Hopscotch, Hopscotch, Hop Your Way to the Entrance.

Hopscotch, Hopscotch, Hop Your Way to the Entrance.

Have you ever played hopscotch, the game where you throw a stone into the hopscotch box and then hop on every square, avoiding the one with the stone? This trip was like this childhood game where when the stone tossed lands on the wrong box,  and you’d loose a turn.


travel alert, reaching delphi
Which way shall I hop?

Visit to the ancient royal cities of Sukhothai, Lopburi, and Ayutthaya? Check! Travel health-check status? Green! No missed trains? Bahts intact? Documents, cameras? Green! Learn about the different cultural influences and various kingdoms? You bet! Meditate under the Bodhi tree? Yes again! The game was going on well so far. Hopscotch!


travel alert, reaching delphi, temple
Meditate under the Bodhi tree?

After several days of head-hitting rides of the roof of the cushionless tuk-tuks, I was relieved to hear the familiar sounds of car honks and being stuck in hour-long city traffic. Don’t get me wrong here. Those ow-rides in the north earlier really helped keep me from dozing off during this history-appreciation trip to the older parts of this humble country, Thailand. Obstacles, hopscotch!


travel alert, Buddha, temple
Ancient royal city of Ayutthaya.

“Five hours to spare, Doc”. After that, it was time to head to Don Mueang airport to go home. By then, I was competent at managing vacation time. Our hotel was just a stone’s throw away from the airport, so there was no reason for us to scramble our way to get to immigration even if we were – and we were – an hour late.


sukhothai
Ancient royal city of Sukhothai.

Though Bangkok is only a short two-hour flight away for us, we didn’t travel there as much as we wanted to due to work commitments. So, we embraced the last five hours in Bangkok with the spirit of YOLO. I decided we should conclude this trip on two high notes: first, to pay our respects to Emerald Buddha at the beautiful Grand Palace Bangkok; and second, to have some old-fashion Thai coffee and watch the sunset over the Chao Phraya.

Doc hesitated but still went ahead and made the four-hour city travel booking at the hotel.

travel alert, Buddha, temple
Buddhas at at Sukhothai.

“Our best car and driver”, the hotel concierge told us. It was a well-used, but not a beaten-up, grey Toyota. We took down the license plate number and got into the car.

The jam was as expected, with cars crawling to reach their destination. After an hour, I began to notice people of different nationalities walking on the streets.

“We must be close by”, Doc said, looking at his watch again. There was no need to press that panic button Doc; we were well ahead of time.

“That’s the place”. I pointed to the beautiful roof peeking from behind the high white walls.

ReachingDelphi, grand palace, thailand
Peeking roofs.

“Wait”, the driver called out to us. Then he made a turn and another turn. When we reached the guarded entrance, he stopped the car. The gates were shut.

“Closed for lunch”, he continued. He put his palms on top of each other and repeated “closed”.

“Really, this looks unusual”, Doc said. “There was no mention of closing during lunch hours on the website.”

“Where do you get tickets?” I asked.

“Inside”, he pointed past the security guards.

We got out of the car to ask the guards questions, but they did not answer. Instead, the guards told the driver not to block the entrance. I tried to peep in but couldn’t see much. It did look closed to tourists, so there was no point pressing the guards further.


ReachingDelphi, grand palace, thailand
Outside the wrong entrance.

As we got in, the driver told us again that the palace was closed for lunch and suggested a free 10-stop ride to see various factories. He then readily pulled out a tourist guide, looked at me and pointed out a gem factory.

I wondered what made him think I’d want to get ruby and sapphire jewels.  I took his gesture as a compliment anyway.

“What time does the palace reopen?” I asked him, annoyed.


ReachingDelphi, grand palace, thailand
Now you hopped to the right box.

The driver offered a peace sign. Two was my guess. It was just about noon. Mmm … timing. Hopscotch!

Just then, looking at the mom-and-pop stores nearby, I remembered we hadn’t gotten any souvenir elephants on this trip. I took this as Buddha’s way of telling us to get out of the car. We renegotiated our deal and finally paid for two hours. Of course, neither of us were pleased, but we had to part ways at this point.

After picking up a couple of small elphies, we noticed people queuing up for mango and papaya salad around the corner. Glorious! We got ourselves a customised order without chilies and fish sauce. To complete the local delicacy experience, we got some piping-hot but sweet coffee.

ReachingDelphi, grand palace, thailand
Coffee, Coffee, Coffee.


“Where next?” Doc asked, looking at his watch. Another hour to go before the gates reopened. We were already roasting in the heat. Nevertheless, we ordered another hot cup of coffee.

The hour passed, but the gates still hadn’t open. Mistimed, loose a turn. Hopscotch!

“What time does the gate open”, I asked the cashier.

“Oh, this gate?” she replied casually. “This gate – it never opens. Not for tourists, no. The entrance to the palace is around the corner”.

Well, strike me pink! So, the driver cheated us. Watch out, keep your balance, hopscotch!

ReachingDelphi, grand palace entrance
Proud Uma! Found the right entrance.


“Why?” I was puzzled.

Since this wasn’t the time nor place to be upset, we thanked the nice lady and hurried to the correct entrance, got our entrance tickets, and we were off to see a boy clad in the green gem. Game on, hopscotch!

ReachingDelphi, grand palace, tickets
Inside, but first - get your ticket!!


What I Learnt

  • There are plenty of drivers like the one I described. Though ours did not rob us of any money, he stole our time. And time is money.
  • We might not have recognised this tourist bait if we had not been a hard-pressed-for-time tourist.
  • In some countries, drivers and tour operators earn a small commission for each visitor they bring over to a location. In other places, they get a commission when that visitor completes a purchase. 
This is not an uncommon agreement in the tourism industry, but it is good to be aware of this and not to be pressured into buying something you do not need while you are there. Just like in a game of hopscotch, toss your stone carefully, enjoy the moment, and hop on.

 

ReachingDelphi, thailand, tuk tuk
Fun on cushionless tuk-tuks.


  • If you are not comfortable with this arrangement, and your driver still insists on taking you to places you don’t wish to visit, be prepared to say goodbye. In all probability, with the experience you just had, the next driver will be a great companion.  
  • Take note of any venue’s opening and closing times. If you are using a mobile phone with data and Wi-Fi facilities, you can access this readily through the internet. 

ReachingDelphi, grand palace, thailand


Take your chances and play the game fairly. Just like this trip, every journey in life has its own challenge. The only way forward to hopscotch your way to solving them. I am glad we found the right entrance on that day. Hopscotch! 
Hopscotch! Hopscotch!


Note: The photographs posted in this post were all taken during this same trip. Enjoy the sights from the ancients cities of Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Lopburi and the country's capital Bangkok.



Footnote:
Regardless of whether you are a business traveller or vacationer, a one-time or frequent traveller – if you travel, you are exposed to risks. It’s important to understand that some of us are easier targets than others.

This series is dedicated to Doc, SV, who constantly reminded me to 'Watch Out!. Doc was a sensible traveller, while I, quite the opposite. Through Watch Out! Travel Mishaps from Reaching Delphi Travellers Alert series, I will share some of our travel misadventures with you. My aim is to create an awareness of such incidents and some useful suggestions to reduce the occurrence of unpleasant events. 

Follow Coffee Trail – Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi for travel updates and tips.


Hickory Dickory Dock, What’s with the clock?

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, point me to a place to go.


reachingdelphi vacation
Where shall we go?


Ah! An island in the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Samui. Time to put on a sun hat and sip a cold piña colada.


There were no direct flights into Koh Samui Island the first time I went there. Since Doc and I enjoyed train trips and had extra vacation time on our hands, there were no second thoughts about doing rail travel.  After making sure it wasn’t monsoon season in East Thailand, I made plans and secured the train tickets. Boy oh boy, I was pleased with myself for laying the groundwork for our trip ahead of time. With transport and accommodation pre-arranged, our six-day, five-night beach break would look like this:

 

Schedule

Transport

Itinerary

Estimated Duration


Stay

Payment Method

In Bound

Day 1

Local Malaysian train

Night train:

Kuala Lumpur à to Hatyai via Padang Besar checkpoint

12 hours

On train

2nd class sleeper

Purchased in Kuala Lumpur KTMB station

Day 2

 

Immigration clearance at Malaysian checkpoint

1 hour

 

 

Day 2

 

Immigration clearance at Thailand checkpoint

1 hour

 

 

Day 2

Local Thai Train

Day train:

Checkpoints  à Hatyai city centre

1 hour

 

Purchased in Kuala Lumpur KTMB station

Day 2

Tuk Tuk

Explore Hatyai.

Buy roasted cashew nuts.

Rest of the day

Hatyai

Hotel’s website

Day 3

Express bus

Bus ride:

Hatyai city centre à  Surat Thani Pier

4.5 hours

 

Arrangements made through local agent

Day 3

Ferry

Surat Thani Pier  à Koh Samui Pier

1 hour

 

Arrangements made through local agent

Day 3

 

Check in to hotel.

Piña colada @ Lamai Beach, Koh Samui. Chill!

 Rest of the day

Koh Samui

Hotel’s website

Day 4

 

Explore Samui Island.

Chill!

 All day

Koh Samui

 

Out bound

Day 5

Ferry

Koh Samui Pier à Surat Thani Pier 

 1 hour

 

Arrangements made through local agent

Day 5

Express bus

Bus ride:

Surat Thani Pier  à   Hatyai city centre

 4.5 hours

 

Arrangements made through local agent

Day 5

Train

Evening train:

Hatyai City Station  à Padang Besar Checkpoint

 1 hour

 

Purchased in Kuala Lumpur KTMB station

Day 5

KTM (train)

Night train:

Hatyai à Kuala Lumpur via Padang Besar checkpoint

 12 hours

1st class sleeper

Purchased in Kuala Lumpur KTMB station

Day 6

 

Arrive home and report to work on the same day.

 

Home

 



The trip to Hatyai was as smooth as a clockwork, and I couldn’t wait to get to our hotel in Koh Samui – the ocean view was said to be spectacular. Since there were a limited number of rooms at this family-run resort, I felt on top of the world when I was told I could have the one with a large balcony overlooking the gulf. 

reachingdelphi Thailand
At the checkpoint

We reached the bus station, dragged our carry-ons (which by the way were several pounds heavier since we left Kuala Lumpur), and waited for the bus to arrive.  Inside our suitcases were several kilograms of deliciously roasted cashews and several pairs of export-but-defect quality jeans which we had picked up in Hatyai. Great bargains! The helpful agent in Hatyai was already at the station with our tickets. “This is what you call ROYAL treatment, Doc,” I said happily. The bus was a little late, but hey, relax. We were on holiday after all.   


reachingdelphi, clock
Do you see the sea?


As the bus left, I couldn’t help but wonder why the other passengers didn’t have any backpacks, wear beach hats, or have shades on.


“Bus to Surat Thani?” I asked the passenger who only had several bags of grocery on his lap.


“Yes,” he nodded and turned away. I was relieved to know we were heading in the correct direction.


Though the fare was cheap, the seats were comfortable. I also noticed short-legged stools under every seat. Superb, a place to rest my aching feet, I thought. How thoughtful of these guys. Just as I pulled out a stool, another bus employee came by to check the passenger’s tickets. When she approached me, she told me in sign-language to put away the chair back to its original position. 


“Why?” I asked.


No reply. I decided to stop asking questions to avoid a scene, as all eyes were on us. The time on Doc’s watch showed nine. The day was getting warmer even inside the air-conditioned bus. We had a long way to go.


“Another four hours before we get any lunch,” Doc said. It also meant no coffee in the meantime.

reachingdelphi, coffee, trail
Coffee on the ferry


As the hours passed, I realised the express bus wasn’t operating in the expected “express” way. I could feel the aura of the edgy person next to me. The bus driver was cutting through small towns and picking and dropping off people along the route. Soon, there were no empty seats left. Then out came the stools, creating another row of seating. (Luckily, this happened pre-COVID-19.)


The new batch of passengers were much merrier than the ones we initially boarded with. One passenger even brought in two brown hens tied tightly to their feet so the birds wouldn’t fly away. Another passenger brought in sacks of vegetables and fruits. They were islanders, I learnt. The one with the fruits offered us some slices of papaya, but it was well past 2 pm, the fresh fruit couldn’t satisfy our growling stomachs. We needed some coffee, food, and most importantly a toilet break. 


But after four hours on the bus, we were still far from the Surat Thani pier.


A couple of hours later, we reached Samui Island. The total journey to the pier took about 8.5 hours, not 4.5 as the local agent had informed.


At the pier, we hired a songthaew to the hotel. The driver stopped at the foot of a steep sloop. He refused to go farther but pointed to the roof above. Holy guacamole, you must be joking! That, my friends, was the place promised to have the spectacular view of the ocean. It was on a cliff, and to get there we had to drag our treasured cashews up a steep, winding path. 

reaching delphi, koh samui, coffee
Chill and resting up in the balcony

Later that evening, we made our descent to the beach. On the way, Doc took an inventory of boo-boos that ‘I’ made in this trip.

reaching delphi, koh samui, coffee
Buddha keep us safe

We enjoyed our pizza and drinks at the beach, leaving us with only one thing left to do – make sure we made it on time for our return train trip (on day-5). Due to the ferry and bus schedules and recent travel experiences, we knew that if we did the same in reverse fashion, we would miss the train to the checkpoint. 


So, the next morning, we headed to town and spoke with various people about faster travel options to Hatyai – the airlines, travel agents and bus operators. Everything was negative. There were no flights to Hatyai, and the overland travel options were the same as what we already knew. We could take a taxi to Hatyai to save some time, but that would cost us a lot of money. Then, a local passer-by suggested another option – cross over on a cargo boat that very day (day-4) instead of the next and save a couple of hours there. We agreed to this instantly and grabbed ourselves the boat tickets.

reachingdelphi, coffee, cargo
We took one of these boats to the mainland

Looking back, the cargo-boat experience was like watching a comical action movie. The cargo boat was essentially a slow overnight boat that left Samui late at night and arrived at its destination in the wee hours. These boats were used to transport dry foodstuff like rice, sugar, and flour between the island and mainland. They also allowed a limited number of passengers in for a low fare. Tickets had to be bought early. Each registered passenger was entitled to a mattress and floor space to sleep. Luckily, the boat was extremely clean.  


Upon arrival at Surat Thani, a bunch of police inspectors got on board, flashed torch lights at our faces, and verified our travel IDs against their list. I guess they had to ensure there were no fugitives on board. After the authorities inspected the boat, they told us politely to stay aboard. The town was still asleep, so for safety reasons we were required to remain in the boat until 5:30 a.m. (sunrise).


We eventually made it to Hatyai on time and then to work the next morning, my head still rocking to the waves of the gulf. 


reachingdelphi cargo
And the numbers are ...... 10 and 11

What I learnt:

  • You are bound to come across people who find your time is immaterial. Share your views on its importance; if they still refuse to appreciate its significance, learn to accept they are different and move on.
  • Carry a flask with a drink of your choice on long trips. If you get fresh coffee on the way, well, that’s a consolation; otherwise, you can pour some of your own.
  • Have some light snacks handy for long-distance trips. 
  • Limit your liquid intake, especially when you suspect there will be no toilet breaks in between. Know a phrase or two for your emergency toilet needs. 
  • When things don’t work out as planned, don’t fret. Handle these obstacles calmly, and be prepared to make quick alternate decisions.
  • When vacation time is limited, but the travel distance isn’t, be prepared to increase your budget for much faster and convenient travel options. 
  • The term “express bus” varies from place to place. Do some research on the local interpretations beforehand.  
  • Always be friendly to your fellow travellers, and they will make any unpleasant experiences easier to handle.
  • Carry small local denominations to pay for purchases from local traders on the bus or train. 
  • If you have health problems, it wouldn’t be wise to climb up a steep slope unprepared. So, double-check the location of the hotel before booking.
  • Avoid hotels on the cliffs if you want quick escape to the shore. 
  • Avoid making rigid travel plans – factor in some time for delays and rest. Get adequate rest before heading to work the next day. My head still felt a low buzz of the boat engine and train screeches for days.
  • Lastly, be open for unexpected adventure, because these opportunities don’t come by often.   

A note on planning : There are two sides of me. While I do plan in a professional capacity, I am quite the opposite when it comes to personal travel. I welcome the unknown and unexpected. That means Doc ends up being the plan fixer. 😉

 

 Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

Hickory Dickory dock.




Footnote:
Regardless of whether you are a business traveller or vacationer, a one-time or frequent traveller – if you travel, you are exposed to risks. It’s important to understand that some of us are easier targets than others.

This series is dedicated to Doc, SV, who constantly reminded me to 'Watch Out!. Doc was a sensible traveller, while I, quite the opposite. Through Watch Out! Travel Mishaps from Reaching Delphi Travellers Alert series, I will share some of our travel misadventures with you. My aim is to create an awareness of such incidents and some useful suggestions to reduce the occurrence of unpleasant events. 

Follow Coffee Trail – Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi for travel updates and tips.