“Ta reoa sam” (pier 3), a helpful Thai lady at Koh Phangan’s main Thong Sala pier said to my motorbike taxi driver.
She pointed in the direction where the huge Royal Navy Ship rests in its own private dock, adjacent to Thong Sala’s main pier.
This did the trick. My motorbike taxi driver’s baffled face lit up. I’d told him I didn’t need to go to the main pier, and finding pier 3 near the traffic circle is child’s play, but the language barrier…
Koh Phangan, let me leave
The motorbike taxi driver dropped me off close to Songserm pier (pier 3), where lots of tourists were waiting in the shade under a tent beside the ticket office. It was scorching hot and humid, and all seats were already taken, but that was my own fault. I’d clearly shown up too late to get hold of one of those coveted comfy plastic chairs with no armrests.
They’re always telling you to turn up half an hour before the scheduled departure time, but don’t fret. I’ve never missed a boat, even if I checked in 5 minutes before the ferry was supposed to leave.
Check-in went smoothly. “Where you go?” the ample Thai sitting in the blue-tinged house with a gabled roof asked. No sooner had I mentioned “Bookaway” than the man checked his cell phone. He didn’t even ask my name, he only wanted a booking reference. Half a minute later, he handed me my ticket plus a brightly colored sticker that I had to stick on my tee.
Standing in the shade under the tent, I was oozing buckets of sweat – just like everybody else. Despite the searing heat, I felt exhilarated, because unlike other tourists, I wasn’t going home.
I was heading for the Andaman Sea on Thailand’s west coast, for Ao Nang where the famous Railay Beach with its conspicuous limestone rock formations is located. And I didn’t have to lug a large suitcase, I was traveling with a small backpack only.
Most globetrotters were in their mid- to late twenties, but I also saw some families. I didn’t spot many Thais, aside from those who were working. The crowd was a mixed bunch of foreigners from all over the world.
Farangs (westerners) were playing with their phones, looking after their kids, listening to their MP3 players, and I was wondering how to kill time as the ferry didn’t arrive timely. Standing there alone with nobody to shoot the breeze with, I felt a little “all dressed up with nowhere to go”. Luckily, I caught the succulent scent of barbecued chicken and followed my nose.
Dotted along the way to the pier were street vendors selling all kinds of foods: yummy Pad Thai (stir-fried noodle dish), dainty fried rice, juicy grilled chicken, spicy Som Tam (papaya salad), mouth-watering pancakes, scrumptious snacks, and more.
Needless to say, locals also offered ice-cold drinks such as water, palatable Thai beers, sweet fruit shakes, ice coffee, and so on.
And a clever dog knew that too. It was lying beside a cool box, making me grin. I took my grilled chicken and went to eat in the shade of some casuarinas where lots of fellow-travelers had already been sitting and waiting.
“Delayed, half an hour,” a tipsy 50-ish year old woman said to her friends who were having a laugh drinking beer. She’d just come back from the ticket office, and her buddy was like, “It might be only 2 minutes then,” and they all fell about.
Judging from the many travelers, trips were quite obviously in high demand. I was glad I’d booked my ticket online.
The ferry was scheduled to leave at 12:30pm, but boarding the ship was delayed for a full hour.
And then, an employee shouted loud and clear, “Koh Samui, Don Sak, go to pier now.”
Ao Nang, I’m Coming
Rather than skip the row to hog the best seat, I was waiting patiently for my turn to board the Songserm ferry while the engines were revving up. Taking in the salty sea air, I reveled in the invigorating breeze that nearly masked the sickening stench of diesel fuel.
That’s not to say I wasn’t enjoying myself, on the contrary. Looking around, I admired the view of a quiet beach beside Phangan Royal Navy Ship. Unlike the rusty old ferry, this crescent-shaped beach with its green-tinted waters and light-colored sand was a sight for sore eyes.
The moment I’d crossed the gangway, I scoured the ferry and opted to take a seat in the upper deck, because there were fewer kids and cooler young people.
The orange-anthracite-colored seats were dirty but not hard, and hey, this ferry ride to Don Sak near Suratthani was going to be shorter than the slow Raja ferry anyway.
The Songserm ferry departed at 1.45pm and arrived at Koh Samui’s Nathon pier an hour later, which was half an hour faster compared with the Raja ferry.
Lots of peeps were leaving the boat that stopped in Koh Samui for 15 minutes, and looking outside, I could clearly see why. A long stretch of beach, an awe-inspiring backdrop of green mountains, and moored longtail boats galore – it looked so visually Thai.
The air-conditioner had also decided to take a break and turned the place into a stuffy hot cell. Since sitting in the upper deck no longer felt like sitting in first class, I took the opportunity to join the families in the lower deck.
Changing my seat paid off handsomely. The ac was working properly, but I didn’t need a hoodie. There was also a bar selling nibbly-dibblies and drinks. Besides, there was a goggle-box to entertain travelers.
Watching crazy snowboard tricks made me dream of winter holidays, but I quickly realized if I was there, I’d crave warmer climes. Pleased with this conclusion, I stuffed my face and watched the sea and its emerald-tinted waters slip by.
It was 4.45pm when I arrived at Don Sak, and it had been a smooth ride.
It was easy to spot the Songserm staff at the pier, because only a handful of people buzzing around were Thai.
“Show ticket!” said a woman in front of my bus. She gave me another brightly-colored sticker, and I climbed aboard the two-storied bus that was only half-full.
The last leg of the journey – Thank Buddha
The air conditioning was working well, but I didn’t need a sweater.
The driver left ten minutes after I’d arrived, and I was glad there was a restroom in the back of the bus. However, it’s not really a good place to rest, and neither is a seat in one of the last rows, comfy though it is.
Forced to move a decent bit further to the front, I took another seat and set out to appease my senses.
Watching the green landscape roll past, I relaxed. Perfectly aligned rubber, banana and palm trees stretched as far as the eyes could see, and skinny white buffalos grazing on meadows had something soothing about them.
The sun was setting over vast plains when a cloud the shape of a heart appeared out of nowhere, reminding me that heaven was close. I was about to arrive at Ao Nang.
Or so I thought.
“Ao Nang!” the driver said quite a while later. It was 7.40pm when the bus was rolling into Krabi’s Andaman Wave Master Bus Station. This surprised me, because I should’ve been dropped off at McDonald’s in the Ao Nang Beach area.
When the guys told me that the joint minibus transfer to the center of Ao Nang cost 100 baht ($3.30), I showed them my booking confirmation.
They shot me a disconcerted look, so I said, “Mai pen rai!” (It doesn’t matter!)
And then their baffled faces lit up.