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.


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