As I type I am eating breakfast in Kanchanaburi and trying to work out how many hours I was riding buses across Thailand.
When I last wrote, I was unexpectedly ‘stuck’ in Hatyai, just across the Thai border.
As the bus driver headed off, I looked around and, frankly, the view of Hatyai from the bus station did not fill me with hope.
How was I going to spend three hours here?
First of all, I had about £3 in Malaysian currency burning a hole in my pocket so I decided to find a money changer.
I already had Thai baht but £3 could go a long way. As it turned out, it would buy me six iced coffees if I wanted to be bouncing off the walls of the bus all the way to Bangkok.
Next task, find a coffee.
I wondered if this was going to be easier said than done as the woman behind the counter at the first coffee stall started blankly at me as I asked for a coffee, even pointing at the coffee.
It turned out to be no problem as I wandered past the next stall.
“You want a coffee? Iced?” called the woman from her seat.
My initial impression – the coffee is slightly more bitter than in Malaysia but my word, they like the condensed and evaporated milk here. The cans are stacked up like a tribute to Andy Warhol.
Coffee in hand… I wandered further.
The streets of Hatyai were a mix of very quiet cafes all selling roast duck or roast chicken and rice. There wasn’t a lot of variety.
Royal portraits dominate on the large roads.
The numbers of mopeds on the streets have been increasing as I have travelled North from Singapore. They still haven’t reached Vietnamese levels.
I found a shopping mall and the lure of air conditioning drew me in.
Once my bag had been searched on the concourse, again on entry to the building and my temperature taken once again – 35.7°C in case anyone is wondering – I was permitted to enter.
Every entrance to the mall had temperature screening and for a Saturday, it seemed to quiet. The shop assistants from several stores clustered to chat, ready for easy dash back if a customer vaguely appeared to be heading to their respective stores.
After lunch, I headed back to the bus station and though I was almost an hour early, the bus was ready and waiting to be boarded.
It was a double-decker sleeper coach with very comfortable seats – ready with a blanket and a pillow. We weren’t scheduled, according to my ticket to reach Bangkok until 1.30am.
However, I wasn’t sure how this three hour wait in Hatyai featured.
The bus pulled out, less than a quarter full to drive the six hundred miles. I assumed that we would collect more passengers on the way.
Sure enough, after an hour and a half, we stopped at Pattalung and more passengers joined us.
I definitely wasn’t convinced we’d arrive in Bangkok at 1.30am though I wasn’t too worried about that as my next bus wasn’t until 6am.
And the reclining seats were incredibly comfy.
This Southern part of Thailand featured limestone cliffs and mountains among the rice fields and woodland. The towns were incredibly colourful – the shop-houses painted different shades.
The driver’s choice of in-transport music was entertaining a mix of Thai ska, rap and ballads interspersed with some random English-language singers: Shania Twain and 4 Non-Blondes.
Just after 5pm, the conductor came along the bus dishing out snacks and water as well as collecting the blankets that weren’t going to be used. We obviously weren’t picking up anyone else and the bus was half full.
And the snack? A CUSTARD filled bun!!! Get in, there!
I doubted that it was nutritious… but it was CUSTARD filled, and the custard was good though the bun could have been swapped with cheap sofa-sponge.
I will be foregoing those in future.
Looking out of the window, one of the big differences I noticed from leaving Malaysia was the level of litter by the road. Malaysia wasn’t spotless, by any stretch of the imagination, but Thailand seemed similar to Vietnam in terms of rubbish.
There seemed to be a lot of substantial roadworks taking place in the first four hours of the drive: entire stretches of route being replaced.
The sun set over the palms creating incredible silhouettes against an orange sky. With the power lines in the way, it was impossible to get a decent shot.
Just before 10pm, the bus pulled into a service station and, shortly after, the driver decided to fire up the GREEN interior lights.
Frankly, that was just a little cruel and unusual. I’d been happy in the dark.
It did nothing for the passengers’ appearance. We all looked like escaped extras from ‘Shaun of the Dead’.
We then pulled into a food court for the driver to take a break. With another three hundred miles to go, we wouldn’t be in Bangkok by one, but I was surprised that we’d driven seven hours before stopping.
After thirty minutes, we were on the road again and the zombie special effects were switched off.
The bus arrived into Bangkok’s Mochit Bus Terminal at 5am, giving me a comfortable amount of time to find the 6am bus to Kanchanaburi.
The Terminal was busy, noisy and hot – better to have been on the bus for another 3.5 hours in the air conditioning and being able to snooze as waiting here.
It’s a vast place with different buildings dependent on which part of the country you’re going to.
The one I wanted was OBVIOUSLY on the other side of the dual carriageway, running the gauntlet of taxi drivers keen for your fare and over the pedestrian bridge.
While the routes here are run by different companies, all of the staff in the building where the same uniform of a blue shirt and a black tie.
What really struck me? No temperature screening.
The woman at the counter told me to wait and then sent a man with a clipboard over to check my ticket. He then handed me over to another guy to lead me to the bus when it rapidly became clear that I was too much of an idiot to understand the direction to go to bus 81-60.
It’s just that the number was actually 81-90.
Five minutes later, we pulled out. It was 5.30am.
I think they might have just put me on the bus that was ready to go rather than wait for the next one.
I was hoping that I would end up in Kanchanaburi.
It was still dark as we drove through Bangkok. My impression was one of fly overs cutting through and above buildings of various heights.
Once out of Bangkok and in daylight, we passed through small towns. The buildings were a mix of tiled bungalows, shops, corrugated metal stalls, temples and beautiful gardens.
It was Sunday morning and out of the capital, there wasn’t the same hustle and bustle on the roads.
We stopped to take on and to let off passengers. The driver collected parcels and handed them over at the next stops.
The presence of royal portraits continued.
By 7am, market traders had opened their vegetable stalls and roadside cafes were filling up with people seeking coffee and breakfast.
Outside the towns, the fields were a mix of cultivated, harvested and ploughed.
It was, however, the lamp posts as we arrived in Kanchanaburi, around two hours earlier than I expected to,that really caught my eye.