Miraculously, we fell asleep. This did not last. At midnight every light flashed on and loud Thai music blasted from the speakers. No one else looked surprised (perhaps this was reviewed during that ten minute intro by the stewardess). An attendant, not the stewardess, then came around with hot towels for us to wipe our hands and face. “Could we be here already?” I thought hopefully. No. We were stopping at an Esson (equivalent to an Exxon) where everyone stepped out to use the facilities and stock up on food. The Tiger Mart was stocked with much more interesting foods – steamed noodles, fresh pineapples and coconuts, red bean pastries – than its US counterpart.
The ride began again. For the rest of the bus journey, the lights would sporadically flash and the Thai music would play. Normally, this meant someone was getting off the bus. Apparently, along government bus routes you can let the driver know where you want to get off, and he will stop.
We pulled into the Phuket town bus station at 5:30am. We arrived two hours early! Normally, I would be happy with such efficiency, but as a backpacker with no idea how to get from the bus station to our beach, over an hour away, the dark morning arrival was not welcome.
Keith and I climbed off the bus, and immediately tuk tuk drivers besieged us with “Where to?” I consulted our trusty old Lonely Planet which told me we could take the local public transportation, a songthaew, for 40 baht, as opposed to a tuk tuk for 400 Baht. Then I read that songthaews do not start running until 0730. So we sat in the bus station until light. At 0700 we strapped on the packs and I navigated us to where the songthaew station was supposed to be, according to my Lonely Planet map. We both looked around and realized we were standing amongst fruit and vegetable stands – we saw nothing resembling a station.
Finally, a few nice vendors motioned to us where we were trying to go. After saying “Bang Tao”, one man pointed to the corner we were standing on. We looked around again, and, at first, only saw bananas, oranges and lettuce being sold. Then Keith saw a couple of pick up trucks with wooden roofs covering the back. He said “Bang Tao” to a guy standing next to one and the guy nodded. Within minutes we, our packs, and a Thai woman with a basket of peanuts were off.
Neither of us had any clue exactly where Bang Tao was, nor where in Bang Tao we were going. We only knew we were located on the beach. We drove across Phuket Island, picking up and dropping off Thai passengers along the way. Thirty minutes later we were still driving through mountains, with no beach in sight. We had no choice but to trust the driver and enjoy the windy ride.
Suddenly, the Andaman Sea appeared out of the midst of trees and mountains. I saw a sign for “Bang Tao Beach Bungalows” – our place. From motions of the others, I knew to hit the buzzer above my head to get the driver to stop. As Keith pushed the bags out to the ground, I waded through wet dewy grass on the roadside to pay the driver. He told me “50 Baht” and, although it seemed the Thai passengers only paid 20 Baht per person, I was not about to argue. We were here…my week of relaxation.
Or so I thought. As soon as we walked closer to the sign, and the songthaew flew off, I read “Bang Tao Beach Bungalows 1800m” and realized we would now use the most basic form of transportation – our legs. So sweating in the now hot sun, we trudged through mud and hills to our lodging.
Along the way, we met many Thai Muslims, which is surprising in a 95% Buddhist country. Their children would run out of the homes and wave “hello” as we walked by. Their greetings made me smile and I realized, despite the allure of a luxurious, quick plane ride and taxi service to the door, I was happier to have taken the “road less traveled” and experienced a little bit more.