Taking Our Time Getting Around Thailand
It is likely we got scammed on our third day in Thailand. After an early morning flight from Bangkok to Surat Thani, we were looking for a bus to get us to Khao Sok National Park. The park is 2 hours from the airport and we were told we needed to get to town and could then catch a minibus for 250 Baht (Thai currency) each to take us there. The airport shuttle bus driver yells “Khao Sok, Khao Sok!” and points at us to get off the bus at a completely random part of Surat Thani. We’re quickly ushered across the street by a man and immediately plopped in two chairs behind a desk. A woman strolls over who speaks decent English and quotes us 350 Baht per person for a minibus ride to Khao Sok. This is definitely not the bus terminal I was expecting, but rather a dingy tour agency.
Our options are limited and they know that. She tells us this is a better deal than the public bus because the driver will take us directly to our hotel. We have no idea where we really are and how far it may be to the actual bus stop. So, we fork over the money and await the minibus that is to arrive in 30 minutes. An hour goes by as we wait in the heat among the flies in the storefront. Finally, one of the men who has been lingering around the store pulls up in an open air local taxi and we get yelled at again, “Khao Sok! Minibus!”
“We’re not taking this for two hours, are we?!,” I exclaim to the woman behind the desk as we load ourselves and our luggage into the taxi. She waves her arms and keeps yelling “minibus!” until we finally realize this taxi is just taking us to the minibus.
Two minutes and two streets later, we’re at the minibus stop and ushered into a van with a few other Thais, a watermelon, a bag of apples and 5 packages. Three hours later, we have picked up four other tourists, at least 10 other Thais, dropped off a few Thais, delivered all the packages and somehow made it to the road leading to Khao Sok. The driver stops and tells us to get out even though we’ve been promised he’ll take us to our hotel. Another open air taxi ride later, we finally reach Khao Sok Paradise Resort.
Traveling in Thailand is not unlike other developing countries. Motorcycles share the roads with minibuses, regular buses, cars and all kinds of trucks (oh, and sometimes the occasional elephant). Thais, however, are not slowed down by any of these – they have perfected the art of passing to the point where the road consistently looks like a complete free-for-all. As Dave said to me today, “It’s better if you just don’t look.”
There is also the randomness of every journey that comes with traveling here. You don’t know how many stops you’ll be making, who you’ll be picking up, what shopping trips the driver needs to make and if you will stay in the same car for your entire trip or if you’ll be asked to go with someone else the rest of the way. The driver rarely tells you what is happening when he stops and exits the car. You just hope he comes back.
Luckily, he always comes back.
Back to Khao Sok…it was an incredible three days in Southern Thailand’s largest National Park. Watch for the next post for updates on our night in a floating bungalow, our encounter with bats, spiders and snakes in a cave, and our hike shared with wild pigs and monkeys.