At last, I was the only farang (OF) in town. This was not the best time for it though. I had managed to avoid one drunk and was trying to stay out of sight and unnoticed, although the few people who passed by all waved cheerily enough. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself because I was dog tired and didn’t feel like chatting and would be an easy target for any thief. Unlikely though that was (this isn’t Makassar), I couldn’t take any chances. I have also found that—even at my ripe old age—I’m by no means safe from pick-up artists.
This turned out to be true when a man sat down next to me. But I was in luck, because I was no longer the OF. I was watching the bags of the other farang in town who was off to locate the bus terminal down the street, in a hury to get to Ranong for his visa run. Everybody on a visa ruin is in a hurry, as if that somehow makes the ordeal pass quicker. Presently he returned and the man who sat next to me got up and left without greeting, clearly conceding that I was somebody else’s property.
We relocated to the bus terminal and drank strong, sweet tea until the sun rose and the farang was whisked away. I found that I felt lonely without him. I paid for the tea and got my directions with the change (“Khanom? Go across, other side!”) Within moments I was directed to a bus which didn’t say ‘Khanom’ on the side but, according to the Lonely Planet, would probably drop me at the junction from where I could get a moto-taxi. There were more farang here and I realised that I wouldn’t be able to recognise ‘mine’ even if he was among them. The tiredness was beginning to tell.
Just as we were about to leave, a minivan with ‘Khanom’ written on it drew up next to the bus. There was a direct service! For a moment I was tempted to get off, but it was too late. My backpack was stowed away and we were rolling.
We were all of us marked, those who had been on the night boat. Barely awake, slumped into our seats, some snoring. The cheeky conductor boy wasn’t slow to pick up on it as I handed him 100 baht. “Twenty change?” He grinned and cocked his head. “OK. Donate. I donate!”
I hope he’ll go to university rather than grow up to be a con-artist.
Because I was so dozy, I didn’t pull out the guide book or find the right map until we had passed Phanom, the last town before the Khaosok National Park a hundred kilomentres to the west of Surat Thani, which was where all the farang were going. No wonder that I thought the journey had taken a bit too long. There were hardly any houses around here, no traffic and no service stations. Instead the landscape rippled with spectacular limestone peaks. According to the Lonely Planet there were ‘at least’ two minivans a day going from the park back to Surat Thani. Great.
It had been 16 hours since I had last seen a loo.
I got off the bus as soon as we were near a place that sold water. I was prepared to hitch, but no sooner had I been spotted that a local man took me under his wing. It turns out that the yellow structures by the roadside aren’t shrines but bus stops. I sat stifly in the shade, eyeing the road and grabbed my backpack when I saw a bus approach, ready to throw myself in front of it.
“No, no!” shouted the man who’d kept an eye on me from a nearby stall. “Not that! You wait, you see. Ten minutes.”
He was right. Almost exactly ten minutes later a minivan slowed down and hooted. When he saw me signal, the driver got out, ran around the van and opened the door for me.