Yeah… So, that could have gone better.
I got up at 4am to get showered, packed, and checked out in time for my 5am mini-bus which… never showed up. I called the number they’d given me and was told there was no record of my booking having ever existed. The Malaysian guys who work the overnight shift at my hotel were really helpful, taking the phone from me and yelling at the guy in Malaysian, but in the end I was not going to be on that bus…
At 7am the travel agency where I’d purchased the ticket opened, and the woman there proceeded to yell at several people over the phone in Malay until she eventually got me a spot on the next bus at 8:30am. I’d hoped this would still be early enough, but it turns out only the 5am bus can get you to Koh Phangan the same day you leave Penang. Any later and you end up on the night boat. So, leaving 3.5 hours later meant arriving here 14 hours later than I would have (6am Monday instead of 4pm Sunday).
The first leg of the mini-bus trip (Penang to Hat Yai) wasn’t too bad, although nobody (including the driver) spoke any English so it was a bit rough with trying to figure out things like what was going on when we stopped (apparently for lunch) and the driver took all of our passports and walked away… I tried to ask a couple people if they knew how long we would be stopped, but to no avail. People seemed to be taking their time, so I ordered a tasty bowl of Curry Mee (Me: “Curry Mee” Noodle Guy: “What? You want like that?” (pointing at something on somebody else’s tray that wasn’t Curry Mee…) Me: “No. Curry Mee?” (pointing at the menu that says “Curry Mee”…) Him: “Oh! Curry MEE! Right…”) Once we got that sorted out (I swear to god our pronunciations were identical…) I had a delicious lunch, though.Throughout this drive I had a nagging fear (based on how the morning had gone) that I may just get dumped in the streets of Hat Yai when I got there, but the driver (who communicated with me solely by shoving me and pointing, plus occasionally saying “Koh Phangan?”) got me to a travel agency there, talked to them a bit on my behalf, then left. I was put on a mini-bus leaving in an hour. Now, the first mini-bus was pretty comfy, which I suspect may have something to do with all the other options available to you in Penang… The mini-bus out of Hat Yai? Not so much… They had parcels shoved under every seat, taking up any and all spaces where you might have liked to put your feet. We were crammed into that thing at full capacity for about 5 hours. Fantastic.
We got to Surat Thani and the guy just tried to dump me off at the pier, but my ticket was supposed to include the ferry so I wouldn’t let him leave until he told me what I do next. He gave a seriously exasperated sigh, stomped over to the ferry ticket stand, and threw down the 400 baht for my ticket, then stormed off. I guess he was hoping I wouldn’t think of that until he’d left? I don’t know… It was a bit shady, but it all worked out in the end… Now I just had 6 hours to kill until the night boat left…
While I was waiting I met a really nice British couple and lent them my Lonely Planet “Thai Islands and Beaches” so they could figure out what was going on. Apparently their mini-bus driver was openly hostile to them and had dropped them off in the wrong place, refusing to tell them even where they were. They actually needed to be 40km away from where they ended up in order to catch their ferry to Ko Samui, so they were looking for a travel office and/or a place to crash for the night. The guy found them a nearby hotel and they went off to get settled, but after they’d showered and had dinner they came back over and kept me company until 11pm when the boat was ready to board. This was really nice and was actually extremely helpful, since 11pm is way past my bedtime (especially when I’ve been up since 4am) and I might have passed out on a bench while waiting if it wasn’t for them.
The boat was pretty nice as far as such things go. I fell asleep almost immediately (although not fast enough to miss out on a monologue from this American idiot about what an amazing traveler he is and how all his friends with jobs aren’t even worth talking to because their lives could never be as interesting or fulfilling as his) and slept until we pulled into the dock.
I managed to forget my book on the boat (I think it ended up under my pillow) which is fine because it was a paperback that I’d replaced with a hardcover back home but sad because I was at a really good part and I have a hammock here that seems perfect for reading in… Ah, well. The important thing is that I’m in paradise now, sitting on the beach watching the Bucs game that I missed while I was on the boat. It’s hard to complain too much when this is your view…
Jeez, man. But: Congratulations! You are now officially a backpacker. It's not official until you miss a travel connection AND have an argument with a non-English speaker who is trying to hustle you out of money.
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