Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 259 (69)

Train to Bangkok

Monday 22nd November

We said goodbye to Khao Lak this morning but who knows for how long. We still fancy the Surin Islands diving live-aboard so we may yet return here. Our repeat customer discount at Sea Dragon may mean that Khao Lak will be the place for us to return to, even if we could find a live-aboard operator a little farther North for the same trip.

It was a restful night and my sore throat is finally abating. I did, however, accidentally knock an empty water glass off my nightstand during the night and we both distinctly heard it break into several pieces as it shattered through the still of the night. Rather than try to crawl around the floor looking for all the pieces whilst still mostly asleep, I told Sandy that we would just leave it there and deal with it in the morning. One of us must have forgotten this little agreement and I received quite an earful in the morning for my troubles. Our last breakfast was much as it has been over the past couple of days, save for the tension that was now in the air over the broken glass incident. Once again, however, I somehow managed to survive the incident with most of my limbs intact.

Whilst we waited for out minivan to collect us and whisk us off to Phun Phin, I fired up the Internet computer in reception for a spot of browsing in the meantime. As luck would have it, the Bangkok Air web site was now fully functional again so I was quite pleased about that. I was a little less than pleased to say the least when I examined the airfares more closely again. When I had checked the airfares previously, when we were back in Bangkok a few weeks ago, I had noted a one-way fare for two people to be 5,200B (€100), which I had halved to get the 2,600B (€50) per person rate. The Bangkok Air web site, however, turns out to be quite cheeky and shows the per person rate regardless of how many passengers you specify. So, even though it returns a page that confirms ‘two passengers’ in huge, bold letters at the top of the page, the rate displayed below is still the per person rate. This now means that a return airfare for the two of us from Bangkok to Siem Reap in Cambodia will cost a whopping €400. This is a significant amount of money and it’s suddenly not quite so straightforward any more as regards to how we are going to get to Siem Reap.

Our air-conditioned minivan was to pick us up sometime between nine-thirty and nine-forty-five. We finished breakfast by nine and checked out. Our three days of pampering in a nicer than nice resort cost us a total of 5,648B (€108,61). Since we did very little else whilst here, we ended up staying within our budget range after all. Bonus!

We were still a bit early after checking out and ended up waiting outside in the piercingly hot sun for about twenty minutes before our ride finally showed up. There were only a couple of other passengers already in the van and we managed to grab the nicer seats in the front row, just behind the driver. After stopping at a couple of other resorts, the van was soon full, all but one seat, and we set off for what turned out to be a two and a half our thrill ride across the country’s Southern peninsula to the East coast. Each time we get into a passenger vehicle, we end up getting that one driver that seems hell bent on pushing the envelope as far as possible and breaking all the previous records set by other lunatic speed drivers. You become numb after a while even to the instantly recognisable sound of near bald tires screeching around hairpin bends on steep inclines. At the end of the day, there’s not much you can do but sit back, hold tight and hope you have your will in order.

There was a brief stop about two hours in but when we did finally arrive in Phun Phin, we pried our fingernails out of the seat backs in front of us and stumbled out of the vehicle. With a jolly ‘see, you’re still alive’ sort of smile, our driver hopped back in and sped away to drop the remainder passengers off in Surat Thani. I wonder if they made it.

He had dropped us off right in front of the train station and it took all of a minute or two to buy our tickets. We booked passage on the very next departing air-conditioned sleeper with one upper and one lower bunk for the combined price of 1,068B (€20,54) – not bad for a twelve-hour sleeper train journey in an air-conditioned carriage. The next departure wasn’t until about five in the evening so this left us with several hours to kill. For just 10B (€0,20) per bag, we left our backpacks at the luggage depot in the train station and I consulted the guidebook about what there was to see and do in both Phun Phin and Surat Thani - alas, absolutely nothing.

We wandered around the small town quite aimlessly for half an hour or so and I noted one or two Internet cafés that might help soak up a bit of time later. As this is the only train station for miles around, it follows that there are Western tourists that file through here from time to time and there was a scattering of travel agents and dinettes dotted around the place to service this trade. We struck up a brief conversation with one of the dinette workers and made a mental note to go back there for a bite to eat later on.

With little else to keep us occupied, we escaped the heat in one of the Internet cafés but it took quite a while before we could find a terminal that wasn’t so badly afflicted by viruses and other malware that it was practically unusable. The owner didn’t speak a word of English and his method of fixing the problem each time was to switch on another dormant terminal and to direct us to that one. After four or five terminals, we finally found one stable enough to use and he started the 60B (€1,15) per hour clock running. I’m so glad I have a Mac.

Sticking it out for a functional computer was worth the wait in the end as I received an e-mail from the Apple repair centre in Melbourne confirming that they had successfully validated my laptop warranty and I was now free to make an appointment to bring it in to be repaired. Yippee!

With the taste of this small but very important victory still sweet in my mouth, we went back to the dinette we stumbled into earlier to get a bite to eat. They had a nice range of things on offer and the two of us and a good meal with drinks for the grand sum of 180B (€3,46). For the next hour or so, we sat and went through the guidebook some more to look for inspiration for how to spend the rest of our time here in Thailand when we return from our jaunt over to Cambodia. We are still waitlisted for a slightly later flight over to Sydney so we may yet have time to pop into Laos and still have enough time to visit some more of Thailand in addition to coming back down South for that Surin Island live-aboard. Time will tell.

The hands on the dinette wall clock slowly stretched farther towards our train’s arrival and departure time and we moseyed over to the small train station just across the road, collected our bags and went to find a spot on the platform near where we expected our carriage to come to a halt.

Our carriage is pretty much identical to the one that brought us from Bangkok to Chumphon nearly three weeks ago but this time we have a lower and upper bunk as opposed to two lower bunks. Our train was quite a bit later departing than was planned and there were several workmen trying to fix something under the train immediately beneath our window. There must have been nearly a dozen men at one moment, all standing around and looking extremely thoughtfully at whatever the problem was. It didn’t give me a lot of comfort knowing that whatever it was, it was on our carriage and right beneath where we were both going to be sleeping. If we crash and this is the final log entry in this blog, you’ll know it was something serious with the train.