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Day XXV: All Roads Lead to Bangkok

storm 32 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.

Let me tell you something about Thai roads. There are only two rules: drive on the left and don't hit anything. Ok, it's really just the second rule. Out here you can go anywhere, anyhow and at any speed, and trying to drive like a considerate, cautious Westerner will most likely get you killed. Slip roads join from the right, there are no overpasses so all junctions involve a U turn onto the opposite carriage, and hard shoulders are for motorbikes and tuk tuks, and any vehicle that feels like driving in the opposite direction to avoid a pesky legal manoeuvre. The bus drivers are similarly entertaining. Outside of pre-planned toilet stops they will happily pull over to stretch their legs, have a cigarette or even buy some lunch, leaving a bus full of bewildered travellers in a sun-baked car park. I feel sorry for people who fly everywhere and miss out on these little observations.

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Saturday morning: this time I was ready. A second night of sleep in relative luxury had worked wonders, and with a bounce in my step I went to the minimart to buy supplies for my bus journey and a new razor. I ate well, tactically avoiding the slightly undercooked part of my eggs, and after a hot shower, shave and throwing on a freshly laundered t-shirt I felt like a new man. I'd peaked a little early with 6 hours still to kill until the bus, so I did what any poor writer who has committed to producing a travel blog would do with the time and sat painstakingly touch typing 5 days' worth with my phone. Finding a computer in your hostel is a rare treat in Thailand, and without the speed of a keyboard a daily update is a little taxing.

Annoyingly the bus driver was punctual and my bags were taken from me and loaded before I'd had a chance to say goodbye to Lucy on Skype! I settled in for the 2 hour transfer to the bus depot, and was more than a little surprised when I was kicked out five minutes later at the same travel office (in front of the same woman) that had hosted our little spat two days earlier. With my ticket checked and taken from me I was branded with a 'Bangkok' sticker and sat with several other bemused folk with no explanation of when we were leaving or why my bag was still on the bus. I took the opportunity to stock up on snacks, ignoring the pair of flea-ridden dogs lying next to the food stand.

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A lady came out from the desk and did a lap of the office holding a sheet of cardboard above her head like a ring card girl from a boxing match, which read "Don't leave valuable in your bags". I was confused again until I realised that there were two minibuses going to the bus checkpoint and several bags were being taken separately from their owners. Being at the back of the queue I did the gentlemanly thing and ran for my bag (every man for himself!), and was luckily placed in the same bus. Unfortunately I was folded into the middle seat next to the driver, which meant that in addition to getting no leg room I also had a front row seat for his insane manoeuvres. His unannounced cigarette break allowed the nerves to settle halfway there.

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Miraculously unscathed we reached the bus checkpoint, Hell's waiting room, at Surat Thani. It's essentially someone's garage with tables a kitchen attached, and owing to yet another downpour we were all huddled under the roof gazing at the food menu and trying to guess the wifi password. I spent 20 minutes helping a British guy track down his bag (they had travelled individually, the fool) and then ordered myself a "cheese sandwich", very excited at (a) the prospect of an actual sandwich with actual bread (not big in SE Asia) and (b) eating my first proper meal since falling ill. This is what I received:

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Yes, a stale (solid) burger bun with a processed cheese slice. Natalie Haynes (one of my favourite Times journalists) once wrote that "being in favour of the processed cheese slice is morally identical to being in favour of cutting down ponies with a scythe". A little dramatic perhaps but I've always been inclined to agree so I'm ashamed to say I took a few bites before throwing it away, and for fear of getting ill again rather than what it looked/tasted like - enough ketchup will mask any flavour! Luckily I still had a stash of fruit buns and pringles to make a meal from and our VIP coach had arrived just in time for the heaviest rain. Inside the air con was set to a welcoming 'Scottish Highlands' rather than the usual 'Frozen Wasteland' and we had fully reclining armchair style seats. I logged the location of the toilet (downstairs!) and a large TV screen started to play a movie with heavily delayed subtitles. This felt good!

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After watching what I could see of Life of Pi (very good, overrated a little though I thought) I snuggled into the smelly blanket I'd been given and tried to sleep. This plan was abandoned within 30 seconds as the next movie, 'Flight', started playing at full volume. Those that have seen the film (as I already had, recently) will know that it involves a plane crash - not a soothing soundtrack for tired souls to fall asleep to! Halfway through the film the roof began to leak, streaming through the air vents and soaking everyone on the other side of the bus. This meant all vents were closed and the bus became very warm indeed, so the midway stop at midnight was a welcome break. The storm escalated in intensity very quickly at that point, to the extent that it caused a complete blackout at the service station and the lightning was so bright that it had the effect of staring at a camera flash. Partially blinded I stumbled down the bus stairs to investigate the toilet, which I found acceptable until the realisation that the 'complimentary' water bottles next to the cistern were to be used to manually flush the loo...

(Picture not provided: you're welcome).

The remaining 6 hours of the drive passed slowly and uncomfortably with no hope of sleep but we eventually arrived in Bangkok with the storm still in full swing. Predictably we were set upon by the tuk tuk drivers as we got off the bus, which quickly drove off before most of us had found the pile of our bags slowly absorbing a cascade of rainwater from a phonebooth roof. With only sketchy directions to the Icelanders' hotel and no sign of Khao San Road I latched onto a Japanese guy who seemed seasoned enough and we found our way to backpacker central. Khao San Road is notorious, infamous and hailed as the Western traveller's destination of choice in Bangkok and I was glad to have the opportunity to walk its length at 6am on a Sunday and get my bearings before the madness descended later in the day. I was rather disappointed to be honest, but being dangerously tired I ploughed on, found the Lucky House hotel and checked in to a double room with air con, hot shower, TV, wifi and fresh towels. Perfect. Not wanting to lose the day I sent a quick email to Charlie hoping he was still around and could show me the sights and then fell into bed for a power nap. What a long day.

Posted by WorldWideWill 19:25 Archived in Thailand

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