My Last Days in Thailand Before Flying Home

I sat in my guest house, the Green Oasis, on my last day talking to Tony and Jlo the male and female owners. My train was at 17:30 so I had a while to wait. At some point his friends turned up, six or seven of them, and at 11:00 they cracked open the Jonny Walker Red Label, coke, ice and water.. (and they called me having beer at 4pm ‘breakfast’.. jokers!)

I’d met a few people in my last few days that were staying there, a couple of Korean girls, a Canadian and a guy from Seattle. More exchanges of life stories went by and the time soon got to 15:30. One of Tony’s friends was heading to the train station too, for the 4pm train, so we shared a tuk tuk and got to the train station in 15 minutes.

They sauntered off as their train was sooner, so I went to buy a ticket. There were 1st and 2nd class sleeping tickets, and 2nd and 3rd class seated. Partly due to reduced funds, and partly because I knew I wouldn’t sleep anyway I sadistically opted for the 3rd class seat – mirroring my first choice from Bangkok to Surat Thani – and sat outside in the glorious sun smoking what cigarettes I had left, alongside other 17:30 train waiters.

The train was called and I boarded. Grabbed my seat which was rickety, but luckily in my booth there were no other seats taken, this could prove useful in trying to get the ever elusive sleep during the dark hours. I knew I’d have around an hour of daylight to get some photos, but I chose to sit and take in the surroundings instead. Although empty in my booth, across and to the right from me an elderly Thai lady kept her eyes on me a lot of the time, and a group of 4 young Thai girls and a boy were also checking me out, it was kind of disconcerting but I got used to it.

As it got dark, and the two beers I’d bought had ran dry, knowing what previous journeys have been like I put on some warm clothes, bunched up some spare clothes for a pillow, swallowed a sleeping tablet and tried very hard to grab some sleep before sunrise… 11 hours to go.

The trains lie by the way… supposedly 17:30 depart 06:30 arrival.. liars, we arrived at 10:30! Anyway.. before we arrived, and after a short and troubled sleep, lots of very random dreams, dreams where I’d be half awake still in the dream and talking to someone who isn’t there! The sun rose and I managed to see a better sunrise than on my trip up to Chiang Mai a few days before. After the lack of sleep, seeing such a peaceful and beautiful sight made my day.

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

After the sun had risen, all you could see for miles was farm areas – usually rice paddies – nothing really descript but still eye candy for a foreigner in a strange land. Not far from Bangkok luckily with my camera still in hand, I randomly saw from the corner of my eye a couple of men in the distance, the idea of capturing people in a candid way, doing what they’re doing, going about their own business always appeals to me. So I fired off a shot, I didn’t know if the exposure or levels were right in any way, let alone the focus, yet I was so pleasantly surprised by the turnout of the photo.. I’d captured a moment that was seemingly unnoticed, unprepared and… well… I’m very pleased with the outcome, and it’s up there, if not the favourite photo of the journey.

Two rural fishermen on the outskirts of Bangkok

Two rural fishermen on the outskirts of Bangkok

And from there, really, not much to be honest… I headed over to the Saphai Pae hostel (who had put their prices up since last time I stayed 7 days ago!) grabbed a shower using someone else’s towel, and chilled in reception trying as hard as I could to avoid spending money. I actually went up to bed around 7pm, still quite tired from the sleepless train journey, and watched Game of Thrones before falling asleep.

I woke up around 8am thanks to the others in the dorm, but still I sat watching Game of Thrones again from the previous night, preciously using as much time as possible doing nothing because the alternative was to go and spend stupid money on a drink or a meal downstairs.. I somehow managed to while a few hours away.. just enough to get me to my usual ‘safe’ time to arrive at the airport without freaking out that I’d be late for a flight. Airport prices for everything were tripled so I grabbed a water and a Minute Maid orange, held out until I was called for boarding, got on the plane and we were off.

We landed in Hanoi for the flight transfer, 4 hours wait and I mostly spent it wandering around, in the smoking room or near the smoking room because the nearby business lounge WiFi was in range. Time pretty much flew by.. coffcoffbullshitcoffcoff.. but I was called for my flight and had to leave Hanoi

Heavy hearted for leaving beautiful Thailand behind, heading to a beautiful cold country, the in-flight entertainment wasn’t working throughout the flight so I slept as much as possible, enjoyed the refreshments as much as possible, and did anything I could to pass the time, before we landed ahead of time. The captain spieled his usual ‘welcome to London’ speech, followed by “it’s -6 out there, clear skies, and the local time is 06:30”.. -6!!!! a whole 40 degrees less than 15 hours ago when I left for the airport, drastically underclothed for the climate, I went straight for Costas upon getting my baggage and ordered the largest caramel soya latté they had whilst waiting and planning my next moves..

At this time of day no-one was up, I’d arranged to go and see Rob and Karina, but of course by the time I would arrive at theirs they’d be away at work, so I resigned to heading to Kingston near them and spending the day until they arrived in coffee shops and wandering around K-Town.

I grabbed the shuttle to the South Terminal, by that time light, and blanketed with snow!

Snow at Gatwick's Shuttle TrainSnow at Gatwick's Shuttle Train

Snow at Gatwick’s Shuttle Train

I spent as much time in the airport as possible, before venturing into the known, but unknown wilderness that is London.

Bed Shaking Waking Me in Chiang Mai

Arrived in Chiang Mai by train around 3pm – bleary eyed, lack of sleep, I’d sat for the last 5 hours in 3rd class to take photos of the sunrise and scenery. I’m pretty glad I didn’t sleep, and likely in future I’ll take a long train journey during the light hours so I can photograph, because it seems that I can’t sleep on any public transport.

I went to meet Julia and Nina in the next carriage when we landed, and we grabbed our bags and moved off. They’d met two German guys Chris and Simon the day before and we all met up off the train. I was a bit stressy from the lack of sleep so I meandered off outside the station to the café nearby and ordered a mixed fruit shake, shoo-ing off tuk tuk and taxi drivers wanting my fare!

The four of them joined me and ordered food, I chatted to the two German guys and found out that they’d booked a guest house in Chiang Mai, close to the outer wall, North West and so I approached a taxi driver to see if he could take us there, and to haggle a good price (from 50 baht each to 35) I told him to wait 5 minutes until they finished their food and when they’d finished we set off to SpicyThai guest house.

Because the German guys had a reservation they were let in, and the owner asked if we had one, to which we were then told that only 1 night for each of us as they’re full. Fair enough, and not willing to go to another place, we checked in, payed the 220 baht + 200 baht key deposit and 30 baht towel deposit.

This was around 29 hours since my last shower, so the first thing I did was that.. cold, aye, stinging, aye, comfortable this was not, but I was clean, and that was shower marked off the food, shower, sleep list. I wanted to chill for a bit so we sat, met the other residents, and a few of us wanted to go and get food “FOOD CRAWL” was shouted, and a couple of others joined.. We wandered around 500 metres to a recommended local good Thai food place, and en route I chatted to Emily from the US, she was planning to head up to Pai on Saturday by bike – 149km – I said that I’d join her, up for the challenge and Pai sounded like a nice place to visit.

After dinner I headed back to relax, preparing to mark the last thing off my list. I hooked up online, half watched a couple of films and wrote a couple of blogs so that I was up to date, sorted my accomodation in Pai, and also for the next night in Chiang Mai. I knew that I’d have to get up early to hire the bike so I had a not late, but not early night.

Shake Awake!

Woke up quite frequently in the night, but around 7am to the guy in the bunk below “rhythmically” shaking the bed.. thinking that he was on his own, I made aware that I was awake thanks to him and tried to go back to sleep. I couldn’t though as the bed started shaking again, so I got up.. on the way out I noticed two pairs of feet sticking out of the bed.

I grabbed a shower and headed back up, they were still at it! So I took all my gear and checked out, then sat in the lobby saying hi to everyone from the previous night. I left my luggage and went out to hire a bike. Each place wanted my passport (no!) or a 3000 Baht deposit, so I wandered to an ATM – ended up wandering quite far and somehow did a round circle back to the guest house… I watched the latest Total Recall and chatted some more to the other guests.

The guest house owner had heard rumours of the libertine guy in the bunk below me, and asked me for more details, then went upstairs to sort it out – he also said that after hiring a Thai girl, he had a Western girl in his bed after! Nina and Julia came downstairs, but really only had time to chat quickly before I picked up my stuff to go to the next guest house.

My first, and only tuk tuk in Thailand - Chiang Mai

My first, and only tuk tuk in Thailand – Chiang Mai

A typical Chiang Mai street

A typical Chiang Mai street

I did my usual zig-zagging through the city to find it, stopping at the rather awesome Villa Duang Champa for a refreshing small beer.. It also gave me the chance to find out where I was in relation to the guest house, quite close, so I relaxed a little before heading there. Near the guest house was a laundry and a seamstress.. my bag had broken on day 6 leaving me carrying it with one strap, a bit of a pain in the arse so I enquired how much it would cost to fix – 50 baht and done in 15 minutes (a far cry from the ‘all-day £14’ the lady in Kingston charged me) – I said I was going to go to the room and unload the contents and bring it back. I checked into the Green Oasis and unloaded, took my laundry over to the place across the street and paid a little extra (50 baht instead of 40) to get a two hour service instead of next day.. Then I took the bag to the seamstress and headed back to the room for a sit in the reception area.

The Villa Duang Champa, a really nice place to sit and while away the hours

The Villa Duang Champa, a really nice place to sit and while away the hours

After picking up my bag again and loading up, I hit the town.. I tend to breadcrumb wherever I go, mentally, left, left, right, right, that way I know right, right, left, left on the way back. I turned one street and saw a hostel I’d seen listed on TripAdvisor, but hadn’t looked for the reviews, I sat there and had some food, talked to a French guy who does a lot of travelling around, made a note of the place as it looked like it was okay, friendly staff and people and the price was the same as what I was paying at my current place. I paid a deposit for my return from Pai and meandered back left, right left, right, left, right to get my laundry.

Chiang Mai is a bit cooler than Bangkok, by around 6 degrees, so it’s really nice – not too hot, not too cold, and no need to take #2 of my usual 3 daily showers (travel days an exception) Though I did wash my feet, the Macbeth’s I’ve been wearing are near toxic, so it’s unfair to force that on anyone but me. After getting my laundry I hit the town again.. As I liked Villa Duang Champa so much I thought I’d head there to see about some food, and sat down – on my own.. I ate and drank and paid.. not long before leaving, the musician who had been sitting behind me the whole time presented me with a drawing!!

Tom, the musician at the Villa Duang Champa drew this of me whilst I ate

Tom, the musician at the Villa Duang Champa drew this of me whilst I ate

Love it, it hit a certain note with me, something about the loneliness yet serene mood I was in (lonely is not a negative in this meaning) I thanked him profusely before offering a tip for the drawing of 50 Baht. Smiling all the way back to the guest house I took a few pics

One of the many wats, or temples, in Chiang Mai, Thailand

One of the many wats, or temples, in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chatted with some of the guys and the owner in there before realising I needed to head to Pai quite early as well as hire a bike the next day and then turned in.

Robbed!

After realising that I hadn’t saved anywhere near enough money for a 3 month travel, I did have an “I must do” moment.. and that was going to see Ella’s brother, Peter in Hua Hin.

As I waved goodbye to Krabi, and the staff at the two places I spent the most time in – the Chok Dee (Good Luck) restaurant, and Café 89 Café – I set off for Surat Thani, the hub for travel around the Southern islands.

Sun, the head waiter at the Choke Dee restaurant, Krabi

Sun the head waiter at Chok Dee restaurant, this guy was always smiling

The owner of 89 Café Restaurant in Krabi

The owner of 89 Café, always friendly and smiling

The grandmother of 89 Café's owner in Krabi

The mother of the owner of 89 Café, face like a bulldog chewing a wasp until you make friends, then the beaming smile comes out!

I paid 300 Baht (£6) for an air conditioned bus to Surat Thani train station. I got a minibus to the local staging point and then waited 2 hours for the bus to Surat Thani to arrive. There I met a couple of nice ladies from Utrecht and a South African lady to while away the time with some laughs.

The staging point in Krabi for buses to Surat Thani, Phuket and Krabi Town

No respite from the heat during the 2 hour wait for the bus to Surat Thani

When the bus finally arrived and the number 2 was called (it was either 1, 2, 3 or 4, luckily mine turned up first) I set off on the 3 hour ride to the station.

A beautiful sunset and sky just outside Krabi

A beautiful sunset and sky to send me off back up North to Bangkok

At Surat Thani I made sure I was first off and I’d already planned my backpack to be the first off so I could secure a better seat on the sleeper train to Bangkok.

I’d been told that travel to Bangkok around New Year’s was hellish so I already anticipated either no seats or a 3rd class no-sleep seat. I asked the guy for a 2nd class sleeper and he said they were available, at 350 Baht more than my hellish journey down here, I thought I’d pay the extra £7 and get a 598 Baht 2nd class sleeper ticket.

The train wasn’t for another 45 minutes, so I grabbed supplies (beer, water, Lays – nori seaweed flavour) and sat having a smoke. There was a guy who kept looking my way, older, looked Indian, who eventually came over.. turns out he is from Austria, and he’s seen a lot of the world, including nearly all of Thailand.. so we exhanged stories. he had to wait for 12 hours for his next train down South, but psychically he walked away telling me my train would be arriving soon and so it did!

I got on the train and looked in wonder at this crazy invention, the sleeper train – top and bottom bunk either side of the carriage, and around 10-15 rows, so 40-60 people all sleeping in the one carriage, and there were over 15 of them..

The 2nd class sleeping carriage on the train from Surat Thani to Bangkok

The 2nd class sleeping carriage on the train from Surat Thani to Bangkok

I’d already drank two small beers with the Austrian, so I’d bought two more – placed my valuables in the bunk with me, my backpack in the over head storage, and closed the curtain to settle in.

Drank another beer and then went for a smoke, then another beer and another smoke. Took a sleeping tablet to help along the way and played angry birds until my eyes drooped.

Robbed!!

I wasn’t settling and I kept on hearing footsteps up and down, so I peeked out and saw a guy with what can only be described as a walkie talkie but with a long screw driver shaft instead of an aerial. He was rummaging through a bag, and I don’t recall seeing him before so I was instantly suspicious.. On further watching I saw him reach into the front pocket of this red bag and pull out a mobile, which he pocketed.. then he nonchalantly pulled out a map from the same pocket and looked at it before shoving it in the side pocket.

Then, most suss of all, he stuck the device up his t-shirt to keep it out of sight and then went up and down the aisle again.

When he hit the end of the aisle he started talking to someone I couldn’t see from my position gesturing up the carriage and left and right, potentially pointing out targets, or that there were people watching..

I gave up after he disappeared out of sight and settled to sleep, I got about 5 or 6 hours worth before 7:15 and waking up with all the others, bleary eyed and tired.

A security guard came up the train and folded up all the beds into seats, stowing the top bunk away and moving the bottom bunk into two person sized seats. Within an hour we’d hit Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong train station ready for the next day in the journey.