Saturday, July 08, 2006

Into Thailand

There is a direct ferry service from Pulau Langkawi over the border to the Thai town of Satun. In fact the border is so close that you can probably spit over it from the North of Langkawi. At the ferry terminal we saw an advert for a direct through ferry and bus package to Phuket, so decided to book that. The nice man at the booth assured us that it would be a direct coach, we'd be picked up by a car and transported from the ferry terminal to the bus station in Satun. He wrote us out a travel voucher and gave us our ferry tickets and his helper showed us to the immigration clearance point. All very professional and smoothly run.

On reaching the immigration point we had a bit of a job explaining our missing arrival card. When we explained to the guy behind the desk that we'd sat in the immigration HQ for hours awaiting a visa, he laughed heartily and told us they don't require one for people who've entered by train from Singapore, you just have to show your train ticket. I really don't know why they can't just stamp you into Malaysia at Singapore, or even just put a sign on the wall explaining it. What would have happened if we'd have thrown away our train tickets? At least the immigration officer got a laugh out of it.

The ferry journey passed quite quickly and the immigration went smoothly coming into Thailand. I was expecting a driver holding a card up or something, but couldn't see one. The guy who sold us our tickets had given us stickers to wear so we put them on. A guy came up to us and mentioned Mr. Sudin, the contact name that we were supposed to go to in Thailand. He took our travel voucher and disappeared. After about 10 minutes he came back and had us get into the back of a rickety old songthaew, a pickup truck with two benches in the back facing one another. After driving around Satun for a while dropping off the other passengers, including an old woman and about 20 plastic fish baskets, we were told to get out and go across the road. Mr Sudin was there and apologised for not being at the ferry, as he'd been in bed. He told us that we wouldn't be getting a direct coach, rather having to change in Trang. He wrote us out a ticket on the back of an envelope, which basically said, 'Phuket, 2 pax'. I began to realise that Malaysian standards of professionalism may be slightly higher than Thai ones.

We had a long journey to Trang, which for me was a journey of discovery. The discovery being that Thai buses are built for people of Thai stature. The top of the headrest cut directly into the bottom of my shoulder blades the whole way. This is about as comfortable as it sounds. At Trang we were pointed at a lady who handed us a real printed ticket and waved in the direction of a line of buses. Fortunately there was a number printed on the bus and on the ticket in western script, so I was able to confirm exactly what bus we needed to be on. After a wait of around an hour we got on the bus and headed off towards Phuket.

Despite being very uncomfortable, both buses were a reasonably enjoyable ride, mainly because of the VCDs of Thai pop being played on the TV. The words were coming up Karaoke style in both Thai and Roman script (but in Thai language), and I thought I would be able by a process of pop based osmosis, be able to assimilate this and magically teach myself to speak Thai. Needless to say, I failed miserably and can still only say 'Hello'. I liked the lady Thai singers quite a lot because they were very pretty, but the boy pop stars just sucked. They kept doing really uncool air guitar bits in the middle of their ballads.

A chance text message to Carly and Charlotte to let them know we were now in Thailand and headed to Phuket, resulted in finding out that they were there too, staying at Patong beach. When we arrived in Phuket town a taxi driver pointed us at the hotel booking place and being too tired to wander around and sort it out ourselves we readily booked a place through him. A taxi ride later we were in a hotel in Patong, but too knackered to do anything other than shower and go to bed. We resolved to find Carly and Charlotte in the morning.

No comments: