Curious Geckos

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Karon to Kanchanaburi – All in a days travel

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It’s time to move North after our eight nights in the Thai islands. We’ve enjoyed them, but now it’s time to see some history and get some culture. Today will be a long day as we have multiple mini trips to complete if we want to travel half the length of the country in 24 hours. Most people take the easy route (Phuket to Bangkok by plane – Phuket airport is about 10 miles north of the town). We have chosen the harder, more time consuming, visually better and character building route!

As we leave our guesthouse, we wander down to the taxi rank where the ‘boss man’ had agreed with us a taxi from Karon to the bus station in Phuket for 500 baht (£12.50). We were going to leave at 10 am after breakfast but we decided to head off at 9am and get some breakfast at the bus station when we arrived. At the taxi rank, there is no-one about – seems they don’t start work until mid morning. Eventually a driver turns up and we start the whole rigmarole again of negotiating a price. As is always the way, the bus station is apparently miles away from Phuket centre so he wants much more than 500 baht for the trip. I couldn’t be bothered trying to negotiate again so we decided to hang around for another Tuk Tuk. Then, out of the corner of my eye, a hazy blue mirage appeared in the distance. Excellent, it was the public bus to Phuket – we hail it down, jump on board and pay the 30 baht each…we were on our way.

Arriving at Phuket some 45 minutes later, we were all dropped of down some side street – not sure why but the driver just tipped us all off here. Immediately, we were approached by locals wanting to know where we were going, did we want a taxi and did we want our onward travels sorted! Thinking that there would be an amount of choice in the matter, I rejected the first (and only) guys offer of 300 baht to the bus station (it’s only 3 -4 miles away so I thought that we could get it cheaper). Mmmm, wandering about Phuket in 90 degree plus heat trying to find a Tuk Tuk does not bring joy to the soul and after 20 mins, we were both getting a bit irritated. I don’t know if we were heading out of town, hence the lack of tuk tuk’s and taxis. Realising that the situation was not improving, we headed back the way we had started, to see if we could find the guy that had approached us but he was gone. We headed a bit down the road and we saw a Tuk Tuk. The driver approached, asked where to, we said the new bus terminal and he said 200 baht and we said okay.

Into the new terminal and all the ticket desks are at the front. We had wanted to travel to Surat Thani on a Phantip 1970 Company Limited coach as their website showed pictures of beautiful, state of the art streamlined buses with all the mod cons like air con, tv and a toilet. They boasted that they only took 4.5 hours to reach Surat Thani as it was a direct service (most buses take 6.5 hours). We paid over our 200 bahts each (£5) and went to wait at gate number 2 for our dream coach.

Surely not! The coach pulling into gate no 2 beltches huge bellows of diesel from its old exhaust system. Is this our coach? Unfortunately yes. By a long way, this was the oldest, most decrepit bus in the station. Mmmm, this is what 200 baths gets. Sarcastically Lisa asked the driver if it had a toilet on board? He just smiled and laughed and said no…..you must go in the station before we leave.

So we all boarded the Phantip 1970 Co Limited bus (it must have been their 1st bus – and second hand at that time) and right on time (12 noon)’ we headed out of the bus terminal.

To begin with, there was only 10 people on the bus so plenty room to spread out. If it was direct as the web site promised then it should be fine. 30 minutes onto the trip and we have already stopped 3 times and picked up lots more passengers. Something tells me that the bus may take longer than the 4.5 hours stated….although I’m not sure as the driver is going a fair click along the road, taking advantage of both lanes to drive around corners.

It’s 187 km from Phuket to Surat Thani so we might as well kick back (the seats do fold back), relax and look out of the window, after all that was the reason we chose the bus!

Amazingly, the coach pulls in at the Surat Thani train station 20 minutes behind schedule! Not bad if we do say so ourselves. On the bus, we had been chatting to three girls from Georgia, USA and they had mentioned that they were looking to take the sleeper up to Bangkok too so we all stuck together. Into the station we went and within 20 seconds a small spanner had been thrown into the works. All the 2nd class sleeper seats had been sold, all the 1st class ones too. The 2nd class reclining seats had all gone. There was nothing on any of the next 4 trains apart from 3rd class.

Prior to leaving the UK, we had read a lot from the train website ‘Man in Seat 61’. We knew that 3rd class was where the locals mainly sat and that the seats were hard and did not move. What to do, we decided to just go for it….it was cheap and surely we could last the 10 hour trip….hey, it might even be fun packed in with the locals!

The three American girls were not so bullish and decided to get a Tuk Tuk to the bus station to try and get an overnight VIP bus. In hindsight, we should have done the same.

Boarding the train at 9pm, we made our way to the back (carriage 13 – lucky for some!)’ seats 11 & 12. As we walked down to the carriage, we were stopped several times by the train guards who wanted to check our tickets as they rarely see foreigners sit in 3rd class. As we walked into our carriage, all the locals stopped chatting and just stared at us (it was a real Forrest Gump moment!). However, we made our way to our small bench at the back of the carriage, put the packs in the overhead shelf and sat down and smiled…..only 10 hours to go. When we say the seats are small, we mean small. These seats were made with slim, 6/7 stone Thai people in mind, not two somewhat flabby Scots with a combined weight over 22 stone! One of us was jammed into the corner, whilst the other was half hanging off the seat! Ohh, how we wished we had taken the bus.

For the 1st couple of hours, things were fine, we had a window open which was letting in a cool breeze, the locals were just going about their own business and ignoring us and the train rocked side to side as it shunted along. 4 hours in and most people were asleep…we weren’t! As it was hot, we needed the windows open to let a breeze in and with this, we also got an unhealthy amount of diesel fumes in from the train engine, not to mention, lots of little beasties. The seats had become uncomfortable and the locals, clearly having done this before were sleeping on the floors and anywhere else they could find some room. There was very little room to move as we were all packed in. You couldn’t move your legs out in front of you as someone was sitting directly opposite. Hour after hour, we tried to get some sleep but the constant jolting of the train, the wind rushing in from outside and the noise from the local sellers walking up and down the aisle every time the train stopped. I kid you not, at 3.30am, the train stopped and about 5 guys jumped on trying to sell food, drink and other stuff. Most were asleep and they shouted at people to wake them up to see if they wanted a coke!

By 5 am, we were really uncomfortable…tired and aching….not long to go though. We watched the sun rise on the train and the mist (or pollution) hung in the air over the towns we trundled through.

Being in carriage 13′ we were at the back of the train (very long train) and as such, when it stopped at stations, only the 1st and 2nd class carriages got to see the platform. Our carriage mainly overlooked fields or fences. People in our carriage would get off every now and then and walk up the train track to the platform before exiting. Now, when you are this far back, you can’t see the the station name so you have no idea when to get off. There is no tannoy in 3rd class and guards at the compartment end don’t let you through to 2nd class. So we asked a woman opposite if she knew the station (Nakhon Pathom) and whilst she didn’t speak English she gestured that this was her station…..how lucky are we!

Jumping off at Nakhon Pathom (it actually has a platform that’s at least 300 meters long), we stretched our legs for the 1st time in 10 hours. We were tired, aching and somewhat dehydrated. We had decided not to drink loads on the train as the toilets were a bit of a nightmare! However, we went into the station and got 2 tickets for Kanchanaburi and 2 hours later we were on another train to our final destination. Arriving 40 minutes late, we climbed off the train and were met by a Tuk Tuk driver who asked us where we wanted to go….we said that our hotel would pick us up and he asked which hotel. We said the Oriental Kwai and he told us that he would call them and sort it out for us. We were very sceptical but 5 minutes later, we were in the back of a Tuk Tuk, speeding to the Oriental Kwai Resort. As is the way in Thailand, everything is a bit further than you are led to believe and it takes us 20 minutes to finally reach our paradise resort!

It’s taken us 26 gruelling hours to reach Kanchanaburi. We’re tired, aching and dirty. It’s now time to relax, take a dip in the pool and have a well deserved beer as tomorrow, we go exploring!

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