I’ve recently left Chiang Mai to spend a month on the island of Koh Phangan. Since leaving the UK I’d been feeling that transitions between places were a little too easy – that I could slip between countries, continents even, with barely a murmur, the journey over before I could blink. Well, be careful what you wish for – my transition from Chiang Mai to Koh Phangan felt a little like Odysseus’s return…
Leaving Chiang Mai felt somewhat sad, but not, perhaps as sad as it would have been had I not know I was coming back in a few months time. I’d been packing and planning and was ready in plenty of time (well…would you expect anything less?). After a short taxi ride to the airport, I checked into my Air Asia flight, and was very, if quietly (not wanting to draw too much attention!), grateful when the stewardess didn’t charge me for having a case that weighed 25.5kg rather than the max 25kg I was allowed – how that happened, I have no idea – I swear it wasn’t that heavy on the way out!
No problems getting to the gate, a ‘goodbye’ iced mocha as I have decided in the spirit of healthy eating and living to give them up for the month of yoga (don’t worry, coconut smoothies are still very much on!), and onto the plane for the quick flight to Bangkok.
Sidebar on people on planes
A short muse (rant?) on human behaviour on planes. I mean, what happens?! For example, the madness where people stand up in the aisles as soon as the plane has landed – the plane has barely touched down, it’s certainly nowhere near opening the doors, the seat belt sign has definitely NOT gone off, and they’re up and opening the overhead lockers and queueing to leave. What do they think will happen? The plane will take off again with them still on it? Sometimes I (mean-spiritedly) hope that the plane will brake suddenly and they’ll all fall over like dominoes…
Getting on the plane seems similar (although I discount budget airlines where you don’t have a pre-booked seat – that’s truly a blood-in-the-water-with-sharks scene). You have a booked seat people! Why stand and queue in a line 50 people long! No airport staff are even in sight!
Collecting bags doesn’t escape my easily-annoyed-perspective. There’s a painted line and the words ‘Stand behind this line’, for a reason. So that everyone can see the bags coming. And yet. What usually prompts me to mutter and gesture like a mad bag lady is when people come and stand in front of me, sometimes sidling over as if they are on their way somewhere, and then just ‘forgetting’ to keep moving, sometimes bold as brass just walking over and standing firmly in front of me. Both, annoying. Committing the deadly sins of stupidity AND getting in my personal space.
At Bangkok airport, realising exactly how heavy my bag was, I decided to get a taxi to the train station, Hua Lamphong. It was by now VERY hot. My train wasn’t until 5pm, and I had a good couple of hours to kill. The station has a ‘food court’ where I had some rice and a fried egg (good veggie staples when you don’t really know what anything is), and I had a bit of a walk round. There were many similarities to a UK train station – ticket windows with big queues, more-expensive-than-usual-newsagent, various sweets, magazine, and tat shops.
Some definite differences too. One was the ‘Monk waiting area’ – seating cordoned off, with hot, tired looking monks sitting waiting for trains. And the other was the performance going on at the back of the station. This included a little traditional dancing, but slightly more surreally, what appeared to be Thai music karaoke performances, including a man in business dress who got a lot of clapping, and a number of people want to take his picture, which he LOVED, crooning soulfully into their cameras.
The security guards were different too. I asked a security man where my train was, and after a chat, I thought I’d cheekily ask him if he could look after my luggage while I went to the loo (given I felt we’d built up a rapport by this time), and he said ok. Can you imagine a South West trains member of staff looking after your suitcase for you while you spent a penny?! I don’t think so!
As an aside, I think that this is one of the most challenging aspects of travelling solo. If you have a bag – particularly with Thai style loos where you don’t want to be, er, unbalanced – then you have to usually trust someone to look after your stuff for you, which is always a risk. Anyway, my luggage was still there when I came back, and he showed me a nice little garden bit in the station, so I got him to agree to a picture. He looks very stern in this photo, but he was beaming at all other times. Maybe he’s not allowed to smile on the job…so more like South West trains there…
I had a first-class berth on the overnight sleeper train down to Suratthani, which meant a 2-berth cabin, with AC. I was sharing with a Thai girl who couldn’t speak English, but as I was an English girl who couldn’t speak Thai, that didn’t seem unreasonable. She seemed more scared of me than I was of her though. Maybe because I kept taking photos. And it was hard to get away from me in such a small space…
I had the vegetarian set meal in my berth, which was reasonably tasty. The porter seemed very disappointed I didn’t want any beer though. He tried several times. Must be something about westerners as he didn’t seem to expect the Thai girl to have any. The loos – probably best not mentioned.
I had the lower bunk, so did have some nerves that the top bed was going to flip down and squash me a couple of times. It didn’t. I was pretty exhausted from the heat, the travelling, and a couple of late nights previously, and went to sleep early. It was an odd night – cold in parts as there is a tendency in Thailand for AC to be turned up extremely high, but I had bought along socks and a scarf just in case – and the train was very noisy, so I think it was a fitful sleep. But sleep I did, broken by strange dreams and music in my head to the rhythm of the train on the tracks. But by 4am it was time to wake up and get everything ready for my stop. Ouch. Off the train I tumbled, and followed the appropriate shouting Thai person with a sign. She plonked me in a café, and said the bus wasn’t till 8am. I sort of knew this, but hadn’t really put that into terms of a three hour dawn wait in a train station café. I had some poor coffee and French toast to keep me going, and mostly stared groggily into space.
Onto the bus, which took a couple of hours to take us to the pier to wait for the Ferry to Koh Phagnan. The bus journey was hot and I was starting to feel fairly uncomfortable by this point. I was hoping to be able to relax a bit on the ferry, but this was actually the worst bit of the whole 48 hours. A high-speed catamaran, it was very unstable in the water, really stultifying in the cabin, and after three hours I was feeling horrible. I managed not to be sick but it was a close run thing.
It had been 27 hours since I left my last home in Chiang Mai. I was exhausted. But pulling up to the pier I was impressed by the cleanliness of the water and the beaches that I could see. Golden sand and turquoise waters.
After a sticky Song Thaew journey to my home for the next month I checked in easily, and went up to my ‘Bungalow’. I’ve put it in speech-marks because although it is only one storey, it’s on stilts, so, there are stairs… It’s a room smaller than my place in CM, the décor being 1970s B&B floral-meets-Yoga and Buddhist images, but has the huge advantage of a generous and reasonably private balcony, which has the eagerly awaited hammock, plus a table and chairs. In the shady afternoon, this proved too much of a temptation, and I successfully tried out a little nap in the hammock.
I’d made it to my new home, the Ananda Centre, Koh Phangnan, and I was ready for the next adventure.