We’ve entered Thailand for the fourth and final time after a wonderful, originally unplanned month in peninsular Malaysia. As you may remember, we began that month in a bit of a slump that came from general “nomad-fatigue” combined with increasingly mixed feelings about the impending return to the US.
I’m happy to say that the slump didn’t last, and that we departed Malaysia as reinvigorated, satisfied travellers. The big turnaround of course came with our discovery of Juara Beach (see below), and progressed with a stay at Taman Negara (a 130 million year old rainforest that, although not as memorable as Tioman due to the number of tourists and lack of visible monkeys, was still an awe-inspiring place) and peaked at the Cameron Highlands, a former colonial British hill station with chilly temperatures, endless tangles of lush forested hiking trails and no shortage of strawberry farms, tea plantations and the best Indian restaurant yet (we ate 10 of our 12 meals at the same table).
By the time that we made it full circle and arrived back in Penang, we were about as street-wise as it gets: we were buying Indian music, ordering “teh o ais” with confidence (leave out the “o” and your “iced tea” becomes a glass of condensed milk and sugar with a hint of tea), eating nasi lemak for breakfast, nasi campur for lunch and tandoori for dinner (tandoori’s don’t do lunch!), judging the time of day with the calls of the muezzin from the local mosque and shoveling sloppy piles of rice and curry into our mouths with our right hands.
Street-wise or not, yesterday was a reminder that there are always more lessons to be learned! We decided to “treat” ourselves and book a minibus straight from Penang to Krabi in Thailand, saving ourselves the hassle of a walk to the ferry, ferry to the bus station, bus to Hat Yai then another bus to Krabi. It would cost a few dollars more, but would be much quicker and, come on, we deserve to take the easy road sometimes!
We were told to be ready to go “before 8:00.” I ran at 5:45, we were eating masala tosai by 7 and waiting with our bags packed by 8. Around 8:50 the minibus pulled up and we climbed in before being taken around the island to pick up other passengers.
There are two way to get off of Penang: the ferry, which takes you directly to the bus station in Butterworth, and the bridge, located on the other side of the island. Being in a minibus, of course the plan was to take the bridge. Something happened (our driver’s explanation had too few English words in it to be decipherable) and traffic was horrendous; not stop-and-go, just stopped.
It was past 11:30 before we even got off of the island, the time that we’d expected to be making our way through immigration. Once we finally broke away onto open roads, our driver high-tailed it to Hat Yai, where one couple was dropped at the bus station for a connection while we were taken to the travel agent’s office.
The connecting minibus to Krabi had left at one; it was now 2:15. The girl at the desk told us “30 minute!” so we scampered off for a quick bowl of soup, our first bite since the light-ish 7 a.m. tosai. We made it back quickly, only to discover that 30 minutes actually meant an hour. We gritted our teeth and tried to laugh at how we used to be charmed by the laidback nature of the Thais, the lack of urgency with anything.
Eventually a tuktuk pulled up, and the girl gestured at it, saying “Krabi!” Surely there was no way we were taking a tuktuk; the long leg of the trip hadn’t even begun yet!
We piled in and were taken to a gas station, then to yet another bus station where we were quickly herded into a minibus blaring Thai pop music at ear-splitting levels. Once it was full we got to see the same gas station yet again, then were finally on the road. It was now the time that we’d expected to be arriving in Krabi.
We kept our sense of humor about it all pretty well, dreaming of the (affordable!) beer that we’d be buying upon arrival. After an hour on the road we’d relaxed, knowing it was the last leg…or was it?
There was a strange sound and we had a horrible thought – flat tire! That’ll take awhile! The driver pulled over, the assortment of passengers (including an old Chinese woman, a young couple with a newborn and two leopard-printed twenty-somethings straight out of a Phuket go-go bar) piled out and surveyed the damage. It wasn’t the tire, it was the fan blade, which had shattered, tearing a hole in a radiator hose. Awesome.
An hour later, our rescue minibus came and we were squeezed in with its original passengers. Finally, finally at nearly 9:00 we were dropped in Krabi town, too exhausted to even care about that beer anymore.
Lesson? The Krabi-Penang route is not our friend, in either direction. This supposedly single leg/7 hour journey was a 7-leg, 15 hour trip on the way down, a 4-leg, 13 hour trip on the way back. Someday, in our next life, when we traverse that route again, we will know to fly (or even walk)!
Today we are recovered and refreshed, ready to head to Khao Lak for our grand finale, a four day liveaboard diving trip to the Surin/Similan islands. After that we will go straight to Bangkok and depart Asia on March 4th.
Though there is plenty of apprehension and anxiety on both our parts about jobs/culture adjustment/what will we eat?, we’re eagerly anticipating the reunions with family/friends, the thought of a clean bed, a bathroom that we don’t have to wear shoes into and, of course, the ability to get from point A to point B without going through ten points in between!