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Big Trip Blog Bigtripblog is a multimedia travel experience capturing the adventures of Kevin and Valerie during their one year trip around the world.

One Small Mistake - An Adventure in Local Transport

THAILAND | Thursday, 29 March 2007 | Views [1176]

A while back I ditched my crappy travel tripod and have been carrying around my much sturdier (and larger) Slik tripod instead. Besides the obvious problem with its size and weight, it doesn’t fit in my pack the way my smaller one did. I had a custom case made for it in Kathmandu, but I still have to carry it around separately. It’s just one more thing to think about. Or forget. And forget it I did, on our train from Bangkok to Surat Thani, gateway to the most popular islands in the Gulf of Thailand.

The night train from Bangkok very inconveniently arrives in Surat Thani at 4am. The train attendant roused us a few minutes before we pulled in, so we had just a short time to enter a slightly zombie-like state and grab our gear and hop off. Fifteen minutes later, while sipping coffee and eating toast at a small cafe, it all came to me like a flash, and was quickly followed by a string of obscenities. I couldn’t believe it. Nothing like this had happened in the entire six months of traveling. We had to get it; abandoning it wasn’t an option. I knew it would be bad, but had no idea the adventure that was in store for us.

I quickly explained what had happened to the owner of the restaurant, and he told me it would be fine. They’d just tell the station manager, who in turn would radio the train attendant and find my bag and chuck it off at the next stop. If everything went well they could put it on the next train back and I could collect it at my leisure. He sent me to the station with a guy who had been hanging out in the cafe, and I explained the situation in further detail. When I said we would be on Koh Phan Ng for two weeks, he made a clicking sound. That was probably too long to leave something lying around in the Station Master’s office.

When we walked into his office, the guy was asleep on a bench against the wall. He quickly roused himself and hailed the train. There was lots of talking, of which I understood nothing, but it looked like they were making progress. I described the missing item. They didn’t quite get “tripod,” so I went with “legs for camera,” a fitting description I picked up from a Swiss woman we met on a train in India. That helped a lot. It looked like things would work out.

The only problem was that we had been on an express train. The next stop, a town called Thong Seung, was 150 kilometers away. “No problem,” the guy helping me said. “I have car. If we leave now, we get you to pier by 8am for ferry to Koh Phan Ng.” I was thinking it was all too good to be true. Who exactly was this kind stranger, and how much would this cost me? He said to tell “his woman” in the cafe that he would be driving us down there. We got our stuff, I hurriedly explained the situation to Val, and we were off. The man drove like a maniac down empty roads for about fifteen minutes, then we pulled over at a gas station.

It was at this point that I was planning on offering some money. I figured I’d fill up his tank and throw in a little extra for the effort. I had fixed 1000 Baht (about $33) as a fair price in my mind. I got out and he said, “Okay, you give me 2500 Baht.” That’s over $70, an exorbitant price by my approximation. The guy was a fricking taxi driver apparently, although his car was unmarked and he acted like he was helping us out. I refused, gave him 500 Baht (also an exorbitant price) for him to take us right back to town. Whenever we bail in situations like this, I always give more money than necessary, so I know there won’t be any haggling or trouble.

He took us back to town, somewhat sullenly, and let us off at the train station. I figured we could make our own way there for much, much cheaper. For 2500 Baht you could almost fly to Bangkok from where we were, one way. First I had to find out if they had even found the tripod and, also important, taken it off the train. The cafe owner said that they had, but that if we took the train we’d waste a day. For us money is extremely finite, time somewhat less so. “That’s fine” I said, and we hit the train station again.

Two single tickets to Thong Seung cost us 52 Baht. We had to wait an hour for the train to leave, and it took almost two and a half hours to get there. The whole time we were waiting for our train, people kept coming up to us and asking where we were headed. It seemed they were a little uneasy about us taking the local transport. Maybe they assumed we were just confused. A guy walking around with a huge platter of fried chicken (at 6 o’clock in the morning) helped us get on the right train and into the unreserved car, where we’d become an object of curiosity for the whole trip.

The ride 150k south was beautiful. The sun was just rising, revealing a lush tropical landscape of palms, banana trees, coconut groves, small waterways, distant mountains, and lots of traditional houses and communities. There was a constant stream of hawkers on the train, almost of all of whom completely ignored us. Only when they came from behind us and couldn’t see would they offer us their stuff. Mostly it was the ubiquitous fried chicken.

When we finally got to Thong Seung we were flagging. We had been on trains since 5:30pm the previous day, and had barely slept at all. I looked for the station master’s office, but found a guy who said, “No have.” I had already told Val something along the lines of, “If my tripod isn’t here I’m going to kill somebody,” so I didn’t receive this news very well. I brushed him off and kept searching. Apparently I fit the description of a slightly perturbed white guy who’d be looking for something, because a soldier came up and took me right to my tripod. I was elated to see it; they were relieved to see that its owner had arrived. Everyone was happy. The guy I had brushed past earlier sheepishly apologized.

We had to wait for another hour and a half for a train to take us back to Surat Thani. It was only 9:30am and it had already been a really long day. People once again came up to us in a steady stream, asking where we were headed. It was probably the biggest thing to happen at that station for the day. It was great how much help they offered, and how they all took it upon themselves to make sure we got back to a place where farangs (the Thai word for foreigner) normally went.

While we waited we attracted the attention of some of the locals. An elderly man sat down in front of us and just turned around and stared at us for about ten minutes before he decided there was nothing much going on and left. Three women nearby kept looking at us and chatting, and then they broke out their digital camera. After taking pictures of each other, we saw them taking pictures of us. Eventually we posed for pictures with all three of them (separately). They had a great time, and of course we thought it was hilarious.

The train was delayed, but eventually we were on it and heading back to Surat Thani. The same hawkers were walking by with the same platters of fried chicken from the morning (making it unappetizing), though they had obviously sold a little. We were once again objects of intense curiosity. The heat and humidity, combined with our lack of sleep, was like an endurance test. After another two and a half hours on the train, we finally arrived back in Surat Thani at around 2pm. After ten hours, we had made it 150k south and back, and successfully recovered my tripod. Some of the station workers saw us and started laughing, happy to see that we had completed the arduous journey and retrieved our belongings.

Total cost of the round trip: 104 Baht ($3.30). And the usual assortment of great memories and experiences only available on local transport, free of charge.

Tags: Misadventures

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