onward to Koh Tao

Posted from Mueang Chumphon, Chumphon, Thailand.

IMG_20130320_111717The train station in Hua Hin is rather beautiful. On site there’s two antique rail cars that act as a museum of sorts giving the place a character I haven’t seen yet at a train station in Thailand. The station is painted in vibrant colours and has a wide-open layout. It does feel like something out of time, but seeing as this is Thailand, I’ve gotten kind of used to feeling like I’ve gone back 100 years.

I got to the train station a few hours before my train was to depart, as check-out times and evening trains kind of muck up the pattern, and I finished my kite-boarding lesson early, so I put my backpack in luggage storage, which is really a room a guy sort of keeps an eye on, and went and got some food. I was travelling third-class today, something I haven’t done since my initial train ride to the Cambodian border. But the ticket was 99 Baht to Chumphon and I couldn’t argue with that.

When I returned I grabbed my bag, checked that it wasn’t ransacked and waited on the platform patiently for my train. And I waited. And waited. My train was only 40 mins late, which is good considering the one before it was over an hour late. If your train is late getting to your departure station, it’s going to be even later arriving at your destination. There’s only so many interchanges where they can pass each other along the track, so once the schedule gets messed up your train could be stopped for 10 minutes waiting for another train to pass it by.

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Finding my seat on the train was a bit of an ordeal. While the cars are numbered correctly on the outside, they’re numbered wrong on the inside. I counted from the car I got on and was fairly certain I was in the right car. When I got to my seat someone was in it. I wasn’t sure what to do. I showed my ticket to a guy who was looking at me with a funny look and the next thing I knew the lady got up and moved out of the way. There was a child asleep across two seats across the aisle, and I began to understand. They must have been travelling for sometime, and they were still on the train when I got off.

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Third-class rail isn’t that comfy, but the windows open and that allows for a nice breeze, which is wonderful when I remember how I froze in second-class. The seats are classified as hard seats, even though they have a partial cushion to them. The four people sharing the facing seats will occupy many different positions to get cozy as the seat backs are completely upright. This proved to be an interesting part of my six-hour journey.

At one point I had to get up to pee. I left my seat and when I came back there was seven Baht on the cushion. I was embarrassed to be so careless with my money. But the Thai people there just smiled as I collected it and said ‘thank you.’

By the time we pulled into the station, and I only knew it was my station from the maps function on my smartphone, it was 2 a.m. and there were people asleep all over the place – on the floor, under the seats, curled up in balls and on each other’s laps. I so wanted to take a photo, but I felt it would be invasive so I declined.

Being a solo female traveler is always risky, especially when your train arrives at 2 a.m. and you’re not sure if the hostel you called ahead to will open the door when you get there. I hired a motorbike driver for 30 Baht, making sure he understood the address and where to go to get me to Sunshine Hostel. They lock the doors by 12 a.m., but they have a back door, down an alley, with a buzzer … somewhere. I got the motorbike driver to take me down the alley and I rang that buzzer and prayed. As the motorbike driver began to leave I began to pray harder. Here I am standing in an alley in the middle of the night in Chumphon, Thailand asking to be mugged. But then a light came on, a door opened and a dude with impeccable English let me in. Phew.

I checked in, paid the 220 Baht fee, crawled up the stairs to my bed and fell sound asleep until morning.

In the morning I ate a wonderful free breakfast and booked my 500 Baht ferry ticket to Koh Tao, the SCUBA diving Mecca of Thailand. There’s a few boats that go from the mainland to the islands in the Gulf of Thailand, but I ended up taking the Lomprayah, a high-speed catamaran that can make the journey in about three hours.

A taxi picked me up at the hostel and brought me to the train station, which is also where the head office is located. From there I signed in, they put a sticker on my chest and I proceeded to get on a big double-decker bus which would take us to the pier. Once at the pier I was stunned. It was super busy. There were people everywhere with all sorts of different coloured stickers.

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What I could surmise was the stickers were used to assist the staff to get people to the right islands, buses or ferries. I had a green one to get on the bus, and once at the pier they gave me a pink one that said Tao. The girl just reached over and stuck it on my boob.

So now that I was stickered again I had to wait in line to check in … again. Then me and about 200 other people walked down the long pier and got on the boat. The catamaran has a bottom cabin that is air-conditioned, sells refreshments and plays movies for the journey. I went to sit on the upper deck, taking a plastic stool down one of the sides to enjoy the sunshine and the wind as we raced across the open sea.

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The water was like glass, calm and turquoise and I couldn’t be any happier.

About three hours later I was disembarking, grabbing my luggage off the pier and swatting off numerous taxi-parasites that swarmed me and every other passenger trying to get us to use their hotel or any of their other services. I was fully intent on walking to my location, but I stupidly trusted a taxi driver who told me it was too far.

So 100 Baht later, and about three minutes later, we pulled up to my cottage and I, defeated, got out. Bummer. Fell for it again.

But I made it. I was on Koh Tao. So I walked into Sairee Cottage Divers, bought a six-dive package, which got me two free nights, my SCUBA review, as I hadn’t done a dive in a year, and got excited for the next stage of my adventure.

The dogs can have fun - but this place is not just for the dogs.

The dogs can have fun – but this place is not just for the dogs.

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