Monday, May 20, 2013

26 Hours of Travel

When we arrived on the island of Koh Samui, we made the mistake of not booking any onward travel from the mainland. Our plans officially ended when we arrived at our resort, and while we knew we had a deadline of when to arrive in Singapore, we had only a vague idea of how we were going to get there.

We started trying to fix this problem by walking into a random travel agency on the island and asking if they booked train tickets. No luck. They told us to try a place in the next village, but the next place we stopped at didn’t seem to be staffed. Hmm.

After a couple more tries, TJ pulled the bike over suddenly when we passed a sign that said “train ticket reservations.” We excitedly walked into the air-conditioned office and started talking to the agent. A few minutes later, we left with reserved beds on a train to Butterworth, Malaysia. We had to return later that afternoon to pick up the physical tickets, and we had to pay a mark-up that we have avoided the entire trip by buying tickets directly from the train station, but we were relieved to have somewhere to go at the end of the week.

The travel agent’s bus/ferry combination tickets to get us to the train station cost 500 baht each. We declined and set out to find a cheaper ticket. On the other side of the island, near the ferry pier, we found what we needed for half the price. We were good to go!

Our hotel offered us a late check-out, so around 1:00 pm, we climbed into the backseat of the fancy car they use as a shuttle. Our driver dropped us off at the bus, which took us onto the ferry, across the water, and onto Surat Thani.  It couldn’t have been easier.

Unlike every other train station we’ve been to on this trip, Surat Thani’s train station is nowhere near the town it is named for. It’s actually about 15 kilometers away in an entirely different town called Phun Phin. The bus we were on stopped in Surat Thani town around 4:30 Thai time (we got there at 5). Our plan was to wander a bit, grab some dinner, and then make our way to the train station later in the evening.

From the moment we got off the train, drivers were asking us “Where you go?” We learned that private transportation to the train station cost 400 baht, so we set our sights on the public bus instead. A kind tuk tuk driver (they do exist!) walked us through our options: we could take a bus up until 6:00 for 15 baht each, or we could walk around, get dinner, and call him when we were ready to go if we were willing to pay the 400 baht. We thanked him and then climbed aboard the nearest bus, hoping it was heading in the right direction. For a moment, we were afraid we had found the local school bus because every single person on it was wearing a school uniform. Then a ticket collector came by and selected the correct coins out of our outstretched hands, so we figured non-school passengers were allowed. We did, eventually make it to the train station.

Our train was scheduled to leave at just after one in the morning, so we had about seven hours, at a minimum, to entertain ourselves. We walked around with our packs for a while, found some dinner, squatted in an air-conditioned coffee shop until the shop closed, and watched episodes of the League on our laptop at the non-air-conditioned train station. It was insanely hot, and we were tired, but we were determined to enjoy our last few hours in Thailand.

Then I had the bright idea of brushing my teeth. I walked to the station’s restroom, which I had paid 3 baht to use earlier in the evening. I dropped the three coins on the counter and walked past the lady, who said “No, FIVE baht.” Apparently the price had gone up. I had absolutely no other coins on me, so I grinned and said “Three baht for just the sink, then?” She quieted down, and I went about my business.

A second later, I realized I had forgotten the toothpaste. I left my toiletries on the counter, told the lady I would be right back, and jogged over to TJ to find it. Within seconds, I was back, walking through the turnstiles to get to the sink. The lady/guard had an absolute fit. “Five baht!” she kept screeching at me, pointing at the sign in front of her (she had taped the number five over the number three). “I already paid you!” I told her, baffled. “Look, this is my bag right here.” She said a few more things I’m probably glad I didn’t understand. Suddenly, an older man reached over the fence toward me, holding a five baht coin. I just looked at him, but he said “Give to her,” gesturing at the lady. I’m so thankful that my last experience with Thai locals was not simply an angry woman yelling at me. It was balanced by the kindness I’m more used to experiencing here.

Around 2:30, our train finally pulled into the station, and we found our beds ready for us. I fell asleep almost instantly, but I kept waking up to dreams that we had arrived at the border and had to get off the train Right Now!

Instead, border control came at a pleasant time in the late morning. This time, Thailand had no problems letting us leave. We walked through Malaysia immigration and back onto the train with no excitement. A few hours later, we were getting off the train in Butterworth, waiting for a ferry, and on our way to Penang. 

1 comment:

  1. No one needs that kind of excitement in the potty!!