Most travellers hitting the islands via Pakbara book a transfer from a travel agent in Hat Yai, Trang or Krabi that will include the minibus and ferry ride.
Otherwise you can take a public minibus direct to Pakbara from Hat Yai’s Talad Kaset Station, departing hourly from 08:30 to 18:30 for 110 baht. You could then buy tickets to Ko Lipe, Ko Tarutao or Ko Bulon Lae upon arrival. Pakbara cannot be reached directly from Trang by public transport, but you could catch a Satun-bound minibus and ask to be dropped in La-Ngu to transfer to a Pakbara-bound songthaew.
From Pakbara, minibuses return to Hat Yai from the car park directly in front of the pier. This is also where you’ll find orange songthaews running to La-Ngu for 20 baht; tell the driver if you’re heading to Satun and they’ll drop you at the right place to catch a minibus for 50 baht.
Tourist minibuses arranged through travel agents depart daily at 11:30 and run to Hat Yai Airport for 180 baht; Trang for 200 baht; Krabi for 450 baht; Ko Lanta for 550 baht; Surat Thani for 550 baht; Phang Nga for 600 baht; and Phuket for 650 baht. You can also book all-in transfers to the Malaysia border at Wang Prajan, or all the way to Penang or Kuala Lumpur.
Make a transfer in Trang if heading to Ko Muk, Ko Kradan, Ko Ngai, Ko Libong or Ko Sukorn. Make a transfer in Satun if heading to Langkawi. Note that all of these islands except Libong and Sukorn can also be reached direct from Ko Lipe and Ko Bulon Lae.
Pakbara Pier remains chaotic despite receiving a major facelift in recent years. On the way in, travellers are charged a 20-baht “pier fee”.
If a travel agent hasn’t already checked you in, you’ll need to find the right boat company desk and exchange your ticket for a laminated number card before boarding. There are no signs explaining this and we once saw a traveller do a nasty face plant after she tried to chase a boat company staffer who ran off with her ticket without explaining that he intended to exchange it for the card, and not steal it for himself.
Be sure to wear waterproof footwear if heading to Lipe or Bulon, where you’ll likely have to wade through the surf upon arrival.
Tickets to the islands can be purchased through travel offices near the pier in Pakbara; through websites run by the boat companies and third-party travel agents; or directly at boat company desks inside the pier. Fares tend to be identical no matter where you buy the ticket.
To/from Ko Lipe
In high season from November to April, speedboats depart Pakbara for Ko Lipe at 09:30, 11:30, 13:00, 13:30 and 15:00 for 600 baht and take 1.5 hours, returning to Pakbara at 09:30, 11:30, 13:30 and 16:00. A more comfortable ferry runs to Lipe at 10:30, also for 600 baht, and takes two hours.
In low season, speedboats depart Pakbara at 11:30 only, returning from Lipe at 09:30.
Make a transfer on Lipe if heading to Ko Adang or Ko Rawi.
To/from Ko Tarutao
In high season, at least one Lipe-bound speedboat departs Pakbara at 10:30 and stops at Ko Tarutao for 400 baht. On Tarutao, a Pakbara-bound speedboat usually picks up at 10:00. Additional boats may be available based on demand. Ko Tarutao closes from May 15 to October 15.
To/from Ko Bulon Lae
In high season, a speedboat departs for Ko Bulon Lae at 12:00 for 400 baht and takes 30 minutes, returning to Pakbara at 09:00. The only way to reach Bulon in low season is to charter a longtail boat for 1,500 baht.