Longtail boats are probably some of the most famous way of traveling here in Thailand. You’ll find them everywhere – not only at the beach. Even in Bangkok you can see them cruising the Chao Praya river.
In case you ever want to talk about long-tail boats in Thai you would say Ruea Hang Yao (เรือหางยาว) – just in case ;-)
What’s interesting about the longtail boat though is that it uses a common automotive engine. So it’s basically a converted car (or truck) engine that powers you over the water. Those engines usually are stuck on a long canoe hull with a canopy. Some even are up to 30 meters long and the types vary a lot. Improvised small ones and huge professionally built ones can be seen everywhere.
What then makes the longtail boat even more unique is the turret-like pole which can rotate about 180 degrees in order to steer the boat by thrust vectoring.
The propeller is then positioned directly on the driveshaft with no additional gearing. Usually the engine also swivels up and down to provide a “neutral gear” where the propeller does not contact the water. The driveshaft must be extended by several metres of metal rod to properly position the propeller, giving the boat its name and distinct appearance.
Cooling to the engine is provided by a shaped metal pipe strewn underneath the rear running board which is used as a rudimentary heat-exchanger. This is then coupled to the engine using rubber or plastic hoses. Clean water is then used as the coolant.
Control is achieved by moving the engine with a lever stick attached to the inboard side. Ignition and throttle controls provide simple means to control this simple craft. Larger boats may include more than one “tail,” with several operators piloting in tandem.
While those longtail boats look romantic and like lots of fun (what they are) they are far away from being comfortable (unless they are built for that) or remotely what you know from home. Nevertheless a long-tail boat trip should always be part of the Thailand experience so don’t miss out on that!