Spring Holiday, Part 2: Travels and Travails in Thailand
So here was the plan: I would show up at the airport in Hong Kong, check in for my flight, get on a plane and go to Phuket.
The best laid plans…
What really happened was that I showed up at the Hong Kong airport, found out that through a magical bug in the online ticketing system the airline had lost my reservation and I had to purchase the ticket at the counter, which cost me something like twice as much as the original ticket. (It was a fairly cheap ticket to begin with, but still– not an auspicious beginning.) Also, the ticket purchasing took so long that by the time I had my boarding pass in hand, I had less than 20 minutes to get to the plane before they shut the doors for boarding. And HKG is no small airport, let me tell you. An escalator, two travelators, two trains and a lot of sprinting later, I arrived literally 2 minutes before the doors closed. In fact I’m pretty sure they closed right behind me.
But I was on my way to Thailand! Again, there was a plan. I would fly to Phuket, land at midnight, and spend the night either in the airport or get to the bus station and take the earliest bus out towards the Ko Samui area.
In retrospect, I should have seen the flaws with this plan, too, but I didn’t know how small the airport was, or frankly how big Phuket was (it’s like a 45-minute taxi from the airport to Phuket Town, where the bus station lives) so I arrived with my backpack and immediately attracted a swarm of helpful, informative taxi-drivers and hotel workers whose sole purpose, I’ve figured out, is to stand around until a farang with a backpack shows up and then try to offer them services for a somewhat inflated price. There was literally nowhere to sleep in the airport itself, it’s not big enough to have benches in between the taxi stand and the information counter, so I walked over to information and they wouldn’t let me go without booking me into a cheap-ish hotel/guest house in Phuket Town for the night. Meh. Not ideal, but actually a soft bed and a hot shower, not to mention the all-night pub across the street, was not a bad way to kick off the Thailand part of the vacation. Also, the hotel was about a 5 minute moto ride away from the bus station, which was handy too.
So after falling asleep watching part of some truly bizarre Thai movie, I got up the next morning and made my way to the bus station for a noon ticket to Koh Pa-Ngan where I would be meeting up with a few friends.
(It was at this point, between buying the bus ticket and boarding the bus, that I went wandering down the streets of Phuket town for a couple of hours looking for curry, took a wrong turn, and wound up at “Seng Ho– Phuket’s Largest and Oldest Bookstore!” Of course.)
Okay, so here begins the saga of Travels in SE Asia. My brother warned me about this, but you sort of have to live through it to understand it. I’ll do my best here, though, for any intrepid explorers who plan to visit Thabodinamaysia etc. in the future, which I do highly recommend. Rickshaw hell aside.
The first bus I boarded in Thailand was okay– not a lot of legroom, because for some reason the seats were at a sort of normal height but there was a platform underneath them which ran the length of the bus on either side. So essentially I was crouched praying-mantis style in a splitting leather seat for about 4 hours. On the plus side, I did have two seats to myself so I managed to catch a few Zz’s using my backpack as a pillow of sorts. It’s roughly 4 hours to get from Phuket Town to Suratthani, where the major southern train station is, and where most of the buses to the south transfer.
Once we hit Suratthani, a few folks got off at the train station and the rest of us came out of our sleepy stupor since we were supposed to be transferring soon. In what I found at the time to be a fairly odd maneuver (though I later found out that this is perfectly normal this part of the world) the bus driver took us about 45 minutes out of town and then pulled over on what appeared to be a mostly empty stretch of dusty highway. “Off the bus! Off the bus!” The driver then got out and opened the underbelly, chucking our backpacks into the dust. As a confused mass we passengers all obligingly got off the bus and stood, bewildered, with our luggage. Just then, another bus absolutely FULL of people pulled in front of our bus, and we got herded over to that one. It was so full that by the time the passengers from my bus got on, there were 4 of us without seats. The ticket-taker motioned for us to stand or crouch in the aisles, but took pity on me when the bus jolted to a start and it became clear that the bottoms of my sandals had no traction whatsoever and I slid (with my backpack) roughly 3 seats before catching myself on an unfortunate, but very obliging, bystander. I was at that point invited to sit at the front of the bus, over the top of the partition which separates the driver from the rest of the bus, and is only slightly elevated from the floor of the bus. Luckily, my butt had more friction that my feet, and I only nearly went through the windshield once during a particularly violent and abrupt stop.
Needless to say, the 2 hours from Suratthani to Don Sak Ferry Pier was not the most comfortable I’ve ever spent, but the ferry to Koh Pa-Ngan itself was fairly comfortable, and by the point I reached the island, I was pretty ready to see my friends and have a meal, so I didn’t even mind that the mode of transportation to the beach I’d be staying at was a pickup truck with a camper for holding luggage and two benches placed lengthwise in the bed. I’ll talk more about these later.
When we finally got to Haad Salad beach, I was the last to be dropped off and my driver pulled over again on what looked like a dusty track of rode, my hostel nowhere in sight, tossed me my backpack, and drove off. After a good 10 minutes of wandering around the shops, I finally got directions I could use, and started off down another road to what I assumed would eventually be my hostel.
And then I heard the blessedly familiar sounds of my friends’ laughter. There is no balm to the travel-weary soul like the audible mirth of loved ones. I stowed my stuff, ordered a drink, and proceeded to eat what I can only describe as the most delicious pineapple red curry I will probably ever eat in my life.
Next post: Koh Pa-Ngan– the paradise and the Party.