Myself and Letha have now left Malaysia and are in Thailand, somewhere a bit more familiar to some of you reading; those not familar probably associate Thailand with white beaches and palm trees. This is what I'm experiencing right now on Koh Phangan, the most popular backpacker island. We had an interesting journey here from Kota Bharu in northern Malaysia.
Kota Bharu was a very different experience to anywhere I've visited in Asia before. The city (and area around) is very Muslim and without too many westerners around. This gave us a lot of stares from the locals, particular towards Letha with her bright blonde hair! All the local Muslim women were covered from ankle to wrist and wearing headscarves, they probably found us a bit strange despite our attempts to also cover up. There wasn't a huge amount to do in the town except wonder around and observe the locals, but we did get very excited upon discovering a huge Tesco!
The journey through the Thai border took us through the Southern States of Thailand which have had some serious problems with terrorsim as a group wants to seperate the states from Thai control. We took the train from the border despite it being attacked a couple of times in 2006 and 2007. Everyone we spoke to seemed to say the problems had died down and all was safe now, unless we took a 10 hour detour the only option was to hope.
The day went something like this:
09:30m- left Kota Bharu via a local bus which would take us to the border. Despite the road being good, it felt very bumpy due to the bus!
11:00- Exited Malaysia and walked the few hundred metres to Thailand. Thai border official decided that despite there being plenty of room on previous used pages, he'd stamp a brand new page of my nearly-full passport. Start of my bad mood!
10:30 (Thailand is -1hour)- Despite thinking the train station would just only just into Thailand, walked with full backpacks for about half an hour in the heat to eventually find the station. Start getting a little concerned as there is a massive tank outside and about 15 soliders carying AK-47s checking bags
11:30am Having bought tickets and a cold drink we found our seats on the train (which weren't right next to eachother) and expected the train to leave. Instead they started loading a lot of boxes of American Sultanas under the seats and in any space they could find.
12:30 We finally left, concerned we would be late for our nightboat which would leave 2 hours after the train would be arriving.
13:00 A group of around 5 Thai soliders walk up and down the train continuously, looking very macho with their big guns
15:00 Thai Solider comes and sits on an empty seat near us, singing along to his mp3 player and eventually decideing he's bored of protecting the train, he falls asleep!
19:00Despite the sun only just going down the train is transformed into its sleeper-mode. We were due to get off in only 2 hours so weren't too happy about this.
21:00Train pulls into a station, stops and waits. I point to someone my ticket showing my destination as 'Surat Thani' and they reply comes in Thai with 2 fingers held up. I assume he means we'll be there in 2 stops time so start packing up.
23:00 Train is still in station where it stopped and our nightboat would have been departing its pier. I try and find out whats going on by showing my ticket to one of the guards, he points to the number 2 on his watch, meaning 2am!
23:30 The train suddenly starts moving again
00.15 A guard comes and wakes us, telling us our stop is next.
00:45 Having departed the train we need somewhere to stay and need to get into the town of Surat Thani (as the station is some 14km away). We're in taxi-driver heaven as the local buses had stopped and they can effectively charge what they want. End up paying probably 4 times the price we should have during the day and double what we should have for a hotel room!
Luckily, I don't encounter days like this too often and things normally seem to work out somehow. Was certainly pleased to get some sleep and get on the boat to Koh Phangan yesterday. Plenty of time here to relax on the beaches now!