Wednesday, September 05, 2007

from bungle to bungalow ...

As a Leeds United supporter, the omen of boarding a coach emblazoned with the Manchester United logo should have been enough to let me know it would be a tough trip ahead.

Somewhere along the line I'd forgotten just how frustrating long distance bus travel in Thailand can be. For the uninitiated, the usual components of these journeys are ...

  1. Rendezvous at the travel agent you booked the tickets with. So far so good.
  2. Take a longish walk in searing heat, hauling your baggage to the meeting point for the bus.
  3. Or so you thought. You will then be moved to the real meeting point for the bus.
  4. Repeat point 3 for 30-45 minutes. You will normally arrive back at the original meeting point (see 2).
  5. You finally embark your coach, which can be anything from an ageing bone-shaker to a luxury aircon coach. Which you get will bear no relationship to what is described on your ticket.
  6. You then proceed happily along toward your destination ...
  7. Or so you thought. Usually you will be dropped off at a cafe somewhere on the outskirts of an unspecified town, to be picked up again anywhere between 15 minutes and 3 hours later for another bus to your final destination.
  8. Dependent on how lucky you are - repeat point 7 using as many different vehicles as possible for 3-4 hours. All without moving outside a 1km radius of the first drop-off point.
  9. At some point one of the vehicles will break the 1km radius and take you to your final destination - technically in the town you requested, but way beyond any reasonable walking distance to where you actually want to be.
  10. Take one of the conveniently poised overpriced cabs to your end destination. Alternatively make noises about going to find a cheaper one, and enjoy an instant 25-50% discount.

At no point will you receive any meaningful information on the number and timing of forthcoming transfers. In order to maximise frustration, experience at night.

Our trip south from Bangkok included all these elements. So much so in fact that our group fractured part way through the journey, with two people electing to jump ship at the port of Chumphon to head straight for the island of Ko Tao. Chris and I doggedly continued our intended route to Ranong, in a predominantly muslim area characterised by houses on stilts lined up along riverbanks.

We elected for a much shorter than planned hop over the river into Myanmar (aka Burma), where we found the town of Kaw Thuong (above) to be ... well, exactly the same as Ranong. Except that is for the hordes of hawkers trying to sell cheap Viagra, whisky & cigarettes on the dock. Not having a requirement for any of the aforementioned items, we spent our time talking to a one-armed man about Premier League football - almost more popular in Thailand and Burma than it is back home.

So a mere 22 hours after leaving Bangok, and having visited an extra country) we arrived on the beautiful tropical island of Ko Tao where we checked into some bungalows on the beach where we'd arranged to meet the others (no intended reference to Lost).

A consequence of cutting the Burma visit short was our arrival on the island a day earlier than planned, giving us the opportunity to surprise the other two. All we had to do first was find them ...