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Flag of Thailand  , Krabi,
Monday, August 12, 2013

For the past two weeks I've been soaking up the island lifestyle of Thailand's southern beaches. It's been tough work but I managed to survive. The frustrations of travelling the islands have made me appreciate the beach even more once we arrived, and really look forward to going home (3 sleeps to go!).
Last week I was in Bophut on Koh Samui, on the Eastern side of Thailand. It was a sunny, non eventful week consisting of beach, food, drinks and massage - and often a combo of these together.  I stayed in the "Fisherman's Village" which consists of one narrow "road" running alongside the beach, maybe about 4 metres wide. Technically it should be a one way street, but that would be restricting, so the main road allows traffic both ways. If there are two cars driving towards each other, one would pull to the side, into the entranceway of a shop or restaurant, to let the other vehicle pass. Like many things we've seen on our trip, it's crazy but it works, just. 
When it was time to leave Koh Samui we thought the trip from the east side of Thailand to the west seemed easy enough. You just get on the ferry to the mainland, then jump on the waiting bus and it'll take you to Krabi. Simple! But no, we experienced a classic Asian transfer where we were left stranded and at the mercy of the transport operators. 
We should've known from the beginning when the boats "departure time" came and passed with no announcement from the staff. About 40 of our fellow passengers hung around the ticket office, assuming that it'll work out in the end - which it always does, but you have no idea of what's going on at the time. Half an hour after the scheduled departure time we got on the boat and quickly worked out there were not enough seats for all passengers so many stood for the 45 minute ride to the mainland. 
As we approached the pier we were welcomed by several buses, ready and waiting to take passengers to various parts of the island. Marvellous! Before we boarded the boat we were all given coloured stickers to wear and identify our final destination. Passengers wearing the brown "Krabi" stickers like ours were being directed onto one of the buses so we were confused when we were instructed to get into a mini van parked beside the bus. A few other passengers tried to get on the bus going to Krabi but were also told to go in the mini van. One poor family had even been sitting on the bus but were later told to go in the van. Ten of us were crammed into a minivan that was "going to Krabi" when the buses pulled away. We watched, feeling abandoned, as the minivan sat on the empty pier and the driver convinced the last two passengers to get in. We were disappointed not to be in a large bus but at least we had transportation.
Once the van was full we finally started to drive. We left the pier entrance and pulled up to the ticket office, just 500m from where we had got off the boat. The Driver turned off the engine and started to unload all the luggage. Obviously confused, we and other passengers asked what was happening.  We were told by the laughing Driver to "Wait, wait". When all of the luggage was unloaded onto the ground, the Driver walked away and we all reluctantly got out of the van. A minute later a woman came to tell us we had to wait for our bus to arrive. "It will be here soon." Five minutes later the same woman said the bus would be here in half an hour and we could wait in the restaurant. Feeling helpless and knowing there was still a long drive ahead of us we checked out the restaurant and bought the only food available, instant noodles.
Half an hour passed and there was still no sign of our bus so our group started to ask how long until the bus will arrive. I think the woman had hoped that we had all just given up and left because she didn't seem to understand our frustrations. A few phone calls later and we were told "10 more minutes". Eventually, an hour and a half after arriving on shore, our second vehicle arrived to take us to Krabi. Instead of a bus arriving, 2 more minivans turned up and our group was split. It was nice to have more room but it was a little unnerving not understanding what was happening and realising that our power as a group was now being reduced. 
So, this time with 7 people in our van, we reloaded the luggage and took off. Hooray! We left the parking lot, drove quickly for 200m and then stopped beside a shed. The Driver turned off the engine and got out of the van. I'm sure all of us passengers had the same sinking feeling - what now?! There was another van in front of us and the Drivers chatted casually and smoked a cigarette like nothing was wrong. We all waited patiently for some news and after five minutes a fellow passenger got out of the van for air. The Drivers opened the door to give us all fresh air and so I asked "Are we going to Krabi?". The Driver of the other van replied "Yes, yes, Krabi!". That answer didn't satisfy me so I asked "Now?!" to which he replied "No. Not now. 5 minutes". Fine, whatever, we still didn't know what we were waiting for. Then the Driver decided to ask us  how long we had been waiting and another passenger told him "one and a half hours".  The Drivers decided this was a long time to wait so didn't ask anymore questions. 
We worked out that we were waiting to fill up with petrol but first had to wait for somebody to come and unlock the pump. Eventually, 20 minutes after we arrived at the gas pump, we had a full tank and were on our way, again. This time the Driver didn't stop until we got to Krabi 2.5 hours later when we pulled up at their office in the centre of town. We were asked where we were staying and then were told it would cost us extra to go to the hotel because it was so far away. Pat and I were appalled because we knew we were not far from the guesthouse, and how dare they ask for money after all we went through?! We also knew that if we got out of the van we would have been forced to take another taxi to our guesthouse so reluctantly handed over the extra money. Just before we were about to leave, we were given our money back with some weak excuse about "no charge". Five minutes later we arrived at our guesthouse (wasn't so far from the office in the end) with an apology from the Driver. What should have been a straight forward three hour journey became a six hour ordeal that reminded us that sometimes you have to just go with the flow and you will get there in the end.
In Krabi we understood the real meaning of "rainy season". For the two days that we were there, it rained almost constantly and we started to wonder why we chose to spend our last holiday weeks in this area. The highlight of our stay there was finding a beautiful Italian restaurant whose friendly owners declined our tip because it was too large, and then gave us a ride home because it was raining! 
After rainy Krabi we went to Ao Nang for a few days to be closer to the islands. Luckily the weather improved and settled into normal "Green Season" patterns which means possibly a bit of rain once during the day, but otherwise sunny. One day we took a short ride in a longtail boat to beautiful Railay Beach, a relatively secluded bay surrounded by gigantic limestone cliffs. There was nothing to do but swim and stroll the bay.
Another day we went on a crowded day trip to the bays around Koh Phi Phi. We experienced another example of how Thai tourism operators oversell seats and had to spend the day with 50 other people on a boat that would comfortably sit 30 people in the Western world. Unfortunately a few of these squeezed in passengers also got sea sick so I spent the day trying to avoid looking in their direction. We visited "The Beach" from the Leonardo DiCaprio film and were amazed, but not surprised, at the amount of people there. The beach heaved with the thousands of people and their boats coming to see this now famous site. By the end of the day we had decided that would be our last group tour for this trip.
Koh Lanta is an island that has always intrigued me so we ventured further south to explore. We got stuck in another transfer that should have taken 4 hours but ended up taking 6.5 hours due to having to wait for an available minivan. Oh and then the Driver had to deliver newpapers to every 7-11 on the eastern side of the island before he dropped us off! But when we got to Koh Lanta it was all worth it! We are at the southern tip of the island, closer to Malaysia than Bangkok, at a quiet village called Ao Kantiang. We've been here for a week now and are starting to feel at home in the two (excellent) restaurants in town. Our room has a balcony overlooking the bay and the Andaman Sea. From here we can hear the call to prayer from the local Mosque, but it is not too loud like it was at our first guesthouse down the road. The Mosque was right behind our window and just a little bit too close for comfort, especially for the 5am call.

Tomorrow we sadly leave Ao Kantiang and travel to Phuket by minivan. It's supposed to be a direct transfer taking 5 hours. It's our last big transfer so fingers are crossed for a smooth one. But this is Thailand, so tomorrow we'll see how it works out...









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