Since the locals know their country better than I do, they’re a great resource for information.
With that in mind, I arrived at the Eastern Bus Terminal en route to Ko Samet for my designated beach day during my nine day backpacking jaunt through Southeast Asia. It was a sunny Friday morning in Bangkok, so things were looking good. Having traveled from Bangkok to Ko Samet six years ago, I knew the normal way of making the trek was taking the bus to Ban Phe and then boarding a ferry to the glamorous island.
However, as traveling to Ko Samet from Bangkok could take around four-and-a half hours, all rational thought was thrown out the window as I was looking for the quickest way to the beach. So when a ticket taker standing in front of a bus found out my final destination, I was open to her recommendation.
Which was to take the bus to Rayong, and then a songthaew to Ban Phe. Not knowing when the next bus would leave and being told that the bus to Rayong was leaving immediately, I turn to board the bus after being assured by the ticket taker (after asking her “Ko Samet” three times) that it was going my way. I figured… she must know more than I do.
What I couldn’t have figured out beforehand was that the bus was a rinkydink, bumpy old one that bore no resemblance to mine that had smoothly sailed from Bangkok to Nong Khai five nights earlier. First, we met the brutal Bangkok traffic. Then after leaving the city, the driver – when not stopping the bus to take care of his nature calls – would bring the bus to a crawl, often begging passengers to hop on (while eschewing the adjacent motorway to my dismay). Finally, after a needless 15-20 stop at the Chonburi Bus Terminal (where no one got on), the bus died on a busy city street. My beach day seemed it was dying.
But after sitting in that bus for about ten minutes, the ticket taker tells me to get off and wait outside. A woman on a motorcycle has come, and received twenty baht from the ticket taker lady. I’m told to hop on the motorcycle.
While on the motorcycle, I have no idea how long or how far I’m going as my focus is on holding onto the driver tightly. But I have no need to worry as she skillfully maneuvers through the limited traffic. Not terribly long after picking me up, she drops me off at…
Three rows of chairs, a desk with a computer, and a board with a bus timetable. When I go to the desk, I say “Ban Phe” and I hear a price. When the lady prints out the ticket, it’s 11:49 a.m. and in roughly twenty minutes, I’ll be on my way to Ko Samet.
Except that in Thailand, 12:10 quite often doesn’t mean 12:10. I spend a lot of time leaning forward from my seat to look for any sign of a long white government bus, but it doesn’t come until 12:40. A lady gets off the bus to tear off my ticket stub (I must be boarding the right bus because she doesn’t say anything), and I’m back on my track. It’s still sunny and hot and I’m hopeful by the time I arrive in Ko Samet, the weather will still be fine enough for a swim.
However, shortly after getting on the bus, the sun disappears and a cloudy late afternoon is beckoning. It’s rained a bit during my six days in Southeast Asia, but this would be the worst time for rain. Fortunately, during this bus ride, I see the countryside I distinctly remember six years ago en route to Ban Phe. However, I don’t see any signs indicating the distance to that town. Signs indicating the distance to Chanthaburi and Trat (cities well past Ban Phe) appear, but… isn’t Ban Phe supposed to be a major town? At least, a major transit town.
While signs advertising beach resorts pop up, out of the blue appears a sign that says “Samet Island” appears. Shortly afterwards, a left turn leads everyone away from the countryside into an area of shops, restaurants, and most importantly, the Ban Phe bus terminal. A short walk takes you to a ferry immediately ready to whisk you away to island heaven – or a worker telling you the ferry will leave when they have twenty passengers. On a gray, cloudy afternoon, people aren’t beating down the ticket booth to shell out 100 baht for the ferry. After waiting for about thirty minutes, the ferry takes off for Ko Samet, where much of the same greeted me: clouds and gray skies. After finding a bungalow at Hat Sai Kaew, I take a quick dip in the water, but the cloudy skies, cool weather, and impending rain zip any enjoyment out of the swim. Shortly afterwards, the rain comes hard, forcing me to seek shelter under the roof of the bungalow lounge.
After the rainstorm, several people had told me that the weather had been crappy for the most part that day. So it was a relief to know that I hadn’t missed wonderful beach weather. What I also hadn’t missed was a memorable zig-zag to the beach. Thanks to some unintentional help from the locals.