15.02.2011 - 16.02.2011 33 °C
15th February 2011
On a trip like ours there is always something to worry about. The worries can range from personal safety or leaving valuables in the room (especially when the hotel proprietors warn you not to!) to being on time for a flight or a tour. Usually, thankfully, the worry is unfounded, but, obviously, you don’t know that at the time. That constant, nagging voice in the back of your head telling you that you should not have done that makes you very uneasy and you think of little else until the outcome, good or bad, becomes apparent. Today we listened to someone’s instructions and acted on them without a second thought. Only when it was too late did we think about the possible consequences of our actions ...
Our final breakfast with George and Lyn was, as usual, at 9am. It was yet another beautiful, sun-filled morning sky as we ate our last decent breakfast for some while! Cannot imagine any hostel in Bangkok will be cooking up a feast like this in the mornings...! We had much to do, so, immediately after breakfast, we walked down the road in the incredible heat to book a taxi to take us to the Nathon ferry port at 12:45pm and while there availed ourselves of the nearby internet bar to book somewhere to stay in Bangkok. The office was like a sauna, devoid of air conditioning but had a very clever fan that just managed to rearrange the hot, stifling air in different places on your body without actually cooling any of it down! Lyn brought in some welcome cans of cold soft drink for us and we booked pretty much the first place we came to on the internet just so we could get out of there! Job done we walked the hill for the last time back to the hotel and told Lyn and George we would meet them at the bar after we’d packed the last of our things, checked the room and paid up. As we had originally booked and paid for five days here and had extended our stay to eight, we expected a fairly large bill. We also expected some bell boys to come and collect our bags but were disappointed when none arrived so had to carry our things up the many steps and steep slopes to the reception building, the reception staff horrified that we had to do so! We asked to check out and sat in front of the reception desk while one of the staff picked up a phone and dialled a number, muttering something like having to check the room (presumably so they didn’t miss out on making a profit in case we’d hit the mini bar!). We waited and waited and in the end told them we’d rather be spending our last minutes with Jen’s Mum and Dad than sitting waiting for the bill to be finalised so we walked down to the bar to find George and Lyn playing Jenga. We told them what had happened in the reception and Lyn looked at us disbelievingly and said to George “They’re just kidding”. We didn’t really understand what that meant so reiterated what we’d just said. Lyn looked at us and said “But we paid your bill for you this morning....”!! We were completely taken aback and just couldn’t believe what they had done! We didn’t know what to say, but it was now obvious to us why the reception staff were sandbagging! They clearly didn’t know whether or not to tell us! We spent the next half an hour playing dominoes and expressing our gratitude in equal measure until that time came when we would be saying goodbye not only to Paradise, but to George and Lyn once more, a moment that Jen had been dreading ever since greeting her Mum and Dad seven days earlier! We trudged back up to reception for the last time and waited for our taxi to arrive. It was late. Our ferry tickets had been pre-booked and paid for along with our train tickets and the ferry would be departing at 2pm, so we really did not want to be late! The sound of a car door closing had us standing up and Stew walked over to the driver now making his way up the steps, and asked if he was our taxi. The man said he was so Stew started piling our bags into the car while Jen started the tearful farewells. No sooner had he finished and said his goodbyes, Stew turned round to find our real taxi driver, whom we had spoken to earlier, pulling up behind the car our bags were sitting in, with a confused expression on her face that clearly matched our own! The car we had stowed our luggage in was indeed a taxi - just not ours! So we emptied it of our belongings and moved them to our bigger, much nicer vehicle! After a final round of goodbyes and thanks, we were whisked away to the ferry port where we found our ticket agent, handed him the receipt stating we had bought and paid for two ferry tickets to Donsak and two bus tickets to Suratthani train station and we watched as he muttered something and jumped on his scooter and disappeared! We were completely bemused and all sorts of things went through our minds! Thirty seconds later, however, he reappeared with a woman in tow and she walked over to us with tickets in hand. It was still some time before we were due to board the ferry so we sat for a little while until a big blue and white bus chugged past and the same woman who had given us our tickets beckoned to Jen, walked with her onto the pavement and explained that the bus that had just gone by was the one we needed to get on for the rest of the trip to Suratthani train station. Grabbing our things and hoisting them onto our backs, we started walking after the bus which was now on the move again. It stopped in a small parking area and we watched as passengers disembarked and a couple of Asian guys walking in front of us said something to the driver and he opened the rear of the bus for them to stow their luggage. The driver was standing in the doorway of the bus when we got to him and Stew asked him if this was indeed the bus to Phun Phin. He was greeted with a loud grunt and a hand signal that he didn’t understand! After asking again, Stew received a louder grunt and the same hand signal. Red rag to a bull.... After quite a few choice words from Stew which the driver clearly didn’t understand (probably a good job too!) the boot was opened for us and we placed our bags inside. After a few more grunts and some more kind words from Stew we made our way to the ferry and boarded. Taking a seat downstairs we sat talking and it slowly dawned on us that we had just left everything we owned on a bus heading for goodness knows where, simply on the word of a woman with really bad English! Worse still, we hadn’t even seen the bus drive onto the boat! Doubts crept in and in no time at all we were worried sick and on our way! We tried to allay one another’s fears by saying we were sure things would be ok, but deep down neither of us believed the other! To make us feel a little better we went up to the sun deck to watch Koh Samui shrinking behind us. Hanging over the back, Stew spied some cars a couple of floors below and decided he had to make sure the bus drove on! Going down a couple of floors he found the car deck and started walking between cars and trucks and vans before spying a similar bus in the far corner. He couldn’t be one hundred percent sure it was the one, but it gave him hope nonetheless! Buoyed by this he bought a cold drink on his way back up to Jen and gave her the reasonably good news!
An hour and half later we were walking down the gangway from the ferry keeping our eyes peeled for the bus that had all our belongings on it. Cars, trucks and vans streamed off and past us as we trudged onwards towards the exit gate, but we could not see the bus. We got more and more worried with each passing vehicle and our hearts sank when the last of them went by. We looked at one another and just did not know what we were going to do when the bus Stew had spotted suddenly appeared! Relief filled us – and then drained away just as quickly as the bus drove past us and kept going! We quickened our pace to a trot to try and keep the damn thing in sight as it passed buildings and turned corners out of view. We rounded a bend to see it suddenly slow to a halt about two hundred yards ahead of us! Determined not to let it get away we ran the rest of the distance and climbed on board panting with relief! The next hurdle was to make sure the bus was going to the correct destination and that meant having to try and talk to the grunting, miserable, sour-faced driver! Thankfully, though, he found us first and motioned to us to show him our tickets. Finally we could relax as he handed them back with a nod and shuffled off to bully someone else! The relief was immense and now all we had to think about was where to get off the bus at the other end...
The journey itself was uneventful and the scenery was a lovely distraction as we raced through small towns and pretty little villages on the way to the first stop of two – Suratthani – which we reached after around an hour of travelling. Thankfully we had done some research on the internet and, although the train station we needed was called Suratthani Railway Station it was actually around 30km from Suratthani, in a town called Phun Phin! A group of young travellers (either Swedish or German!) started grabbing their bags and filing off the bus, and Stew heard one of them mutter something about the train station. He mentioned to one of the group that the station itself wasn’t here but in Phun Phin and she told her fellow travellers the news. They all filed back on the bus and sat down again looking bemused and, as the bus pulled away once more, Stew began to wonder whether his information was correct and, if not, whether his death at the other end was to be quick or painful....!! He spent the rest of the journey hoping we’d done the right thing and the burden of being bludgeoned to death by a group of annoyed backpackers was lifted when we pulled up outside the small railway station another forty or so minutes later at around 17:30. Our train was sitting there waiting for us so we decided we’d waste no time in boarding it and finding our seats. We were quite surprised to find that, to get to our platform, we had to actually cross two sets of tracks! There aren’t any bridges there! Once safely ensconced on our train we opted to rig our bags with our lockable backpack covers so that we could padlock them to the luggage rack – we had already watched our luggage disappearing before our eyes once today, and we were determined not to have a repeat performance! The covers took a little while to put on (Jen is expert at this!) and Stew ran across the tracks once more to get some goodies for the long overnight trip ahead, returning with a booty of chocolate, crisps, biscuits and water. We were joined in the carriage by a couple of german surfer dudes grunged up to their peaked caps and they had trouble stowing their wakeboard as it was so big, but they managed to balance it (somewhat precariously) between their bags somehow. Soon we heard the whistle blow and the train clunked, creaked and groaned into motion and we were soon rocking our way towards Bangkok. To ease the boredom of the trip we pulled out our laptop and started watching some programmes we had downloaded earlier on our travels and it wasn’t too long before the guard was coming along pulling all the beds down and handing out the sheets, pillows and blankets. The beds were surprisingly big for a train bunk and we both lay together (somewhat awkwardly admittedly!) and watched some more TV before the laptop battery was as exhausted as us! Stew clambered across the gangway into his own bed and we both attempted sleeping while the rush of the outside world and the clickety clack of the track filled our heads. Sleep did not come at all easy.