Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Getting Around

So I woke up early (thanks Mister Rooster for obviating the need for an alarm clock) and hiked over to East Railay to catch a longtail boat. They wait until you have a full boat to leave, so I hung out near the mangroves for almost an hour before we had eight people. Once back in Krabi I took sometime to walk around--pretty simple city. Not very spectacular, but fun nonetheless to walk around the street markets. Caught a songthaew to Talat Kao, where the Krabi bus station is located. (I really don't understand why cities put their bus and train stations in different towns. If it's not in Krabi, don't call it the Krabi bus station.)

Now, the songthaew is a shared ride, so they just take you in the general direction; they don't make door-to-door deliveries. So they drop me off at what looks like just any other highway. The driver didn't speak English (I managed to get the fare correct through my extremely limited Thai) so I was SOL on getting any useful information out of him. So I just start walking around, until a very nice Thai notices that I seem to be walking toward the superhighway (not the right direction) and kindly steers me correctly. Turns out the correct way to walk to the bus station is through an abandoned dirt field. Obviously. Now, not having your bus station in the middle of the actual town is one thing, but having it behind a dirt field? Really? I could tell I was in the right place, however, when a sign on a building I was walking toward announced: "Welcome to Krabi. DON'T PANIC. WE SPEAK ENGLISH." Well, at least I'm not the only one who found the situation odd...

I walk in and buy my ticket no problem. This is the government bus system so it's cheap and no luxury. The 100 mile journey to Surat Thani took nearly 3 hours. I get to Surat Thani and check the guidebook, which basically says "don't get stuck here. it's lame. but there is decent pizza near the river." oooh, pizza. so I grab my stuff and hit up the Thai owned and operated pizzeria. Just the kind of food I was looking for. I get my garlic and tomato fix and then make my way back to the bus station to catch a local bus to the Surat Thani train station, which (again) is not actually in the town of Surat Thani, it's in the town of Phunphin (obviously).

Now, this bus ride was perhaps the inspiration for the original "clown car." I get there and the bus is full. I mean, FULL. All 30 seats are taken and there are maybe another dozen people standing shoulder to shoulder in the aisle. But they assure me I can fit so I hop on. Of course I'm the tall one in this crowd and I can't even stand up straight this bus is so small. Lucky for me there are mirrors on the ceiling so as to make it appear larger (which only confused the heck out of me when I kept bumping my head like a pinball machine). And here's the thing: as we get going, they stop to let more people on! The way the system works is there's a driver, and then someone else taking tickets. The ticket lady literally crawled (I kid you not), crawled over the seats to collect money from everyone. And how much did this 13km, 20 minute bus ride cost? 13 baht - or roughly $.40.

But I arrived to the train station unharmed and amused. Our 9 pm train was 2 hours late, so I was pretty ready to hit the hay when it finally rolled into the station. I climbed up onto my yoga mat (again the overnight train) and fell fast asleep. Arrived in Bangkok by mid-morning and spent the day milling around - Lumphini Park again, Wat Aran, Silom - before my 7:00 train last night. The train to Chiang Mai was a/c, but no yoga mat + platform. I don't know why, but they decided a/c stands for "absolutelyfrickinfrigidly cold" and I ended up using 3 of their hand-out towel/blankets to maintain a decent temperature through the night. But again, I made it and thanks to a doctor friend who gave me a few Lunesta for this very type of situation, I actually managed to get a couple hours of sleep.

It's been a long post, so congrats if you made it to the end. I'll report more on Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai (next stop) next time. Until then...

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