When It Sounds Too Good to Be True, Check Again

 How I Met My Treadmill (WatchOut! Travel Series)


The current pandemic needs no further introduction. Here in Malaysia, strict movement control operations (MCO) are once again being enforced due to the rising numbers in COVID-19 cases. I am sure you have experienced similar movement control enforcement as well. As responsible citizens, we know it is our moral and social responsibility to stop the spread of the virus, but it also is natural for people to feel agitated, depressed, frustrated, and angry when locked indoors for extended periods. Having said this, these pandemic lockdowns are not the same as being caged up. People are still allowed out to tend to their essentials under guidelines set.


As a travel blogger, I am lost without my travel pill. So, I decided to kick it up a notch and do something different. This has allowed me to continue travelling despite the obstacles and travel bans imposed. Over the last year and a half, if you hadn't realised, I have taken you with me on trips to India, Thailand, Spain, Greece, the US, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Malaysia. I quenched my travel thirst by time and mind travelling to various famous cities through the ReachingDelphi’s WatchOut! series. 


ReachingDelphi, Treadmill, Travel, coffee
Virtual & mind travel with ReachingDelphi


And boy, weren’t some of those experiences important eye-openers?


On days when my travel prescription can't be filled, Mr Telly (who, by the way, is one of my best and most loyal friends) comes to the rescue by taking me on expeditions that don’t require me to double-mask or constantly worry about my essentials being misplaced or nicked. But still, as an outdoor person now tied down due to the pandemic and work commitments, I miss gazing at the blue skies and taking long walks.


ReachingDephi, MCO, Coffee
Preparing for a skype chat during MCO 3.0


Then one day, I thought to myself, Why not do all these at my own convenience? Oh, blimey! Get your dose of daily exercise, gaze at blue skies, and watch travel shows simultaneously. Now, why didn’t I think of that earlier? So, I got hooked on the idea of getting a treadmill. Lucky for me, there was already an online mega sale that was going on. Boy oh boy, treadmills were getting sold as fast as hot buns.

 

Inner Uma: Uh oh, there she goes again

Doc’s voice: If it’s too good to be true, it ain't true.

Outer Uma: I hear you, I hear you.


I disapprove of the idea of having to download every app under the sun. Still, I went ahead and downloaded several online shopping apps onto my mobile device just to enjoy the additional discounts offered only to mobile users. 😉

 

Outer Uma: What’s going on?

Inner Uma: The treadmills seem to be selling fast. Good buys, I’d say.

Inner Uma: Look, this says 70% off the original price, and it comes with a free shipping deal for first-time customers.

Outer Uma: It has over 3,000 positive reviews and a 4.9 (out of 5) customer rating. And the other one has over 1,000 positive reviews.  

Inner Uma: Buy!

Outer Uma: Let's read more reviews.

Doc’s voice: If it’s too good to be true, it ain’t true.

Outer Uma: Hush.

Inner Uma: Duh!


I listed out the models which fit into my budget and read the reviews diligently well into wee hours. Finally, I was pleased with my shortlist. I had previously owned another machine, so I was well aware of the reliable players in the market. Besides, I had to prove to Doc that I had this under control. So, I gave the idea a breather.


Over the next few weeks sitting on my sofa, I watched Tokyo blooms, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Yangtze Riverbank pass by me. Soon Federer and Nadal would be in action in Roland Garros and Wimbledon. I was once again depressed. I need that treadmill, I told myself.


So, I logged in to the online shopping portal once again. More discounts. More offers. An encouraging welcome. But to my dismay, the models I had shortlisted earlier were all snapped up, and I was left with less-known, cheap models that also had raving reviews.

 

Doc’s voice: If it is too good to be true, it ain’t true.

Outer Uma: I heard you. I am thinking.

Doc’s voice: Don’t think. It will hurt you too much.

Outer Uma: Cut it with the sarcasm.

Doc’s voice: Fine, do what you want.

Inner and Outer Uma: Thank you!


The seller I selected had a reputation of being quick and delivered only good products. Plus, the treadmill would be easy to assemble. Well, at least that’s what the 1,000+ reviews mentioned.


The shipment arrived as quick as promised. And, holy shit, it was huge. There was no door-to-door delivery during the lockdown period. I felt a twinge in my back just looking at it in the lobby. With the help of a neighbour, I got it up to my unit.


My bad. I tend to procrastinate. That explains why this article has been in draft mode for a few weeks. And that also explains why the package was left unboxed until the weekend after.  

 

ReachingDelphi, Treadmill
Unboxing Day

Outer Uma: Oh, that’s so easy to assemble.

Inner Uma: Go, girl!

Outer Uma: Hey, the display panel doesn’t fit where it’s supposed to. But I can live with that. Let’s try running the machine.

Inner Uma: Oh, shit! The pin in the AC power cord is broken! It doesn’t go into the three-pin socket.

Doc’s voice (pointing his finger at me): I told you so.

ReachingDelphi, Treadmill
Faulty Display Panel


I got in touch with the supplier. They asked me if I read and followed the instructions. Hello! There is no instruction on your manual on how to fix a broken AC power plug. If there is supposed to be, you better get your product QC in check.


treadmill, review
Broken plug


I waited for a week, and there was still no response to the complaint I made. Alas, I decided to leave a product review on the online shopping website and the supporting evidence for other potential buyers to take note of.




Out of curiosity, I revisited the website several weeks later. To my surprise, the supplier had responded to my review by saying that the issue was resolved, that the adapter was fixed, and that I was happy with the product. 😒

But, the white elephant in my living room was still staring at me. I was infuriated, not about the darn unusable machine occupying my space or the money I had lost, but for their deceptive online response. How many more had they cheated?




I reported the incident to the online shopping portal that hosted this supplier. It certainly grabbed everyone’s attention. My phone was busier than the president’s. The seller, his supplier, and the online portal were all eager to fix the issue for me. The supplier even offered to replace and personally install a new one. But I was no longer keen. I only wanted two things. First, for them to take the faulty machine away. Second, for them to remove their misleading feedback so that other customers do not fall prey to their service or products.


Weeks later, I received my refund, which I later used as a down payment for a more reliable treadmill. So, I am now walking down the streets of Florence with Stanley Tucci in my Aulora fitness pants**.  

 

ReachingDelphi, Treadmill
Get Fit Alora Pants & My Treadmill

Sadly though, the seller's false feedback is still not removed from the online shopping portal.


A wise man told me many times, if it’s too good to be true, it ain’t true. I heard you, Doc, so stop smirking, will you!

 

What I learnt:

  • Inner Uma and Outer Uma sometimes forget that they are meant to be my yin and yang. When they do get confused, it is wise to seek a third party’s opinion before making important decisions.
  • Very few things are free in life. Even the air we breathe comes with an environmental cost. So, always question when something sounds too good to be true. Anything deemed as good should be evaluated based on facts and evidence.
  • Shop wisely, opting for reliable products. Remember, cheap is not necessarily bad, and expensive is not necessarily great, and vice versa. Have your eyes and ears open.
  • Always leave an honest product review. Allow others to make their own decisions based on what they feel – good or otherwise.
  • Keep only the apps you need on your mobile or tablets.
  • Unbox right away. Don’t look for an auspicious day and hour to do this. Refunds for online purchases are only valid for a limited time.
  • Record everything. Sadly, we have gotten into a situation where we needed to record the unboxing event to show as evidence of defect on delivery.

 

**AULORA KODENSHI® PANTs are all-day wear pants which offers many health benefits, including improved blood circulation, improved sleep quality and weight loss for slimming. Write to me to know more or  Click here to purchase. 



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. These articles are not meant to shame any parties but to caution the traveller and consumer. 

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

Taj Mahal: A Symbol of Love.

Agra and a Glimpse of Delhi.


They say love is crazy, and Shah Jahan shows the world how much.


What's the first place that comes to a visitor's mind when asked about India? For many, it's the beautiful Taj Mahal. And the Taj Mahal is the testimony of love I am talking about.



Taj Mahal, Agra, ReachingDelphi
Picture perfect Taj Mahal in winter



Known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taj Mahal, a mausoleum, was built in 1693 on the southern bank of the Yamuna river in Agra to house the tomb of the grief-stricken Emperor Shah Jahan's, wife – Mumtaz Mahal. It took 22 years to construct the monument and involved 20,000 fine workers.

 

Taj Mahal, Agra, ReachingDelphi
Taj Mahal and Yamuna


Through many documentaries about the greatness of the Moghul Empire, I learnt the construction of this ivory-white marble tomb depended on the finest craftsmen in the country, the highest quality materials, geometrical and mathematical precision to produce each carving and tile.


Look carefully at the pictures below. Here are examples of this perfection. Notice that the patterns in each tile and Quranic inscriptions on the four walls are carved and increase in size, and yet the words and images appear to be the same size from bottom to top.


This is the marvellous engineering by master craftsmen of the 17th century, who worked long before the use of modern technology. Sadly, I also learnt that the master craftsmen involved in this construction were killed or blinded so that they would not replicate this art elsewhere.

 

Taj Mahal, Agra, ReachingDelphi
Mughal architecture



Doc visited the Mahal in his younger days, and it was he who suggested that we, as fine arts appreciators, should see it together. And boy, I am grateful we took this trip to Uttar Pradesh, where the old city of Agra is located, because looking at the marvellous craftwork in person is beyond words. Simply put, the Taj Mahal is the most exquisite mausoleum I have seen. It's so perfect that it looks the same from all four sides. Can you guess which side the picture below is taken from, because I really can't remember now!


 

Taj Mahal, Agra, ReachingDelphi
Perfectly symmetrical



There were no direct flights from where we lived to the city of Agra, so we flew into New Delhi, where Doc attended most of high school. Do expect flight delays due to heavy fog if you are traveling during winter.

 

Agra, Coffee, Masala Chai, Tea, Delhi
Delhi - Chai, Kulfi and Paneer Butter Masala...where is the Paneer?



Agra is about 200 kilometres from Delhi. While there are several ways to get to Agra, we opted for the train, of course! If you have been following my previous posts, you know by now how much we love trains. Trains are a common mode of long-distance travel in this country, and some people travel for days to get to their destination. It is not uncommon to see families travelling together with packed meals and making themselves at home once at their seats. I mention this because the family we shared a booth with didn't seem pleased when we first came in, as we deprived them of this space. 

 


There are many types of accommodation to suit any budget. I wanted one with a view overlooking the Mahal. But since all the hotels (in my budget range) with a view were fully occupied, I settled for one without that view but nearer to the heritage site (and a wholesome breakfast).

 

Agra, Coffee,  hotel
I warned you, breakfast was wholesome! And look, coffee!!


The best way to look around the town is to hire a horse or cycle rickshaw. Tip and travel advice: Don't bargain too much with the operators. These guys need to make a living too. Instead, try to see how you can save on hotel rates instead.

 

Agra, Rickshaw, Reaching Delphi
My ride




Once we arrived at the heritage site, we took a slow and quiet walk to let the beauty of the courtyard and tranquillity set in. Every building along the way I noticed was beautifully and tastefully built.  


 

Taj Mahal, Agra
Serene and tranquil


To see what's behind the four walls of the Taj Mahal, you need to purchase a ticket. Trust me, it's worth the fee. I have no photos from the inside, as photography was not permitted.

 

Taj Mahal, Reachingdelphi
Purchase your entrance tickets over here



Shah Jahan ordered his craftsmen to use various techniques for the construction work, one of them being pietra dura, or cutting and fitting polished coloured stones (such as emerald, malachite, agate, coral, or jasper) in patterns to create remarkable images. When this is completed, the stonework is then glued piece by piece and reassembled together so perfectly that the contact between each section is invisible. Earlier I mention that the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum. The actual tombs of both Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal are at a lower level. Visitors, however, are not permitted to visit the tombs.  

 

Taj Mahal
At Taj Mahal


Then it was time to say goodbye to the Taj Mahal (and snap more photos on the way out).

 

Taj Mahal, Agra, ReachingDelphi
Around Taj Mahal


Next stop, Agra Fort.

 

Agra, Rickshaw, Reaching Delphi
Zip-up, its still cold



Agra was once the capital of the Moghul empire. Agra Fort served as the primary residence of the emperors until 1638. The fort is just about 2.5 kilometres northwest of the Taj Mahal. It is described as a wall city.

 

wall city, Agra Fort
Agra Fort : a wall city


You can see that I was awestruck, and so were these school kids!

 

Agra Fort
Mesmerised!



Agra Fort was built in 1573. This red stone monument is also another world heritage site. Other successive monarchies added their personalised palaces and mosques within this complex.

 

Moghul, Agra Fort
The residence of the Moghul Emperor(s)



Below are more pictures taken around the fort.

 

Taj Mahal, Agra, Agra Fort
Around Agra Fort



And these are the main extensions you just saw.

 


Taj Mahal, Agra, Agra Fort
Several extensions in Agra Fort


The Musamman Burz overlooks the grand Taj Mahal. It was here where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son for eight years until his death in 1666. Shah Jahan was a great emperor and is best remembered for his architectural achievement.

 

 

Musamman Burz, Agra Fort
Musamman Burz: Shah Jahan spent his last years in this room


Lastly, another love. There is no better way to end an excursion than with a piping-hot cup of masala (spiced) tea. When you are in North India, make sure you have several cups of hot masala or ginger chai. Tea is served in small cups, leaving you yearning for more.

 

Agra, Coffee, Masala Chai, Tea
In a deep thought



If the Taj Mahal were a woman, I would say she is the most elegant of them all. If the Taj Mahal is a symbol of love, then I'd say it's eternal, for she stands there grandly even after 300 years – not only for Mumtaj Mahal but for the world to see and feel. 



For me, beauty is not what I see on the surface but rather the aura that radiates from within.  Standing in Musamman Burz and gazing at Taj Mahal, that morning, the way Shah Jahan would have had done three hundred years ago, I felt the charm of the Mahal blanket around me. Looking at these same pictures today,  I see Doc smiling back at me from across Yamuna. The magic of the Mahal  reflects back.



Till we meet again in the next article. Remember to wear your masks, sanitise your hands frequently, and keep a safe physical distance. Together we can beat the coronavirus and start moving around freely again.


Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi – 🙏  for a safer tomorrow. Sending you all positive vibes as always. 💓


Taj Mahal, Agra, Agra Fort
Till we meet again Taj Mahal 💓💗


 



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. 

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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.

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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.