I decided to take the bus down south, and then catch a boat to Ko Tao. Funny, whenever I’m not balling, I find it easy to spend extravagant money on plane rides, sushi dinners, scamming Indian fortune tellers, and anything else that catches my eye. This time, however, with some money in the bank, I find myself eating off the street, and taking the bus ride down south that I vowed never to take again. It’s cheaper.
The ride was fairly uneventful until about three in the morning. With the exception of the steady bus engine, all was silent. Heads were lolling. Suddenly I was awakened by a woman shouting, “Ko Tao!?!” and staring straight at me. I looked around, saw that it was only me and one other guy in the back of the bus that she was looking at, and then looked back at her and nodded. “Yes, Ko Tao,” I said, through the xanax fog that had made the ride possible. “Go now!” she shouted, gesturing towards the open doors of the bus. Several sleepy traveler’s heads looked up as we gathered our things and began to move forward.
Outside, there were four of us- the American guy who had been sitting next to me, an Austrian couple, and myself. It was dark out. The woman gestured down the empty road, grunted affirmatively, and then jumped back on the bus. The doors hissed shut behind her. Moments later, the bus lurched away into darkness.
We all looked at each other. “Uhhhh, I guess we should go that way?” someone said, looking down the empty road. An expression of confusion was mirrored on everyone’s faces. “Okay,” we all agreed.
We tromped forward, the silence of the night punctuated by our shoes crunching on gravel. My body felt heavy from the xanax and the backpack, and I was moving more slowly than the others. The road began to curve, and I was thinking to myself, “Classic Thailand. Classic.” Only here would you buy a ticket to Ko Tao, be deposited on the side of a dirt road hundreds of miles north of your destination, and be given a vague point and grunt in order to direct you the rest of the way.
Eventually a hut came into sight, and as we circled around to the front, we found a group of Thai people sitting at an outdoor table, eating. Light shone on them from a single bulb hanging over the door of the hut. General confusion ensued, as we tried to explain to them that we needed to get to Ko Tao. I chose to say little, trusting my co-travelers to communicate more effectively than I. The Thais were immediately on the case. After ten minutes of pointing and gesturing wildly, asking us to take out our tickets and then discarding them impatiently, and shouting and inquiring in Thai, a woman came forward and said, “Chumpon! You go to Chumpon!”
Chumpon was indeed the town that we were to catch the boat from. “Yes, Chumpon!” I said, nodding. “Where is Chumpon?” I was expecting a small town with a pier. We were at a roadside shack. There was grumbling amongst the Thais, and then the woman pointed down the long, dark road. “One and two kilos,” she said, holding up her fingers. “One or two kilos?” we echoed, looking at each other. That was a long way with heavy bags on our backs and no specific directions. It was also the middle of the night. “No, no!” she laughed. “One and two! Twelve?”
“Twelve kilos?!” my American counterpart said, eyes wide. The Thai woman nodded. “Yes, one and two kilos. Twelve.” She looked very sorry for us. We all looked at each other again, our shoulders slumping a bit further now. More shouting ensued in Thai. They were like clucking chickens, circling us, pecking over our tickets, quibbling with each other. One man at the table suddenly slammed down his bowl of soup and stood up. He walked up to the other American and demanded his ticket. This was the third time the kid had put his ticket away and pulled it back out. He handed it to the man. A cell phone was whipped out. Rapid Thai ensued. Shouting, gesturing, and pacing- everyone waited tensely.
He hung up his phone. “Come now!” he demanded, walking briskly towards a van. “Now, come now!” he shouted, looking over his shoulder at us. We all came to life and trotted after him. The pack of Thais followed. Soon we were all inside. The Thais chattered excitedly. The van roared to life.
Twelve kilos later, we were at a dock. It was silent and empty. The cell phone reappeared. More shouting in Thai. More confusion. The van whipped around and headed in the opposite direction. Ten minutes later it pulled to a stop. “Out!” the man shouted. “Out, out!” The Thais giggled and laughed as we squeezed past them. A man in a police uniform appeared out of the darkness. He looked us up and down. “Come, come,” he said, turning on his heel. We looked from him to the van of chattering Thais. The bed of his truck was open. This seemed promising.
We smiled and thanked the Thais in the van, who had been willing to stop their midnight snack to help us. I pressed my hands together in front of my heart, and offered a small bow. They mirrored the gesture, smiling brightly. We all turned and headed towards the police truck. Ten minutes later we were at the pier.