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Thursday, January 31, 2008

A night bus to Phuket

Often finding the need to travel across vast distances in order to reach a new destination, I have always found so many advantages in taking a night bus to get there. There is of course the obvious benefit that you don't have to pay for a place to stay that night offsetting the cost of a room with the cost of the bus ticket from your daily budget. Also, it gives you the ability to be transported between one place and the next from the comfort of your sleep giving you more time to do and see the things you want while not taking up daylight hours with a seemingly endless journey. Lastly and probably the most important benefit is that you can't see where the bus is going. You close the shades, turn on your ipod and fall fast asleep in hopes that the driver will manage to keep the bus on the road and you won't wake up tumbling down the side of a cliff or drowning in the bottom of a lake.

I decided to travel to Phuket, an Island off the West coast of Thailand after getting tired of the smog filled air of Bangkok. After purchasing a ticket and getting my things together, I arrived at a small tourist agency where I was to wait for the bus. Two hours later and several miles of walking around town with the bus operator myself and about forty other backpackers, we finally boarded a brightly colored double decker bus that would take us on our journey South throughout the rest of the night. Almost everyone was heading to different places which meant that there would be several stops throughout the night to interrupt my sleep on board. I was still half awake when I heard the familiar Thai accent of the bus driver shouting the name of our first stop. Shouting out the strange name of a city I had never heard of he walked up and down the aisle startling everyone on board. After quickly rushing a few passengers off to their stop, the lights went off and the bus started off again while I laid back down to try and get some more sleep.

Another couple of stops and I finally had the opportunity to fall fast asleep. Dreaming of the beautiful beaches that I was heading for, I was suddenly awoken by people shouting in a language that I didn't understand. An endless series of shouts from a couple of loud and angry Thai men came flooding up the stairs from down below. At first, I thought it was two passengers arguing amongst one another but I quickly realized that it was actually the bus driver and the other man that was working on board organizing our luggage and letting everyone know when their stop had arrived. As the shouting continued, I could only imagine what it was they were fighting over as we barreled down the highway at two o' clock in the morning. With everyone now awake and a bit afraid that a fight was going to break out causing our bus to careen off the highway, we all fearfully listened to a series of angry words that we couldn't understand.

A half hour after it began, the shouting stopped just as fast as it started. While finding it strange to be on this bus here in Thailand and wondering what the fight could have been over, I realized the strangest thing about the whole situation was the fact that the two men who were arguing never attempted to speak over the other one. It was almost as if the whole act had been practiced and rehearsed for a scene in a movie. Each man would stay quiet until the rantings and ravings of the other one had finished. It was almost as if it was a crime punishable by death to attempt to shout over the voice of another while you were in an argument with a man driving a bus.

Around five in the morning, the lights flicked on and one of the men who had been arguing came yelling throughout the bus that it was time for everyone to get off. “Quickly, Quickly, everyone off!” he yelled as we all, still half asleep, attempted to gather up our belongings and evacuate the bus. Sitting at a small roadside cafe with the twilight of dawn in the sky above, we were all unsure of where we actually were or how we would make it to our various destinations. The drivers assistant told us in his broken English that we would be taking small pickup truck like taxis to a different place where we would then board mini buses to take us to our final destinations. We had a couple of hours to wait in between so we had time to order food if we wanted.

A girl sitting nearby me decided she would have something to eat and started digging in her backpack that had been stored down below on our journey down. Looking in her bag, she realized that someone had gone through it. The small amount of money she had in her bag was gone and everything had been moved around. At the same time, I overheard a couple of guys nearby saying that someone had gone in their bags and one of them was missing a watch. Not really concerned about my bag as I don't keep much of anything in it, I took a closer look and found that my zippers were fastened in a completely different manner than the way I had left them. Other people discovered the small padlocks that they had on their bags had been broken off. It was pretty apparent now what the argument that we heard the night before was about, who was getting what and how much of all of our stuff!

Unable to confront someone who doesn't speak much English in a semi delirious and extremely tired state on the side of the road somewhere unknown in Southern Thailand, we ignored the petty theft of the driver and his companion and boarded our small trucks to our various destinations. Six hours later and another ten stops riding in the back of a cramped mini van and I was finally in Phuket. Tired but alive, I was happy to be there. A miserable experience of a journey and knowing that someone had attempted to rob me but couldn't find anything worth taking out of my back pack, I have definitely learned my lesson about the do's and don'ts for future night bus journeys in Thailand.

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