There was a point somewhere between hour 8 and hour 10 that a small insanity took hold of me. Or at least it seemed so.
A fourteen hour bus from Bangkok to Phuket would normally be manageable. If surviving a 99 hour train journey across the United States was possible, surely this would be a walk in some metaphorical park.
Bangkok to Chiang Mai had already been done, a trip about 12 hours, except there were factors that kept my already zany brain from falling down the rabbit hole.
Somebody to talk to. A book to read. Technology to scour.
All of these which I did not have this time when I disembarked Bangkok on a packed bus.
The journey would begin with one misadventure, but it wouldn’t be the end of it.
Because I am still a noob when it comes to 24 hour time, I received a ticket that read 18:00 and idiotically thought that meant 8:00pm. I was tired, that is my excuse. In a panic I rushed to the counter and stated that I had asked for an 8:00pm ticket and was given the wrong one (which is actually what I asked for) and after some talking, they kindle issued me a new ticket.
After boarding and claiming my seat, I decided to just close my eyes and sleep through the night since I had no other entertainment at hand, and my leather journal was not inspiring me to write since they turned off the lights.
At dawns annoying light my eyes peeled open like a bandaid tearing off skin. Though contortionist might seem like a talent or hobby given how many unconventional places I’ve discovered I can sleep, the body never gets used to unfolding itself from pretzel-like state.
The sunrise ignited the rolling hills and small mountain tops. Morning mist hung over the thin pencil like trees had tufts of leaves at their tops like truffula trees out of a Dr. Seuss book.
Finally out of the concrete jungle and into a real jungle. And it was clear I had no clue where the hell we were.
The bus bumbled and barreled like a drunk Brit down rocky roads that snaked through the lush pencil trees and palms.
With my American ignorance ruling the thought process, I half expected to see thatched roofs and bamboo houses abound. Maybe it was hope and not expectation.
Instead, the buildings that did spring up in breaks of the greenery were still very much city like. All concrete and steel besides the occasional wooden structures darkened by time, rot, and moss.
Even those were luxurious mansions compared to what you might come across in West Virginia.
And though I was winding through thick jungle, there was still advertising everywhere.
We were halted at one of the numerous military checkpoints along the journey and a soldier was standing at attention beneath one such advertisement. It was a billboard of a sexy Thai woman (but you never know here) which seemed to be selling feminine products.
At one point during the brief inspection, the soldier glanced over his shoulder and seemed to give her a one over as if checking her out. Or maybe checking to see if she was impressed by his soldier-like stature.
Partnering with the military for advertising? Someone somewhere is something of a genius. Why doesn’t the United States do this to fund our own? Viagra ads slapped on war ships with the slogan, “Get that cannon firing again!” or Trojan ads on tanks with, “Sorry Clint, sometimes a magnum isn’t big enough. Pull out the Abrams tank condom”
Payment to me for these ideas is fully expected if used.
After the scenery became repetitively beautiful I turned my search for amusement to the inside of the bus were sunlight danced off the bobbing heads of other passengers.
The seats were numbered like a prison transport. I was number 19, though I plopped my bag in number 20 so I would have it all to myself.
Number 24, dressed head to toe in military garb, blasted Celine Dion aloud on his phone. I wondered if he would give up his man card If I were to ask, or would it be lost in translation?
Number 17 was boring. Directly in front of me. Never changed position of his or her head. I was aching for something like a nose pick from ’em. Nothing. Just that fine black Asian hair bobbing to the jolts of the bus.
I wondered if number 6 would ever stop snoring, and if I licked a gummy bear and tossed it, maybe I could get it stuck to their face. That’ll stop the snoring for sure.
A stench of fart crept up my nose and I wondered if it could be number 14 in front or perhaps number 30 in the back. Maybe it was even number 17! Sneaky.
It seems as though number 21 and 22 were choco-haulics with chocolaty treats strewn over both of their seats. The thing is, I never saw number 22 there. Number 21, watch out for the diabetes! I bet his favorite movie is “Chocolat“. Such a good movie!
Pen break for tinkle time.
Damn, every word in my journal should probably not be translated onto the blog. Number 24 can have his man card back for my use of the word “tinkle”.
We pulled into another depot with just a long building made of wood and clad with rusted corrugated metal to establish any presence of life there.
A Thai kid in a yellow jersey stood outside with a flat soccer ball held in his teeth stared at the bus like a lost pup. Kids do the darnedest things these days — I blame it on television. Probably Scooby Doo.
For hours after we did that meander word that writers use when they don’t know how to describe the act of passing through an area. We meandered along as the sun-baked my face through the window. Of course I had to pick the seat with no curtain. Palm leaves slapped against the bus while meandering along and I thought to myself, “someone oughta’ trim those. Who’s in charge of park and maintenance out here — we need to have a chat.”
A truck crept by us and to my utter childish delight, a giant marshmallow man, like the one from Ghost Busters, adorned the roof. Oh how amusing little things are on a long bus journey.
By the way — if you were wondering, number 17 with the bobbing head of fine Asian hair turned out to be a man. The great bus mystery solved.
The jungle opened up to reveal a large town ringed by low trees and surrounded by mountains. Mounds of dirt with a freshly dug ditch lined the main road we rolled through on, lined with cobble stone sidewalks, with Thai workers laying into the ground concrete sewage pipes.
The road was actually the nicest I’ve seen in all of Thailand; smooth and newly paved asphalt led us through the dust and dirt that had been kicked up from the enormous amount of construction happening — making it feel as though we passed through an old west town in the United States. The buildings with clay tile rooftops and arched windows cemented this feeling even more of a town that seemed to belong in San Diego.
After leaving that progressive and clean southwest town in the middle of Thailand, we were back and bumbling through the jungle. Pinocchio Restaurant flashed by my window in a clearing of trees followed by a sudden moment of confusion. You think America invades everything? Italy has Pinocchio Restaurants in the heart of the Thai jungle.
Further down the road another moment of confusion slapped me in the face; I spotted a Toys R’ Us at one of the middle-of-nowhere bus stops. It had to be legit because it had the backward “R” and all. The store was nothing more than a half collapsed metal shack, and I thought to myself how far down on hard times they have fallen since beanie babies, razor scooters, and Pokémon.
We pushed further south, now edging closer and closer to the coast. Khao Lak was the next town we passed through, and by the time I realized we were there, we were already left it behind us. From what I saw I liked. Green hills lush with trees climbed high all around the town which was situated between the base and the water. Just one row of buildings; all small and colorful shops or hostels on either side of the street completed it, and there was barely a soul around the clean streets.
The bus slowly crawled up a steep hill, gears grinding on a newly paved road leaving Khao Lak behind. I hoped I would make it back someday before it loses that peace and quite; new roads always bring new noise and nonsense.
Farm land sprung up as the mountains fell to become hills and the trees shrunk in size — and finally those thatched roof houses sprung up to my delight. Buildings made of bamboo with black molded thatch from the moist south. Fields of newly sprouted vegetables in perfectly parallel fields. And bush sculptures? The bush sculptures were freakin’ random.
Massive swaths of farmland were covered in those truffula trees; though now they weren’t popping their tufts of leaves above the palms, but were aligned in to give an illusion of endless corridors of them. Corridors of trees that eventually hypnotized me into a deep sleep.
A small Thai woman poked me in the arm and sprung me from my slumber.
“You leave now”
“This is Phuket?” I said with my slightly grumbly voice.
“Yes yes, hehehe” The woman giggled at my apparent confusion and disorientation.
I had finally made it to Phuket, with my melting mind still somewhat intact. But I still had to make it to the dock in time for my ferry, which would prove to be yet another mis-adventure.
Motorbike and taxi drivers hounded me like rabid dogs with “100 baht to town!” as I finally got of the bus and found the rest of my luggage. I waved them away with a confident “no” in Thai, “Mai krap” because I had done my research preemptively and knew that I could score a local songthaew truck for 20 baht to the ferry.
Yet, sometimes attempting to be clever can come back and bite you in the ass, or lead you the opposite direction. In this case — my destination, the ferry terminal, would elude me.
I turned on my iPhone, and with 4% battery left, looked up directions to the terminal so I could follow along and make sure I didn’t fall off course.
The songthaew, a large pink truck with two benches in the back, pulled up and I approached the driver.
“Does this go to the ferry terminal?” I asked. The driver did not roll down his window, he just waved me back as if to tell me, “Of course you idiot.”
In the back of the truck, a woman sat collecting the fare and asked where I was going. I showed her the name of the ferry terminal, she ripped a small paper ticket, and I handed over 15 baht. When I asked her again for reassurance where we were going, she smiled and nodded. And I figured she would have known a main ferry terminal in town — but turns out she didn’t have a clue.
The songthaew pulled up to a market and the ticket woman turned to me and said, “Here”
“Where is the ferry?” I asked, and she pointed to a street sign. And of course that street sign had the same name as the ferry terminal.
“No no, ferry to Koh Phi Phi” I said.
“No, no songthaew from here, you take taxi”
And I cursed in my head. I thought to be clever and take the local mode of transport, but somehow I had been taken to the opposite end of town to a market with no songthaew.
I hopped out of the truck and looked around, trying to get my bearing and find some way to get there. The ticket woman called out to a gentleman who ran over and said, “Taxi to ferry 100 baht”
Right back where I started.
I shook my head and told him it was too expensive, and began to look around for some other way.
“Okay okay, 60 baht”
“50 baht and I’ll go” I countered, figuring I wasn’t going to get much lower than that, and thankfully he agreed. At that point I just wanted to get to the ferry finally.
I don’t recall the driver’s name, but I do know that he had barely more teeth than a babe, which means that his constant smile as he drove me toward the terminal was bigger than most. We made small talk on the ride. He told me about his six children; four boys and two girls, and commented about his love for Manchester United after I told him I was from Washington D.C.
Though I’ve never known many fans of Manchester United in Washington D.C. I nodded and smiled.
Just a short ride through the busy port town and we pulled up to the terminal. He flashed one last big toothless smile and drove off.
I had survived a fourteen hour bus ride from Bangkok to Phuket with no electronics, no book, and nobody to talk to. And though, as you can tell by reading my observations jotted down in my journal, a bit of sanity was lost — I still arrived on time.
Now, I just had to survive the three-hour ferry ride which turned out to be extremely rocky. That story of passengers hurling their brains out may or may not come another time.
Have you ever had a similar long distance journal with nothing to keep you sane? Or a similar misadventure?