Aug 18 2012
Tired of buses? Looking for a flying adventure? Although not for the faint of heart, Solar Air offers the Bangkok to Chumphon route, which is the closest you’ll come to flying from the Thai capital to Ko Tao. Their 12-seater planes make for an exciting way to get from city to beach in a flash. We tried the return route recently.
Solar Air is actually part of the same reputable company that operates Lomprayah bus and high speed catamaran, so after a two-hour ferry trip on rough seas (those prone to sea sickness beware) from Ko Tao to the pier near Chumphon, we were shuttled seamlessly to a minibus bound for Chumphon airport. It was a longer trip than expected — about 45 minutes from the pier — but it winds through some picturesque countryside.
Arriving at Chumphon airport, one glimpses the tourism glory once imagined for this area by long since retired Chumphon provincial officials. Although larger than other airports that see far more traffic, such as Ko Samui and Trang, Chumphon airport would now be a ghost airport if not for Solar Air’s miniscule presence.
Within minutes of reaching the airport, we strolled across the tarmac along with just three other passengers before boarding the rather funny looking plane. It was clear blue skies after lift-off, and I managed to snap a few shots of the stunning coast line from above.
Although the seats are comfortable enough, there’s very little space inside the plane, so don’t expect flight attendants to be dropping off cool drinks and peanuts. Like most small planes, the engine clamours loudly inside the cabin, so you might consider bringing some headphones if not wanting a constant reminder that your life hangs at the mercy of two small engines.
About 25 minutes into the flight, which lasted just over an hour in total, we entered into some devilish looking grey storm clouds. Rain soon lashed against the windows and the plane fought to steady itself in the face of some powerful winds from over the gulf. The pilot seemed to do a fine job of ascending to get us above the worst of it, but even after 30+ years of frequent flying, I was just a tad nervous.
After a tense 15 minutes of battling the storm, we emerged back into clear skies. Before long, the northern Gulf of Thailand coastline and mouth of the Chao Phraya River came into view. I strained my eyes to decipher landmarks on the ground as we zoomed over Thonburi before looping around and descending into Don Muang airport.
Although the Lomprayah bus we took on the way down was fairly painless, the Solar Air flight is a good option for travellers with some cash to spend but no time to spare, and it’s almost worth it just for the adventure. The cost is currently 2,700 baht one-way, which is made more reasonable by the fact that this rate includes the cost of the Lomprayah ferry transfer to or from Ko Tao. Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan may also be reached this way for an extra couple of hundred baht.
All Solar Air flights depart from the old Don Muang airport to the north of Bangkok, and while the Chumphon route is their bread and butter, the airline also connects Chumphon to Pattaya and Pattaya to Kanchanaburi.
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