Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 276 (86)
Train to Bangkok
Thursday 9th December
Indeed I also had a peaceful night and was able to swing into action at my own pace this morning with Sandy leaving me to my own devices, other than reminding me of the time and our impending need to vacate our room. We took our time packing before going down to the dining area to enjoy one last breakfast on the house. We had a long bus ride ahead of us later this morning and I thought I’d try my luck at fixing myself some hard-boiled egg sandwiches whilst at breakfast. I’ve had intermittent luck with the kitchen staff understanding the concept of hard-boiled eggs and they’ve now taken to asking me how many minutes instead. It’s difficult to make sandwiches with soft-boiled eggs so told the cook to boil three eggs for five whole minutes. They came out and I tried the first egg but it was still very runny inside so I took the other two back and asked to have them boiled for an additional three minutes. After a while, two more eggs appeared but once again both were very runny. I think they must have dumped the previous eggs and boiled another two for just three minutes. Either way, breakfast (and lunch for that matter) was now a complete right off, thanks to the ever-present communications barrier. Most people here appear to understand English but a lot of the time it’s nothing more than an outward appearance. After a while, you start to realise that many of the Thai people will nod and say yes when they really didn’t understand what you said to begin with. In some cases, they will start to answer with ‘yes’ and a nod regardless of the question that’s posed. It can be frustrating and at times, like today, it can result in simply having to give up and cutting your losses.
We checked out and waited for our taxi to arrive. The very helpful young woman at one of the travel agent outlets in town had arranged for us to be collected and brought to the bus stop this morning. True to her word, a taxi showed up precisely on time and for 60B (€1,15), drove us the half a kilometre or so up the hill and into town. The travel agent woman was a bit hazy on the precise time we should expect the bus and the best we could muster from her after several attempts was sometime between having just missed it to later on this afternoon. We waited for probably about an hour out in the heat of the day and after four different buses had passed without stopping, I was starting to get worried. It wasn’t clear what sort of bus it was that we were supposed to flag down. The public buses range in size and quality and the price you pay for a given journey usually depends on how comfortable the ride is. The public bus that brought us here this time around was a dilapidated rattletrap that was falling apart at the seams. We only paid 80B (€1,54) each for the three and a half hour trip on that contraption and I was expecting something similar this time. The bus that eventually stopped, however, was a much nicer one that was completely air tight and with a functional air-conditioning system. Our fare on this bus was 120B (€2,31) each but we were happy to part with that for the more comfortable ride. The three and a half hour trip over to Surat Thani on the East coast was otherwise uneventful and rather boring.
Southern Thailand boasts just one railway line that runs the length of the Southern peninsular and it only runs down the East coast. Surat Thani is the most conveniently located town with a train station to Khao Lak and we were taking a bit of a risk by just heading out East in the hope of being able to book a couple of overnight berths on one of the several night trains that traverse the Southern half of the country each day. We’re well into December and it’s now officially high season here so it is anyone’s guess as to whether we will be able to book passage on the train or not. Luckily, there were just a couple of sleeper berths left on the nine forty-five train but even these were not close to each other. Beggars can’t be choosers, however, so I booked the two seats quickly. I should be thankful that we got tickets at all but it’s still very annoying that we will have to hang around for seven hours before our train departed. There was a possible silver lining in that the ticket clerk told us to come back in an hour or so to see if there were any cancellations on one of the earlier departures. If so, we might be able to switch to an earlier train and stave off the boring wait here in Surat Thani. In the meantime, Sandy had bought an international phone card a week or so ago but we’ve not yet had the chance to try it out. With plenty of time on our hands, I found a payphone and tried to call Ree-Ree in Australia. The phone card worked a treat with just one little snag. I could hear them on the other end of the line but they couldn’t hear me. I thought it might be a problem with the mouthpiece on the public phone I was using so I tried another, and then another, and another and another. It was the same story on all the phones at the train station and by now, Ree-Ree must have been wondering what on earth was going on with all these calls and nobody on the line. All the phones I tried to use the phone card from were from the same company and I had a sneaky suspicion that these phones were somehow fixed so that you couldn’t use phone calling cards from them – perhaps a ploy to encourage people to buy a specific type of calling card. Not content to allow myself to be beaten by this ploy, I set out into town to try to find another type of payphone. My suspicions were confirmed when I finally found a nondescript payphone and was able to make a good connection without any problems at all. Nobody puts one over on Uncle Chris for very long!
Although I tried my best to keep my composure, inside I was ecstatic to speak with Ree-Ree at last. The whole reason behind this trip was a deep-rooted desire to get out to Australia to visit her to begin with. Our travel ambitions kept growing and growing after we initially started to research the trip and it has grown exponentially into the huge epic journey that it has become. Still, I’ve not lost sight of why we are here to begin with and we are now tantalisingly close to achieving our original goal of visiting my beloved second cousin in Melbourne, not to mention finally seeing Australia. Ree-Ree lived with us for several years when I was young and in my mind, I still think of her as a big sister. In some ways, it almost feels like we are going home, even though neither of us has been to this part of the world before. I dare say it will be a very emotional meeting when the time comes. I’m welling up now just thinking about it.
With the calling card working so well at this other payphone, I also took the opportunity to call a few relatives back home in England. It was the first time I spoke to Mother since departing from England several months ago and I was particularly pleased to hear that both her and Dad were doing very well and that they were in high spirits. When we left the UK, I had a distinct desire to get out and see the world without being tethered to our former lives by means of constantly remaining in touch with everybody back home. Indeed I used to frown at Sandy each time she wanted to call back home herself. I still think it a good thing to be travelling without clinging to our former lives but I have to admit it was nice to speak with Mum and Dad again, even if for just briefly.
In an attempt to try to kill some more time, I wandered around the markets of Surat Thani for a while and bumped into Sandy who had apparently been looking for me for the past ten minutes. It turns out that there was a cancellation on one of the earlier departures after all and we had to go back to the station to exchange our tickets. For an additional 50B (€0,96) per ticket, we could switch to the five-forty departure with an estimated arrival time in Bangkok of six-fifteen tomorrow morning. I handed over a 100B note and we ended up paying a grand total of 1,192B (€22,93) for our two sleeper berths on the twelve-hour, overnight journey into Bangkok.
For some unknown reason, I've quite taken to pot noodles since we arrive here in Thailand. For someone with a self-professed disliking for pasta, I can’t really explain this but I popped over to the nearby supermarket to stock up on some for the trip.
Shortly before our train arrived, another pulled in and several backpackers disembarked. We were sitting in the waiting area when they passed through and I got a real kick out of observing all the taxi and travel agent touts latching onto them with lightning speed. A couple of them were tag-teaming against a couple of female backpackers and it felt very much like watching a natural history program where the hunter would single out the weakest of the herd and move in for the kill. This time, however, the backpacking girls were having none of it and the touts were sent on their merry way without making the kill. Perhaps they will capture their prey on the next arriving train instead.
We’ve been sitting on the train now for a few hours already and I’ve nearly depleted my first laptop battery by playing games and writing up my journal. I received an e-mail from Lisa, probably the most devout follower of my writing, the other day and she was light-heartedly complaining about me writing too much and the fact that she is backlogged by a couple of weeks. I’m very tempted to lay the laptop to rest for the three weeks or so over the Christmas and New Year period that we will be spending with Ree-Ree. Technically, we won’t be travelling during that period so this is definitely something I will be giving some serious consideration to. The downside is that I will miss out on putting down in words our first impressions of the country after our arrival. I’m still undecided.