaurant, a shop and lots of deck space. You can always find a chair to sit on.

The car rental business in Koh Phangan is still very much in its infancy. It is thus a big advantage to be able to bring your own car to Koh Phangan. Another big benefit of the Raja is that it is a big boat that is more stable in the water. It is the ferry that is least likely to cause you to be sea sick. The Lomprayah tends to bounce through rough waters. The combination of hung-over full moon party people and choppy waters leads to an unpleasant Lomprayah catamaran service.

Raja Car Ferry has teamed up with Air Asia to provide one of several fly and ferry services connecting Bangkok and Koh Phangan. Outside Suratthani Airport there is a bus waiting for passengers disembarking from the Bangkok flight (Don Muang). The combined bus and ferry ticket to Thongsala in Koh Phangan costs 420 Thai Baht. Tickets can be bought in the airport as well as outside by the bus rank.

The 7am flight from Don Muang arrives at Suratthani at 8am. You then transfer to a bus and then the Raja Car Ferry. The boat leaves at 10am and arrives in Thongsala at 12.30. Thus, the trip from Bangkok to Thongsala takes 5 and a half hours. The afternoon Air Asia flight leaves Bangkok at 14.35 and gets to Suratthani at 15.35. This connects with the 18.00 Raja that gets into Koh Phangan at 20.30. There are few taxis waiting to meet this ferry. You will be unable to get a shared taxi to anywhere other than Haad Rin at this time of night.

A good place to stay in Thongsala is Buakao Inn. It is a short walk from the pier and has clean comfortable rooms. Downstairs there is an excellent bar and restaurant.

Overall, Raja is a reliable and comfortable ferry service to Koh Phangan. It is excellent value for bringing small motorbikes onto the island - only 280 Thai Baht. The only drawback to the Raja is that it takes 2 and a half hours to ply the route between Thongsala and Donsak on the mainland. Lomprayah catamarans are much quicker vessels

Raja Ferry Timetable

Koh Phangan Donsak
5.00 7.30
7.00 9.30
10。00 12.30
13。00 15.30
17.00 19.30

Donsak Koh Phangan
7.00 9.30
10.00 12.30
13.00 15.30
16.00 18.30
18.00 20.30


Foot passenger - 220 Thai Baht
Monk and student in uniform - 11o Thai Baht
Children under 110 cm - 110 Thai Baht
Bicycle / small motorbike with rider - 280 Thai Baht
Large motorbike with rider - 460 Thai Baht
Car with driver - 620 Thai Baht

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Jungle Bar Closes

It is very much in the nature of businesses in Koh Phangan to change hands periodically. In many cases the land is leased and when the business stutters it is eventually sold to another party who re-names and launches.

There are, of course, very successful ventures like Panviman (Thong Nai Pan), Haad Yao Divers and Drop in Bar (Haad Rin) that seem solid business ventures and are not likely to close. In Haad Rin the lease costs are very high and one bad Full Moon Party might be all it needs to make the leaseholders walk away. By many Koh Phangan landowners it is seen as the safest option to lease land for resorts, bars, shops, spas and restaurants rather than attempt to develop a business themselves.

Another common story is that a place was successful for several years but hits a decline. This is the tale with the Jungle Bar in Thong Nai Pan Noi. It started in 1997. I remember it was my birthday and I went there to have a couple of cocktails. The lad serving us had no idea how to make our drinks. Still I liked the place. It had plenty of relaxed seating on mats as well as a couple of hammocks. The nightclub lighting and the feeling of being on the edge of a jungle all made it a cool place to me.

Now fast forward to 2007, ten years later. The Jungle Bar’s Monday night is packed throughout the high seasons and still busy at other times. The bar has become something of an institution, and the Thai couple running it minor celebrities.

For a long time it was DJ Ton on the decks. It went from vinyl to CD and never really made it to computer mixing. He played all the crowd favorites and often ended the night with an hour of hard and loud techno. People would get drums out and bang along. From 1am to 5am there would be continual whoops from enthusiastic revelers.

The success of the Jungle Bar in Thong Nai Pan Noi had one obvious consequence – the setting up of another nightclub bar on the beach. A good business idea in Thailand needs to be copied. The Hideaway got going around 2006 and had a big Friday night party.

The other consequence was that Noi got a bit of a reputation as a party beach; so much so that a German business started having a 10 day minimal techno festival every summer. They bought with them a large group of Europeans, most of who stayed at Baan Panburi, as well as big name DJs.

The loud noise put people off staying at Sandee Bungalow. The other dubious types of behavior that goes with a party scene put off the traditional visitors to TNP – the hippies. Prices and accommodation quality both started to go up.

Then the beach took the next leap to a high end resort beach. And it wasn’t long before the party scene evaporated. It was this change of scene that caused the Hideaway to close in 2011 and for the Jungle Bar to finally bite the dust in 2013.

The lease has been allowed to run out. The Jungle Bar will be torn down and replaced with small units for rental as businesses. The land is next to the new Buri Rasa ‘Village Square’ and could well be used to create a profitable business that caters to a different and richer clientele.

The story of the Jungle Bar has no doubt similarities to the history of many businesses in Koh Phangan and Thailand. The country is moving fast and so is the business scene.