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Bangkok to Koh Samui

THAILAND | Monday, 22 July 2013 | Views [774]

Empty pavement space in Bangkok seems to be an invitation to set up stalls selling everything from clothing to trinkets and souvenirs to a wide variety of food which looks and smells amazing – some of it recognisable, much of it not. Through the narrow thoroughfares people of all nationalities stroll lethargically, stopping to examine or haggle for their purchases. It is hot, it is humid and the air is filled with the delightful scent of freshly cooking food. It is a sensory overload.

Setting out to explore the palaces and temples along the river I make the mistake of taking a long boat. We are told to don our life jackets and at the full capacity of 10 people, we are whizzed down river and then promptly told to disembark. Fortunately the hostel has lent me a map which you are given if you take the larger tourist boat for the same price. I wander vaguely along dirty streets, get jostled between the rows of market stalls and am not entirely sure what I am seeing or even precisely where I am. I have heard too many stories of tourists getting themselves into trouble by accepting the help of unscrupulous ‘guides’ and so with shoulders back and map firmly in my bag, I endeavour to walk with the assurance of someone who knows exactly where they are going. Obviously, with or without map, it is clear that I am a tourist but the ploy works and to a large extent I am not overly hassled. The humidity saps your energy and frequent fluid replacement is a must. Eventually I catch the larger boat the rest of the way back and walk the remaining few streets back to the hostel. I am not convinced it has been a hugely successful outing but it has definitely been an eye opener.

I have booked one of the few remaining places on the train to the island of Koh Samui. Unfortunately there is only seating left in a 2nd class, fan-only carriage – it’s that or nothing but I can hope for a cancellation to upgrade. The full moon party on neighbouring island Koh Penang is imminent and hoards of revellers are making their way south. The train is full and there is no chance of an upgrade. Due to depart at 19:30hrs, we finally leave at 21:15. My allocated seat is right at the back next to the toilets. The stench of stale urine is unbearable whenever the train is stationary and I am pleased that I thought to invest in a lemon scented hand fan. We rumble south into the night stopping at various stations or to let oncoming trains pass. To my complete dismay just two stops down the line into a 12 hour journey, the seat next to me is filled (and I mean this quite literally) by a man whose size could qualify him as a sumo wrestler. I am now fairly squashed into my corner by the window and only once get up to brave the toilets, which I am unable to face anyway. Strictly limiting my fluid intake I manage to wait the entire 21 hours the journey takes. At some point we must pass a water logged area as mosquitoes are being sucked into the carriage through the open windows and everyone is trying to swat them away.

Arriving at Surat Thani we spill out of the train and into the chaos of waiting busses. Surly Thai women shout, jabbing fingers vaguely in the direction of the appropriate bus. Those not promptly on board are shouted at again – even though we are already running 3 hours behind schedule. Deposited at the ferry terminal we are just in time to catch the midday ferry. An hour and a half later it is necessary to haggle with minibus drivers to be transferred to your hotel.

I am first off, deposited at a 3* hotel right on the busy thoroughfare road on the opposite side to MaeNan beach. I’ll be honest, my heart sank. Inside the hotel is fine, if a little tired. The room is spacious and the bed is massive. Upstairs the roof top pool is fairly deserted and provides a good view of the sea and neighbouring islands. The beach, supposedly a hidden jewel on the island, is nice enough, although crossing the road is quite a hair-raising experience.

There is a local restaurant (Uncle Noi's) nearby and for convenience I have eaten there both nights so far. The food is wonderful and that, at the moment, is probably the best endorsement I can give my experience of Thailand. If it is indeed a land of smiles and culture, then I have so far looked in the wrong places. 

I gather up brochures from the lobby, if I am to manage the 10 days here, I am going to have to do day trips. Did I mention that the weather is overcast? Other than reducing photo opportunities, I am actually rather grateful for the cooler weather on account of it. Travelling solo here suddenly seems a daunting and slightly overwhelming prospect and my ability to seek out the positives is being sorely challenged. Time for a change of strategy!

Tags: bangkok markets, full moon party, koh samui, surat thani, thai train travel, thailand

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