Sailing On The Seven Seas....
By Dan Johnston
Well at least one anyway, as the launch of the new - long anticipated - ferry across the Gulf of Thailand took to the open waters last month. That's right, the Pattaya to Hua Hin ferry service launched on the 12th of January to a fan fare of Thai nationals, farangs and tourists alike, taking full advantage of the free voyages offered up in the first weeks of the service. I for one was a lucky punter who happened to fall upon the knowledge of this amazing give away and decided it would be an adventure. Plus being a Brit living here, then something for free is just the ticket, if you catch my drift? And plain sailing it was.
Upon arrival to the port there was little hassle in collecting one’s ticket from the ferry terminal, located on the right just before the port itself as you pass from the end of walking street. This is where all of you wishing to use this service will be able to purchase your tickets. Prices for passage one way are said to be starting at a more than reasonable 1,200 Baht (yet to be confirmed). The terminal staff were helpful and extremely well organised and after a leisurely stroll down the pier accompanied by amazing views of Pattaya you arrive at the mooring of the ship. The process of boarding is also quite a breeze. Just before docking there is the usual security - after one presents their ticket – as you would expect at an air terminal; the scanning of bags in the x-ray machine, a meander through a metal detector and then, if you are like me, a final sweep with the hand held to ensure you're all clear to board. Then upon passing the reasonable security levels lending one piece of mind that there are no untowards on board , the entrance into the ship is over a solid gangway reinforcing your confidence for the journey ahead. The airline-esque experience doesn't end there either. Once on board (if you arrive early), you can take advantage of the VIP seating located on the upper deck which easily harks to the comforts of flight, or premium tickets on any railway in Europe. I suspect that will differ when the tickets are paid for, but fear not, as the standard carriage are just as soft and inviting, with plenty of room for the old pegs.
The ride was smooth although I believe the tides were in our favour on the way out, as the return journey was somewhat choppy. Not that, that swayed me in anyway personally, as I thoroughly enjoyed the return passage a lot more for this reason and there didn't seem to be anyone else on board suffering from the mild toing and froing.
Not long after the old lady takes to open ocean, the efficient and extremely friendly staff on board roll out some trollies and dish out a complimentary bottle of water to keep you refreshed. That, however, is the sum-total of the catering on board - so if your tastes differ then the advice is to take something with you - although there are restrictions against the usual suspects if you catch my meaning. Also, for those of you who like a bit of fresh air, or the kind that is a little murky in its nature, you'll be advised that there is no outdoor space for one to retreat to.
To entertain the passengers along the way, there is a wonderful selection of familiar songs both in English and Thai played softly across the internal speaker system, which is not intrusive in anyway and does allow for a one to doze off (as I can vouch for), if they so wish. Also, if the views across the open stretches of water are not enough to satisfy the eyes, then you'll be fortunate to note a few signatures of the ship’s history. There are some tell-tale signs of its previous life as a regular along coast of Hong Kong which add a certain warmth to the vessel, certainly if you’re a bit nostalgic like me .That being said, the refurbishment both outside and in has certainly brought the ship into keeping with the modern age and makes for dreamy bob across to your final destination.
The travel time was close to 2 hours, which is a far cry shorter than anything between 5 &6 when travelling in vehicles of the wheeled variety. However if you are thinking about a return on the same day, once you arrive in the port at Hua Hin the boarding to make headway back begins almost immediately after the departies have left the ships inners. At best you'll have around 40 minutes to take in the sights before being ushered back on board to make your way home and with so much on offer in the beautiful Royal province of Hua Hin, it would be a shame not to at least spend one night across the bay of this fair land.
I for one, intend to be plotting some dates in my calendar to return across the gulf fairly shortly, as it was such a pleasurable experience. Having journeyed both by car and bus to the region before there is no doubt in my mind that this will be my preferred weapon of choice.