Sauntering along a busy road on dry grass next to a ditch, I didn’t need to hurry. Motorbikes whirred past, cars zoomed by and disheveled my hair, and exhaust pipes were audible for some hundred miles.
Unhurriedly, I was walking in the searing midday heat, safe in the knowledge that I’d be making it to the bus station ahead of time. After all, Krabi’s “Andaman Wave Master Bus Station” – the start of my journey – was a stone’s throw from the hotel where I’d stayed the night before.
I’d booked my trip from Krabi to Koh Phangan online, which was a breeze and cost me only $26.75. Arriving at the masterful bus station at 12:05 pm, I caught sight of the high-speed vehicle and didn’t see any farangs. The coach to Suratthani’s Don Sak Pier was scheduled for 12:30 pm, but I knew only too well what this omen meant.
Riding along a scenic route across the old Thailand
The memory flashed through my mind like the blade of a flick-knife springing out: bus doors had been shut in my face before.
I ran towards the ticket office right there at the small bus station, but a 50-ish-year-old Thai motioned for me to go straight to the bus. This surprised me, because usually, you have to show your voucher first. I was happy though because it meant I’d make it on the bus in time.
I crowed too soon; a Thai woman waiting in front of the coach didn’t let me get on the bus just like that; I did have to show the voucher. Trawling through the contents of my cell phone’s photo gallery, struggling to catch my breath, I was desperately looking for the screenshot of my voucher.
Then, that tall 50-ish-year-old guy who’d hurried me to the bus came around the corner and was like, “Why don’t you have a ticket?”
“Because you’ve just motioned to me to run here.”
“Oh, I thought you already had the ticket,” he said with an expression that betrayed his embarrassment.
I was tempted to give him a cheeky smile, but was aware that I wouldn’t get a pat on the back if I did. I’m sure you’ve heard of the concept of saving face, and this is important in Thailand. Losing face is a big deal, and whether it happened inadvertently or on purpose is irrelevant. Westerners who fail to be a face-saver can’t bank on Thai people’s “mai-pen-rai-attitude” – the “it-doesn’t-matter-attitude.”
Quite obviously, this guy had lost his face nevertheless. “Good boy, come. You are a good boy, right?” he asked inside the near-full bus in a patronizing tone, making everybody cackle.
I laughed it off, placed my backpack in the overhead and took a seat at the window in the upper deck. The six seats in the lower area had already been taken, but in the upper story there were a few left – luckily not only in the back of the bus near the restroom.
The air conditioning was working well at this moment and I was pleased to find that my seat was comfy. The footrests were rusty, but the shiny wooden armrests were tinged with luxury as they resembled those you may find in a Mercedes.
Very noble and convenient was also the padded ceiling, especially for tall guys like the 50-ish-year-old employee who was thinking more about saving his face than his precious and bright head.
I chuckled, and looked forward to watching Thailand’s rural landscape roll past. It was 12:12 pm when the thirty-seater left.
If it hadn’t been for Krabi’s Ozone Forest Viewpoint Road that cuts through the countryside as straight as an arrow, for a moment, I would’ve thought I was in the jungle. To my left and right, high green trees formed such a dense canopy that even the sun was struggling to peep inside.
Then, an invisible hand drew the curtain and unveiled the sight of the mountainous region with its giant limestone rocks. It wasn’t only me who admired the karst peaks towering above palm tree plantations, fellow-travelers were lost for words too. Even infants kept mum.
A while later, a number of people nodded off. Maybe because it had been a smooth ride; possibly because the staff hadn’t turned the gogglebox on. Either way, those vacationers missed out on seeing sleepy little villages where time stands still.
The hamlets provided a great window into local life, even though only fleetingly. Overloaded with goods to sell, old Thai people were riding their bicycles at a snail’s pace, wobbling from side to side. Mind you, they radiated happiness.
Poignant reminders of the contemporary world were beheaded palm trees that looked like totem poles and a palm oil worker toiling in bright sunshine.
Getting to Suratthani wasn’t only a journey through the countryside; the way to Thailand’s east coast led across Highway 44.
That’s not to say there was nothing to see. Studying the landscape, I spotted banana orchards and many palm tree plantations that were neatly aligned, stretching away over millions of acres of exotic woodland.
I marveled at the sight of a rubber tree forest that looked otherworldly with its latex stems bending to the left as though exclaiming, “hey, we are rubber trees!”
They’re ubiquitous in southern Thailand; you see them literally anywhere.
Staring out the window, lost in thought, I adored frangipani shrubs with their white, watercolor-like flowers.
Meanwhile, it was getting hotter on the bus as the air conditioning was no longer working properly. I started to sweat in the stifling air, but rescue was on its way. A millennial broke wind and arranged for some ventilation in the stuffy air.
I wasn’t unhappy when the bus rolled into Suratthani a few moments later. I got off at 3:10 pm and loved the fresh, windy air.
Enjoying the trip’s second part
Killing time, I sat down on the railing outside and ate some noodles I’d bought at the restaurant. Taking in the salty sea breeze, listening to the waves lapping the shore, I waited for the Songserm ferry to arrive.
“Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, go to pier kaaaaa!” a Thai woman shouted at 3:50 pm.
Searching my boat, I just followed the crowd. A helpful Thai spotted my sticker and said, “For you, the boat over there.”
Tourists spilled out of the ferry, and while I was waiting, I took a proper look at the boat that must’ve been rather old. The bottom of the hull, the gunwale, the cleats and the railings were all rusty, but since there was nothing I could do about it, I decided not to worry.
I was happy that they let me board the ferry early while the crew was replacing the oil.
There was a snack bar on board. Toilets were in the lower deck, and that room was air-conditioned. The AC was rusty too, though it was working. There were two TV screens, but aside from the letters “DVD Video,” there was nothing to watch.
Learning that this would be a three-hour ferry ride, I slumped into a chair and studied the people on the half-full boat. Most travelers in their late-twenties were about to fall asleep, and a few slurped noodle soups or listened to MP3.
It was 4:20 pm when the boat’s engines revved up, billowing black clouds of diesel exhaust. The ferry didn’t shove off immediately though; it stayed put until 4:28 pm.
Pleased with this moment, reflecting on this journey, I watched the sea slip by and the mountainous coastline fade away.
Gently swaying from side to side, the ferry had rocked many a traveler to sleep. Then, a woman screamed without warning, “Koh Phangan stay on the boat!”
Chaos and a clamor of noise ensued at 6:00 pm. Some 80% of the passengers left in a mad rush at Koh Samui’s Nathon Pier.
Once they had dashed off, it became as quiet as a school’s empty grounds. Ten minutes later, the ferry set out and dusk set in.
Admiring the sun setting in the sea, I was rewarded with the unbroken view of pink and purple skies. Listening to the rhythmic engine sounds, enjoying the boat’s rocking movements, I was whisked away to never-never-land.