The taxi was due to collect us at 0630 but didn’t arrive till 0730 and then it was a minibus which had to pick up 4 other people and then we were off to the other side of the Island to catch the Phangan Island Ferry which will eventually deposit us on the mainland at Chumphong. The travel agents blurb suggested this was a 2 – 3 hour journey but in actual fact it took just over 5.
This may be due to the numbers of people wanting to get on as everyone wanted to leave Koh Samui after Christmas and New Year, which is why we couldn’t get a flight out to anywhere.
When we got to the Pier there were hundreds of people all being spilt out of minibuses like beans from a tin. The buses had no system so were jockeying for space and invariably ended up blocking in other vans that had already discharged their occupants. Once out of the bus and re acquainted with their luggage, invariably a huge great back pack, they all made their way toward a covered area where three staff sat behind a desk.
The system required us to hand over our booking slips which were then checked and then we signed our names against the appropriate serial number. Given the sheer numbers of people this was sure to fail, but add into the mix the different races and therefore, languages, it became much harder. Then on top of that they were selling tickets from this desk to people who hadn’t already booked, so they were explaining prices to a group of 5 Chinese people whilst counting money and giving out change.
We eventually got to the front of the queue and went through the process and were handed two tickets, two tags (for the bags) two red stickers that we were instructed to stick on our chests by a rather Butch Lady Boy with nice hair and nails, but huge feet.
We then had to drag our bags back out of the shed through the people still waiting their turn, whose numbers had now been swelled by more arrivals and up the pier for about 200 metres where we were told which was our boat and asked to show our tickets which we had promptly mislaid. However, we found them in time to be the last passengers to board. We were told to take our suitcases to the front of the cabin where the crew would stow them ( Que. Captain Pug-wash jokes a plenty here, Roger the Cabin boy/ master Bater).
Once on we found a couple of spare seats and settled down. The Catamaran is high speed and we were soon swishing across the water toward our next destination, Koh Pang Yan where there were hundreds of back packers in all states of repair waiting to board.
Their luggage was taken off of them harbour side and unceremoniously tossed up onto the deck where a pile of bags was now being built like a giant Jenga set. Once completed they threw a tarpaulins over the lot, roped it off and we should have been on our way. Except that for some reason I still can’t fathom, some people came into the cabin with their backpacks and these were piled onto the existing bags. Now the seats were fairly limited, people were standing and the really cool dudes, the ones, the white ones with dreadlocks or the Oxbridge accents with Thai symbols Tattoed on their legs were lying on the outside deck at the back of the boat in the sun.
The next stop at Ko Tao filled the boat even more, though some did get off here more got on and the bag pile got bigger inside and out. However, one guy and his family needed to get off at this point and the crew couldn’t find his bags which he insisted were buried under the pile in the cabin. He went at finding his bag like a Miner on bank holiday overtime. Backpacks were flying everywhere and a lot of other people weren’t happy, not least the crew who were insisting he get off as they wanted to sail. We never did fathom what happened in the end.
Once we got to the mainland at Chumphong the next part of the race started. The mountain of bags was unloaded from the bow onto the pier with the same disregard for contents and we were all told to exit out of the rear of the boat and our bags would be unloaded by the crew for collection. This didn’t seem to work well. Some of the passengers clearly didn’t hear the message, or if they did, they didn’t understand it ( the English version was bad) and other could see their particular bag, just out of reach so decided to ignore the instructions and climb over seats, bags and crew to get their backpacks back where they belonged. The ensuing bun fight gave us an hour of entertainment and once the dust had settled, we meandered amongst the detritus like Monday morning festival goer, avoiding the less savoury items but marvelling at the unwanted goods that were left behind.
However, having collected our stuff and departed the boat we were at thd back of the queue to leave the pier and there were still fist fights taking place nearer dry land.
Once off the pier the horror continued.
We were marshalled into a space the size of a cricket pitch and told we had to exchange our tickets for passes to get on the appropriate bus for our destination and there were a lot of different destinations. The ticket office for this piece of unnecessary colonial cockup was a small glass window in a she’d not too dissimilar to the one we’d encountered earlier where they checked your ticket number, gave you a new ticket and stuck a red triangle on your chest denoting Bangkok as your preferred destination. The queue was about 8 people wide and about 100 metres long, in full sun. Add to this the introduction of a shop and restaurant which also had it’s own horrendous queues bisecting the ticket queue at right angles, you will understand the chaos.
However at 1400 hrs we climbed aboard bus number 7 to Bangkok, loaded with cheese sandwiches, bags of crisps and water which we had purchased once the major queues had subsided. Though to make it hard, bus number seven was parked in front of bus number 4 and 9, though don’t ask me why. This required dragging the suitcases the whole length of the car park through 4 inches of scalpings.
Once on board we were asked to produce our new ticket, which we had again mislaid (see how I’m saying ‘we’ Jaki) and as punishment we were given the last 2 seats, the ones that didn’t have a locker for our hand luggage, or a table to put our food on, which was lucky really as we had to ride the whole way with our knees so far up under our chins that there was no opportunity to chew.
All the passenger (paying) seats were upstairs. Down stairs at the bag was the luggage hold and at the front there was only enough room for the 4 luxury reclining seats for the staff which ensured they slept comfortably all the way. The only thing that disturbed their slumber was when I locked myself in the loo and they had to wake up to let me out.
It all started so well, I untangled myself from Jaki, the bags and my iPod and made the precarious journey down the stairs to the lower deck. The toilet space was amazing. About two foot square, all stainless steel, it contained a European toilet, a shower, a urinal stocked with moth balls ( I thought this was a large ash try until I saw the non smoking sign) and a sink, but no hand towel.
Given that in general, Thai people are slightly built, I would imagine they could manage to achieve a decent bowel movement in this environment, but put a tourist in there and it’s like Gulliver in Lilliput. I did what I had to do though I did feel somewhat pressured which always tightens the sphincter, cleaned up as best I could, even found some air freshened which I sprayed In copious amounts hoping to disguise what had taken place and then found I couldn’t open the door.
I started to get rather hot and where as before I was hoping no one else would need to use the loo, now I was desperate for some one to come and knock on the door. In the end I resorted to beating on the door and crying, which woke one of the staff whole then let me out.
Not since Terry Waite has an Englishman been so relieved to be free.
Just in time for us to pull into a service area for a comfort break.