Monday, March 26, 2012

The saga of Khoa Lak to Surat Thani to Bangkok

It seems like years ago, but for the sake of documentation, I must say a few words about our exit from the sleepy beach town of Khao Lak and our entertaining journey to Bangkok.

If we count our first two days pre-scooter scrape-up, and add the four days of diving for Marc and spa treatments/shopping for me, our stay in Khao Lak was longer than most. Our cute little room, poolside at Motive Cottages, was feeling quite like home, and the cleaning, cooking and reception staff, were treating us like family (or maybe wondering if we would ever leave). The only problem with this sleepy little town is you can’t get a clear answer about anything, which led to a very hot and sweaty exit.

By the time Marc returned from a very successful diving trip, we both came to the conclusion that heading directly to Bangkok was our best bet. The jungle excursions in Khao Sok and beach/diving/snorkeling in Koh Samui, would have been difficult for me with stitches and after six days in a beach town, I was ready for a bit of a change. The only problem is that getting to Bangkok from Khao Lak is not easy if no one really knows exactly the schedule of the bus going in that direction. There is a train station in Surat Thani to get us to Bangkok, but you cannot purchase tickets in Khao Lak and there is no online way of doing it. Even the travel agents aren’t interested in getting you a ticket, as they would have to call an agent in Krabi and have a cab bring the ticket back to Khao Lak.

As I have mentioned, Khao Lak is one road basically that traverses the coastline. There is no bus station. The local buses simply pick people up along the road. We had received intel from the 7-11 staff (they are often the best tourist information by the way in all of Thailand-but not this time) that a bus would pass at 9:00. This was confirmed by a shop owner. A travel agent had told me 11:00. Not wanting to miss the bus, we were standing in the sun from 8:45. At 9:30 two other tourists arrived heading in the same direction with info a bus would pass at 10:00. Info I had found online said there were busses every hour. Obviously that was not accurate! In the meantime, I pulled out my umbrella to shade us from the unrelenting sun (already probably 32 degrees at 9:30). At 10:00 more or less, a bus came rambling towards us, packed with locals. The bus assistant (there is always a driver, a ticket taker and often times a third helper on each bus) yelled to us out the window to be sure it was worthwhile to stop for us and we yelled back “Surat Thani” and the bus came to a stop. Our luggage got jammed into the bottom of the bus somehow and we climbed aboard.

The trip to Surat Thani was long, stink’n hot and crowded. At one of the rest stops, everyone got out for a snack, and (what seemed like) a whole Monastery full of monks dressed in deep orange costume tried to get on the bus and take everyone’s seats. There was a bit of a mutiny led by very vocal (and very large) Thai woman who set things straight. The bus assistant then told all of the men (including Marc) to stand and move to the back of the bus. The Monks went with them. The front of the bus was then transformed into an overcrowded daycare centre. The seats in this bus it seems can be pulled apart by five inches so that three people instead of two can straddle the two seats. In the case of a family of children, the sky is the limit as to how many can sit on seats, laps, and somehow in the five inch gap (one butt-cheek on each seat). With all of this accomplished, and most people seated, we continued the journey to Surat Thani.

But what then? No clear info once again on how to get to the train station which according to my internet sources and 7-11 was a 12k local bus ride away from the central bus station in Surat Thani. Could we buy a train ticket in town, or would we have to go to the train station? According to the info I had (which was also wrong as it turned out) there was one night train and it was a very popular train. If we couldn’t get a ticket on the train we had a back-up plan to stay the night in Surat Thani. Wiki travel described Surat Thani as a town with no attractions other than being a transportation hub for trains going north and south. We prepared ourselves for another Ghorakpur, Thai style.

The trip seemed to take forever with millions of stops with more women and children at each stop getting on and off. Finally we arrived at what we thought was the bus station in Surat Thani. The bus assistant waved us off and we retrieved our bags. We were for the most part in the middle of the road, but we could see a station across the street. We grabbed our stuff and headed in that direction to get some information.

To our surprise and delight we were in fact at the train station! Even better news, there was a night train leaving at 6:30 with room for us. On further investigation we discovered that there was a train to Bangkok almost every half hour. I guess I will be making some corrections on Wiki travel!!

So there was really no need for worry.

I am happy to report that despite all of the research I did both online and through human contact, that was all incorrect and unreliable, we managed to purchase tickets for less than we expected, and secured a private first class cabin on the 6:30 train that was only an hour late! We had plenty of time to have lunch, buy snacks for the trip and bake in the sun at the train station for several hours until our train pulled into the station.

The train ride to Bangkok was smooth and comfortable. The train steward made our beds for us with starchy white sheets and fluffy pillows and we slept soundly until wake up call at 5:30. We arrived in Bangkok at 7:30am ready to explore the big city for the next four days!

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