March 5, 2007 Koh Tao, Thailand
“You Take my Breath Away” remixed, and other 80’s songs blar as I sit at Kallpangha Restaurant on Koh Tao looking out at the shallow aqua’s cutting into the deep blues of the Gulf of Thailand. Brightly painted blues and reds decorate the boats, rock formations jet out from the earth and rolling green hills set the back drop while wild dogs protect their territory, locals attempt to work on a construction site but the urge to lie in the hammock wins over. a wind surfer practices his tricks and the tourists lay on the beach and take comfort from the heat in the waters that are so warm.
I arrived after a long and painful journey from Bangkok. I thought that I’d be clever and travel the ‘local’ way. Not using the all too convientient mode of transportation provided by private companies picking you up on the road that is built for tourists, taking you in their VIP air con bus to where you change over and get on a boat for a couple hours before arriving on the island. “HA” I thought I will save money AND give my business back to the government, after all the Thai’s really seem to be working hard to provide information to the tourists through government funding. Plus all the private buses were full.
I took a taxi as the rush hour of a Friday afternoon heading into a three day weekend in Bangkok seemed to be building. The Southern Bus Terminal doesn’t seem so big but it packed with people I found my way without standing in line to buy a combo ticket of bus and boat. My two options were to leave at 9pm on the first class bus, or 10pm on the VIP bus, I opted for for 9pm as it was sooner and the bus ride is only about 6 hours. Saving a few hundred Bhat.
Hmmmmm, I still have 3 hours to kill. Great, I’ll go sit down in the waiting area and read or something, stretch my legs. Yeah RIGHT! There were so many people I could hardly walk through the crowd let alone sit! I decided I’d walk across the street and maybe find a better place to sit. I had said that I didn’t really feel like I was ‘experiencing Thailand’ I was feeling like this country was totally molded into a circus for street goers of all ages. Food, tours, clothes, non of it would be here if it wasn’t for the tourists. Some of the prices have spun out of control, for instance a street in Bangkok that is geared for tourists with clubs, shops, vendors, tattoo parlors, massages etc is triple the price from just one street over!
Well here I was, the only white person that I can spot for a long time, I find a spot on a curb next to a Thai girl and after plopping down on the street I realize I’m sitting outside a KFC! The smell of grease pours out with the AC everytime the door opens from the frequent traffic. The line is long and the tables are full. I can’t believe it. A
7 eleven on every corner, Burger King, and the frequent Starbucks was enough but now a KFC! I kill about 45 minutes people watching and decide to get something to eat. I find a local vendor and got some stir friend vegetables and a side of steamed rice, sitting in the plastic chairs that are in the street making up the “restaurant”.
Ahhh, another 45 minutes has passed. I decide to get one of the ice cream cones I saw so many locals walking around with and head over and figure out where I get my bus. I have realized that you have to be quick to get through lines here, that if you want a seat on the bus you have to scury about and get in and snag a seat as they are never assigned, that 9 0’clock ment the bus was pulling out at that time!
Well I was there, ready to make my way on the bus, no sitting in the back for me! But then all I thought I knew went out the door! I waited for a long time 9pm came and went and I was sure the bus women yelling in the microphone was aware that I was suppose to be on this bus. Some other travels should up not sure where to go and asking me. They thought that because we were going to the same destination we were on the same bus, they apperntly didn’t see the 3 other companies selling tickets, or that each one had at least 2 different times leaving tonight, I asked what company and they just said, no, what town are you going to. I asked what time their bus was to leave and said I was on a different bus, they seemed confused.
All of a sudden a man wanting to see my ticket comes up and then waves for me to go with him we walk around to where it looked like several buses were parked and he told me to get on. I grabbed the first seat I saw and sat down next to a Thai girl. Ahhhhh the only non Thai on the bus, just what I was hoping for! I turn around to see what the confusion was and the women in charge points to me from the other end of the bus and yells, “You” I stand up and go to her, she makes me sit in a different seat, apparently these seats were assigned! I got some coconut juice and a little package with a slice of white bread coded with butter and sprinkled with sugar. Strange and gross I thought.
The traffic was so slow and the bus stopped for the driver to smoke a few times. In the middle of the night we stopped as the buses normally do for us to eat and get snacks.
We pile back on a drive a few more hours. At 4am we stop on a small side street with a little place lit up and they tell me to get off. I stagger my way down the isle and get my bag, everyone wants my ticket, yelling it seems “TICKET” just as I show it to one person and they tell me to wait here, I put it away, then it happens all over again. I finally sit down outside because inside, even with the fans on and the doors wide open are too hot. Good, a spot in the corner, nobody will smoke, bother me, they know where I am so when the bus comes to take me to the boat they will get me, as there are only 3 other people (all Thai) around. But no, of course not, a man has to find his way just so when he smokes the fumes blow in my direction and the motorbike taxi (no they don’t wear helmets!) comes and pulls up right in front of me.
I try to move spots and he wants my ticket, to take me to the ferry. Finally another guy interjects and says for me to stay and I fall sound asleep with my sarong drapped over my head.
“Hello” I faintly hear from a distance, “Hello Lady” I jolt up suddenly from my slumber on my bag as I sprawled on the sidewalk. “Your bus” I jump in and there they were, all the tourists. Some were the girls I had seen at the bus terminal in Bangkok. We were taken to another station where we had one hour before we were transported once more to the boat.
Arriving at the boat it all became clear to me. We had all taken different journeys. Some the train, some the Government bus, some the private bus straight from Koh Son Rd. and there we were, all arriving at the same destination.
So now I have relaxed swam, slept, become involved in a serious relationship with a new book called “The Mermaid Chair” and hoping to see a couple friends I had originally met in Bangkok. I may do a couple dives and some snorkeling. The heat seems to be a bit hypnotic in tat I tend to move slowly and with little intentions. The locals have smiles and think it’s fun to have me guess their age. They are always older than they look and we have a good laugh. When I have them guess my age the same happens and we laugh again! I teach them a new English vocabulary word and they practice and listen to how I say it over and over and then they try to teach me a word.
More laughs as the sounds are so different!
I miss being able to communicate better in the local languauge.