Before I embarked on this trip, one of the more common questions was “How do you know where to go & how do you get around?” Well, there are buses & trains and, taxi’s……. I didn’t know how to adequately describe the actual act of traveling. The logistics of getting from point A to B.
Looking at photos it’s easy to think that travel is as sweet as a puppy & pretty as a rainbow, but some days are just plain hard. That’s life, any life: some days suck and some days are bliss. This is a story about a day that sucked. Please don’t misunderstand, even the hardest days on the road are far better than working 9-5: I know how fortunate I am & I’m not complaining.
For those of you who have never traveled in quite this way before, I offer you a glimpse into it, and for those of you who have had similar travel days, this will hopefully evoke wistful memories.
Siem Reap, Cambodia to Koh chang island, Thailand. Start time 6 am.
*I’m sure there is a way to insert a map here, I sure can’t figure it out.
I had arranged for a taxi the night before to take me to the Thai/Cambodian border town of Poipet. It was a lot more expensive than what I usually pay for transport, but the proprietor of my guesthouse, an American, assured me I would never make the last ferry to Koh Chang if I took the bus. I met a fellow traveler going in the same direction & we agreed to ride share thereby cutting the 30 USD cost to 15 USD. Two hours later we arrive in the Cambodian border town of Poipet. When I say Poipet is stinking shithole I am being kind. The streets are muddy and it smells like combination of sewer and rotting fish. I walk to the Cambodian departure window, where there is no queue and I quickly get my departure stamp. 5 minutes walk through more mud & stench brings me to the Thai immigration building. This is one serious place. There are not very many people in line so I am optimistic. But these immigration officers are like no other, they scrutinize every page, every stamp & then they start stamping. Bam. Bam, Bam. Bam. Bam. Like 6-8 times per person. What in world can they be stamping? Normally immigration is a 30-90 second affair. These guys took at least 5 minutes per passport. Part of the delay was the television. There was a big TV mounted front of their counters and in the middle of the stamping & page flipping, one or more officers will just stop. and watch TV. 2-3 minutes at a clip. Breathe deep. Be patient. As the person in front of me exits & I move forward to the desk, the officer stands up, sternly motions for me to move to the next line, behind 4-5 more people. Huh? I move over, see the monks, and it becomes clear: Monks do not wait.
9:45 a.m. Walk through more mud & stank. Find Tuk tuk. Try to negotiate price to bus station. Fixed price. 40 baht. Fine. Whatever. Get to bus station. “laaaddy, where you go?” about 10 touts holler in unison. “Trat”. They look disappointed & gesture in the general direction of “over there” After more asking & gesturing I find “over there” and am told the bus to Chantaburi leaves in one hour ( I knew I would likely have to take a bus to Chantaburi & transfer to Trat) So I wait. There is a LOT of waiting involved in travel. Unless you are a monk, that is.
11:00 a.m. Bus departs. I am the only foreigner on a completely full bus and I am a queer curiosity. Several men turn & stare at me. I smile. They continue to stare. I smile & try waving. There is no malice, they just don’t get it. After 10 minutes I am old news & everyone goes about their business. It’s about then that I realize I am on a local bus. We are stopping about every 10-15 km to let people on or off. This is a 200 km ride. I am in for one long bus ride. I command myself to just relax. mai pen rai & all that. Listen to some podcasts & just chill for heavens sakes. It’s not like you can do anything about it, I say to myself. Then comes the music. At the front of the bus there is TV that has just begun playing Thai music videos. There are 12 speakers about 3 feet apart and one is right across from me. Thai music begins to blast and it’s so loud I can feel the speakers vibrate. I try to drown it out with my Ipod, but soon realize that’s just going to make me go deaf. So for the next 4 hours I watch the world go by, bus stops. Bus goes. Bus stops….. 20 km from Chantaburi I am getting anxious & ready to be done already. Then the bus stops. And does not go again. I look through the aisle to the windshield & see a line of cars. All stopped. 2:30 pm. 3. 3:45. Shit. Shit. Shit. I have got to make the 730 ferry! We start moving again and just when I feel relieved to be moving again, a big fat cockroach falls in my lap. Fuck. Me. This day is going downhill fast.
4:26 p.m. Arrive in Chantaburi. Again, “laaady, where you go” “Trat” I say. She does a tsk, tsk. And shakes her head. “Trat bus, go 4:30”. I race to the ticket counter, please, please please…… A young man sells me ticket & says, “Here. 5 pm” hooray. I set off to explore & walk around a bit. I am the only falang in the joint. Then I see the ticket guy running towards me, he takes me to another ticket man & they have an animated conversation that clearly involves me, I get the general gist which is I am going on a different bus at a sooner departure time. Ticket man #2 looks at me & points to a bench and says, loudly , “Here! Sit!” ok, but see, I don’t want to sit, I have been sitting all day. When I do not sit, he shakes his head & walks away. I spy an ATM & think I’ll get some money. As I am walking back to the waiting area, Mr. bus man runs up to me & more forcefully this time, points to the bench, as if he is talking to an ill behaved child, & says “Here! Sit!” I feel kind bad for him, like he has been put in charge of this foreigner who is making his life difficult.
I come out of the bathroom to find Mr. ticket man, running towards me, again, yelling “bus, bus” and waving his arms. Ok. Ok. I see the bus. He grabs my pack. I enthusiastically say “korp kuhn kah” and he just shakes his head. He literally takes me by the arm & steers me to the bus stairs. Mission accomplished. Falang is on board.
6:15 arrive Trat.
6:20 leave Trat in song thew. It’s now dark, and it’s begun to rain . Well, this is super. so glad I am headed to the BEACH. We are being pelted with rain and it stings my arms & the back of my neck. The driver is speeding down the dark highway at what feels like 70 mph. I am sure I will die in this song thew. I am hungry. Tired. Wet. And I am going to die. In a goddamn song thew.
7:02 p.m. I hop onto the ferry deck & and have just enough time to think “phew” and I feel the ferry pull away from the dock. maybe that departure time was 7 not 730?
8 pm The instructions in the email from the guest house say “take taxi from the pier” But instead of taxis, as in cars, I see song thews with “TAXI” painted on the hood. The rain is now a deluge. Shit. Motherfucker. Piss. Another goddamn songthew in the rain. There are about 10 of us & 4 French start to argue about the price (100 baht=3.30 USD). They bicker back & forth. They are getting no where. Fixed price. Meanwhile, me, a german couple & 3 irish guys climb in the back of the truck, we are soaking wet have the good sense to get out of the rain. The French continue to argue. One Irish guy pleads with them to get in already. They relent, but make it clear they are doing so under protest.
The 10 of us are jammed in this songthew with our wet bags & wet bodies, and the rain continues to pound down. We stop to pick up a drunk Russian who hangs off the back, oblivious to the rain as he sings Russian drinking songs. We all see the absurdity & begin to laugh uncontrollably. The levity that the laughter brings is a tonic.
9 pm. Arrive at White House cottages. Really wet, tired & hungry but happy to have a reservation and a place to sleep. Destination reached. End of story? No, no my friends. This place is a dump. A 1600 baht dump. Crap.
8 am the next morning. Start walking the 3 km into town. Now, 3 km doesn’t seem like far, & it isn’t but it is already 33 degrees & 80% humidity. After about 1 km, I have soaked through my shirt and to steal a phrase from my from Wes at johnnyvagabond, I look like I’ve been bobbing for apples… with my ass. I use my bandana to wipe the sweat from my face, but after I have had to wring it out a few times it seems pointless.
9 am. Bungalows ahead. Stop & look. They are up above the beach, and below the road & after walking down about 5 flights of stairs and still seeing about 4 more flights ahead, I realize this is not my bungalow. But now I need to walk up the 9 or more flights to get back to the road. I am wetter & hotter than ever & now I am wheezing. Not my best look.
9:30 am. Sign for paradise cottages. The cottages are out of view & look to be down a long road. Man, if this is fruitless I may just cry. Or maybe I’ll just get a cold drink and rethink my options. Crying doesn’t really help with problem solving.
“You have bungalow?” I say hopefully. I can only imagine how I look. But the girl at the bar is sweet & says “yes, we have fan bungalow. It’s very hot today, yes?” uhm, yes.
I see the bungalow. “I’ll take it!” I try to be casual but who am I kidding, I am desperate & it shows. It is perfect. Concrete, modern, urban, industrial design. Very chic. 700 baht. Well within my price range. The icing on the cake is the cool common area with big balays & hammocks overlooking the water.
One final hurdle: How to get my stuff moved. I am certainly not walking. I walk back up into town, go to the 7-11, and ask about taxi, every hour a song thew comes by, she says. Seriously? This is a logistical nightmare. I see a motorcycle rental and negotiate a ride, wait time while I check out, and return ride. “how much?” I ask. She shrugs & says “up to you”. I want to kiss her. I offer her 50 baht, too much, but I would have paid double.
So, this is where the saga ends. I get cleaned up and stake a claim on a hammock, where I plan to stay. At least for now.