I awake with a start to the feeling of rough arms shaking me. Reluctant to leave the blissful world of slumber, I slowly open my eyes, only to behold the face of a frantic stranger.
“Dey ahh he-ah dey ahh he-ah!”
My first thought in such a situation is pretty understandable:
“Who are you? What’s going on? Why are you touching me- wait. Uh oh.”
As I gradually return to the world of the waking I realize that this is not in fact some weird Hostel Molester but instead is the Hostel Director, and that he must be talking about the bus I booked the night before to take me from Koh Samui to Bangkok at 7:45 this morning. If I miss the first leg in my 3-part, 12-hour trip I will not be happy.
Suddenly there’s more than one frantic person in the general bed-area.
Flinging off the piece of scratchy tissue paper that passes for a blanket in this place, I hop out of bed and take a brief moment to gaze mournfully at my scattered belongings. It seems like Past Avisha made the brilliant decision to leave all of the packing to Present Avisha. Typical. Sometimes I really hate that guy.
I glance down at my watch to see just how late I am and how mad the driver will be, and I see that it’s already 6:47 AM.
Waaaait a minute. Maybe this isn’t Past Avisha’s fault after all. I distinctly recall him setting an alarm for 7AM, which should have been plenty of packing time for the 7:45 bus.
Cramming my assorted belongings into my backpack with all the speed and organizational ability of a chipmunk in an espresso factory, I go to grab my shoes and-
In any situation where multiple people are required to take their shoes off and leave them by a door, it is a given that someone’s footwear will mysteriously disappear. In this case the rule has decided to apply itself to me, or more specifically to my flip-flops.
I can already tell: this is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
The Interminable Journey
1. The Van
By the time I make it down to the van it turns out that it’s already left to pick up other people first. So much for my frantic rushing.
After several minutes of waiting around bemoaning my lack of breakfast the van returns. Great. The only problem is that now the whole thing is full, front seat included. Good thing there’s one of those delightfully cozy pull-down platforms in between the driver and passenger seat. Time for me and my large backpack to work on that contortionist act we’ve been practicing.
The driver is not completely without remorse. While stopped at a traffic light (which, by the way, seem to be more like “rough guidelines” in Thailand), he pulls out a little box containing a stack of large leaves. He takes one and starts munching on it, then hands a second to me.
Already feeling my lack of breakfast, I of course accept. What could possibly go wrong?
It tastes a bit bitter, and, well… leafy.
Definitely not a good breakfast substitute. I think I’ll stick with my soylent.
On a totally unrelated note, why is my mouth suddenly going numb?
2. The First Bus
I had thought that the van was supposed to pick us up and take us straight to the ferry. Would that it were so simple—instead it first has to take us to a separate coach bus. In keeping with my previous experience with coach buses in Thailand, this one is outrageously decorated. I decide to dub it the Pretty Princess Bus. If only it smelled like a princess instead of that pervasive, slightly nauseating bus-smell.
They make us wait on the bus for almost half an hour as it slowly fills up with people before finally, daintily, rolling out.
3. The Ferry
The ferry is surprisingly nice. It’s a giant boat, large enough that even my already slightly upset stomach barely even notices the waves. It takes half an hour to load up, then an hour out on the water.
4. Back on the Bus
Hellooo Pretty Princess. Apparently they loaded the bus onto the bottom level of the ferry, which is fairly cool. Now for some more “waiting to fill up” time. I mentally begin to prepare myself for a really long bus ride up to Bangkok.
5. The Rest Stop
Rather than just go straight up to Bangkok, they decide to unload us at an innocuous-looking travel agency for some more of that glorious “waiting” stuff. It takes several minutes of pestering the staff before I find someone who speaks English and can inform me that my bus will arrive in just one hour and “why don’t I order something to eat in the meantime.” Suddenly the motive behind this particular stop becomes clear.
I sit down next to a couple of German guys headed to Koh Samui and proceed to gloat about how my bus is supposed to leave half an hour before theirs. Their eggs and toast remind my stomach that it’s been neglected of late, so I quickly procure myself a pair of bananas for 20 Baht (a price which is clearly a ripoff as it is more than 1/5th of what I would pay back at home. I’m Thai now and expect Thai pricing!).
But Lo! I have been doubly fooled. First—the travel agency. It’s innocuousness was a devious trap; somehow, in this tiny little room, they have managed to pack more mosquitos than in the Itty Bitty section of a vampire convention. Even my lightning DEET reflexes aren’t quite enough to save me from “unwilling blood donor” status.
To add insult to blood thievery, while I’m in the middle of doing my best Bill Murray from Ghostbusters impression with my little spray bottle, the Germans get called up. It’s only been an hour, but apparently their bus is the one that’s here and mine still has another half hour.
Another half hour passes and, while I’m inside complaining to the guy behind the desk, a van pulls up and calls for people headed to Bangkok. Several of the groups that were there pile in, and as I try to join them the guy looks at me and asks, “You alone?” to which I respond in the affirmative.
“You wait for next van then.”
How long? Oh, just another one and a half hours or so.
Delightful. More bonding time for me and Casper the unfriendly Skeet.
I think I’ll move to Australia. (Which, conveniently enough, isn’t too far away from here.)
6. Van #2
The next van arrives just in the nick of time. I was about to order a third pair of bananas—and let’s face it, nobody needs more than four in a sitting (unless they happen to be chums with bears and panthers, in which case all bets are off). Van #2 takes us to our bus in short order.
7. Bus #2.5
Again with the weird upholstery, crowded seating, and lackadaisical regard to departure timing. At least we’re finally on our way.
Or at least I think we are, until the bus stops again a little while later and some guy tells the Bangkok people (me and two others) to get off. Apparently this bus is heading towards Phuket.
8. The Truck
Yeah, you read that right. We get off the big coach bus and are told to climb into the back of this thing:
It’s like someone had a spare pickup truck lying around and decided to nail on a roof and some benches, but decided that a back would just be overkill.
Which of course means that only now is when we reach a highway and the driver starts booking it. It would be fun if I weren’t so focused on desperately holding on to my bags to make sure they don’t fall out the open back.
At this point I’m thoroughly sick of the “stop and switch transport methods” routine, but I really hope that they have one final one planned. I don’t think I could handle this all the way to Bangkok.
9. Stoppo el Pointlesso
Pulling off the highway (I’m not sure if any road here could be called a real “highway”, but I’ve decided to base my terminology on observed traffic speeds), we stop at what looks to be a little shack in the middle of nowhere. The driver gets out and goes into the shack, leaving us to wait in the truck for a while.
We wait a while more.
Eventually he comes back out and puts a little sticker on each of us, because if we didn’t have a sticker how would we know where we’re going? Then again, maybe if I had had a sticker a bit earlier I would have been able to skip a few of these delightful little detours.
Still on the exposed-to-the-elements truck, we get back on the highway. At which point my sticker promptly blows off.
This stop: big success.
10. Bus #3.5
Thankfully, it turns out that we won’t be going all the way to Bangkok in the Thai-Redneck-Mobile. We stop and get onto yet another coach bus.
I take back what I said about that first bus: THIS is the real Pretty Princess Bus. It’s like they stole those curtains straight out of a 1980’s update of a Victorian romance novel.
Asking around, I discover that, at long last, it seems like everyone else on this bus is also headed towards Bangkok. I’m almost there!
I recall ever thinking of a nine hour drive as “almost there” before. Congratulations Thailand, you have successfully managed to completely skew my worldview on transportation.
Now it’s time to relax and get comfy with a nice book (and when I say book I of course mean Kindle). All this bouncing around between different conveyances has started to make me feel a bit sore.
Unfortunately, this guy seems to have a similar type of idea. At least with the getting comfy part.
This is going to be a long nine hours.
Did I say nine? Just because that’s what Google told me? This is Thailand. I should know better.
Make that twelve.
Trouble in Bangkok
We made it! 5:30 AM, 22 hours and 45 minutes after my rude awakening, I finally step off the bus at Khao San Rd in Bangkok. Given the combination of seats that didn’t lean far enough and a bus companion who did, I still haven’t slept at all. And so my ‘day’ continues.
First order of business: I know I haven’t slept, but why do I feel so achy and out of it?
First order of business: find somewhere willing to make me a smoothie at 6 o’clock in the morning. Nuts, dried fruit, and soylent just don’t quite cut it some days.
Luckily this place is full of tourists with weird hours, so I eventually manage to locate a hostel / restaurant with an active blender (one great thing about Thailand: almost every single food establishment also makes fresh-fruit smoothies). Why not throw in some coffee while I’m at it. That’s better than sleep, right?
Second order of business: why do I feel so achy and out of it? Is it also getting a bit hard to breathe? Time to find a thermometer.
Sick in Thailand
On the plus side, I’m able to locate a pharmacy less than a block away. They seem to be everywhere in this place.
On the downside, for some reason the only thermometer that it stocks is this thing:
Yeah, we’re doing things old-school. It says “clinical” on it though so I’m hoping that means it’s actually accurate.
Popping this little guy under my arm for five minutes ends up giving me a reading of 100.4˚ F (no, just because I’m in Asia doesn’t mean that I’ll use celsius). According to the all-knowing internet, I have to add 0.5-1.0˚ F to account for the difference between armpit temperature and the under-tongue value. That leaves me with somewhere between a 100.9˚- 101.4˚ reading. That’s not too bad, right?.
A quick search of my symptoms online, alongside various terms such as “Thailand” or “traveler sicknesses,” leads to me reading a bunch of articles about Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). I was even in Abu Dhabi not too long ago after all.
Primary symptoms are a fever, cough, and shortness of breath, with the possible inclusion of various gastrointestinal difficulties. Check, check, check, and I can’t be quite sure yet but I think that’s at least a half-check.
Then there’s this delightful little tidbit, straight from the CDC website:
“About 3-4 out of every 10 people reported with MERS have died.”
I am having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
The Hostel of Doom
Several hours and many medical journal articles later I decide that A. Odds of my imminent death are relatively low (hopefully), and B. I should probably go and check into my hostel. Time for another bus. Hurray!
I get there and go through the usual routine of getting my keys and towel, finding my bed, logging into the WiFi, and storing my valuables.
Placing my laptop and passport into the security locker and locking it with one of my nice little locks, I then go to lock up my backpack (one of the nifty features of the Tortuga backpack) with the remaining two. This is when I realize that in my rush to leave my last hostel I also managed to leave one of my locks there. Oh well.
Oh, and did I say WiFi? I think I meant “WhatFi?”
At this point I’m starting to feel like a store mannequin that somehow got drafted as a NASCAR crash-test dummy, so I decide to go take a hot shower.
As it turns out, my definition of “hot” is radically different from that of the hostel. One tepid deluge later and I’m right back where I started, with an added dose of shivering. It figures that the one thing that works really well in this room is the AC.
At least one good thing came out of my shower: I killed a grand total of seven mosquitos. If only that had been all of them.
Next week, I say, I’m moving to Australia.
When A Monkey Ties a Pretzel
The shower didn’t work and I still hurt everywhere. How to fix this? Time to start taking advantage of the whole “being in Thailand” thing. Cheap massage: here I come.
Thankfully I don’t have far to walk—there are even more massage parlors here than there are 7-11’s (weirdly enough there seem to be more 7-11’s per city block in Thailand than there are Starbucks in NYC). Strolling along the main street by my hostel I spot no fewer than five massage parlors from where I’m standing.
I pick one at random, go in, and ask for a 1-hour Thai Massage.
For those of you who don’t really know what a Thai Massage consists of (my past self being included in this category), just imagine a monkey with extra-boney elbows and delusions of being a chiropractor. Now imagine that monkey trying to give you a “healing sports massage.”
A tiny little Thai woman leads me to a dimly lit room in the back with a series of curtains sectioning off small cots. She hands me a loose change of clothing and leaves me to change into them.
Did I say loose? I’m fairly certain that there is some law here that any “one-size-fits-all” clothing must also be able to accommodate the Buddha.
The masseuse comes back and has me lie down on the mat. She then proceeds to climb on my back and alternate between trying to tie me in a pretzel, and trying to press my muscles through my body and out the other side. Occasionally she also tries to crack or pop some part of me and gets frustrated at how I seem to bend but never crack.
I am like a willow in the wind. Being tormented by a crazy monkey.
By the time it ends and I exit the massage parlor I feel like I have been at least partially successful. I am now less focused on how I am going to die a painful and phlegmy death and more focused on how much my back hurts.
I am having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
The Icing on the Metaphorical Mud Pie
I’ve had enough. And it’s getting late—again. Time to go back to my hostel, finally get some sleep, and just hope that everything feels better in the morning.
Right outside my hostel I spot a street vendor selling some swanky souvenirs for possibly-even-believable prices, so I decide to treat myself to a few before calling it a night. Checking my wallet, I discover that I’m almost out of Baht so I’ll have to go in and grab some USD to exchange.
I plod up to my room, unlock the door, and open up my backpack. Digging to the bottom, I pull out the wad of cash I had stuffed there, only to discover that someone has stolen $400 straight out of my bag.
Why wasn’t my bag locked? Well, remember that startling wake-up way back when and the subsequent lost lock? Yeah.
Why didn’t I lock the cash away along with my laptop and passport? I’m gonna blame the potential life-threatening disease, and my ingrained habit this trip of spreading out my valuables, ‘just in case.
On the plus side, they only stole my USD—the thief oh-so-generously left me my 50 rubles and 1 Bahamian Dollar. Thanks.
It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. But some days are like that. Even in Australia.