in the jungle, the Khao Sok jungle

there’s peace and quiet tonight.

Well what an epic trip that turned out to be. I set off for the train station in Bangkok at just gone 8pm yesterday and arrived at my destination, Smiley Bungalows, some 17 hours later. It was exactly the kind of trip I had been craving for months, ever since those naughty thoughts of quitting work and coming away to Asia came into my mind.

In those above mentioned months, I have built up a hunger for putting myself in slightly awkward, challenging and different situations. Last nights journey certainly had a sense of that and one or two situations occurred today that made me smile greatly. The main one was a sense of being ‘off the beaten track’ somewhat – certainly as much as you can be in a country as open to tourism as Thailand is. Take my train journey from Bangkok to Surat Thani for an example. Let’s be honest, western travellers and tourists stand out somewhat in a crowd full of local Asian folk. For starters we tend to all dress the same; men like the old combat short and t-shirt from a place we have been to combination, whereas lady-folk tend to go for the long trouser and strap top approach. The men have usually got some form of facial hair and the women are usually seen swigging from a water bottle while clutched a Rough Guide. In total I reckon there were seven westerners (myself included, dressed appropriately I might add) on that overnight train which housed five packed to the rafter’s carriages. The other six were mixed sex couples, or at least travel friends. I tried chatting to one couple, but they were German and seemed to be put off by my England’s Barmy Army polo shirt. I’d hate to think that some Germans are still bitter about the past…..

My second bus (I’ll come onto the first in a moment) saw me take my seat on bus 465 from Surat Thani to Phuket (via Khao Sok, where I’m sat now)This was a good fashioned 52 seater, the kind of bus Del Boy took the Nags Head lot to Margate in. Luckily for me, it didn’t blow up due to a faulty Albanian radio…..anyway, I digress. This bus saw me placed on a bus full of just Thai’s. No other westerners were on this bus – and I loved it. As I walked down the aisle with my backpack perched on my head and my strap bag round my throat I greeted the locals with a standard Top Gear style ‘sorry’…..identical to the one that my mates back home have seen become a common catchphrase in my vocabulary. The smiles I received back were superb; they genuinely looked happy that someone was on ‘their’ bus. I use the word ‘their’ in that context because of the obvious lack of tourists using local transport.

When I arrived at Surat Thani bus station after a sleepless eleven hour train ride, I was instantly jumped upon by a tout. Without giving me a chance to talk, I was whisked over the road, along with a second of the three western couples, to pick up a ticket to Khao Sok. On paper her offer of 250 THB (about £6) to Khao Sok looked a steal. However, if you consider you can catch a local bus into town for 20 THB and then a second Government bus from Surat Thani to Khao Sok for a further 100 THB then you actually realise that the original offer is twice the real price.

Now, usually I’m not one to get drawn into petty arguments over £3. But when that is double the going rate I refuse point blank. On this occasion it was also the hunger to want to get to Khao Sok by the so called ‘toughest’ way. Sent packing on the first 20 THB bus I had no idea or not whether I was going to catch this next bus or not, or whether the driver and conductor had any idea where I was looking to head. Naturally there were some concerns. Had I bitten my nose off to spite my face and all that? Would I get to Surat Thani and get dumped on a street corner? The guidebook is very vague, there are three bus stations in Surat Thani and the bus only runs twice a day….etc

I suppose these are all natural worries, but sometimes, especially when one is one his lonesome it is best the follow your instinct. I was waved off the bus and round the corner to a travel agent – great, more explanations needed why I wanted to take the cheap bus. Luckily I had nothing more than a shocked supervisor tell me that I had to wait 15 minutes for the morning bus. It was like she was amazed that I wanted to get herded onto a hot bus full of locals, as opposed to a cool, air conditioned minibus. Obviously the average backpacker can’t think for themselves these days and wants nothing to do with the locals and their culture (can that be classed as my first bitch at fellow traveller-types? Yes, good to get that out of the way early)

Anyway, all of this is kind of a hangover from Bangkok and Khao San Road area. I hardly wrote anything about it before because there wasn’t a lot going on that I hadn’t seen before in say Baga Beach in Goa. It was just a backpacker hangout full of those stereotypes that make backpacking clichéd. Now, there is nothing, I repeat, nothing wrong with creature comforts when away from home. But when all you see around you are travel agents flogging over priced tours and travel deals based around spending time with fellow backpackers 24/7 then I for one become even more determined to do it the locals way. Let’s be honest, with a guidebook and the internet any idiot should be able to travel round most places in the world. One real positive about Khao San was the couple of nights shared with Simon and the two groups of girls. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the trip, partying and exploring with like minded people as opposed to going on organised tours and bus rides. Next week I return to Bangkok for a night in Siam Square, where I’ll be meeting brother-in-law, Fred. I wonder how that will differ from Khao San?

Away from the above observations, the ride to the guesthouse from Surat Thani was beautiful in parts. There was widespread rain forest and low hanging clouds that hugged the limestone mountains. As for the train ride down – not a great deal to report as it was dark for the majority! It wasn’t quite what I expected it to be – I was under the impression my second class rail ticket involved proper reclining chairs that turned into a bed. Instead all I had was two seats next to each other that the average eight year old wouldn’t be able to lie flat on. Never mind, live and learn – one ticket required next time. My personal highlight had to be the rail hostess walking up and down the carriage wearing a short skirt and eight inch heels just to hand out the duvets and glasses of water. You don’t get that on Arriva Trains Wales, I can tell you.

So, I’m currently sat in the open bar at Smiley Bungalows having a cool Chang. Smiley is made up of around twenty tree houses ran by a lovely lady and her family. It is very rustic and very similar to the picture I built up in my head. All is very quiet at present as the night draws in. The quietness is only broken by the family’s kids running in and out the bar and the general noises from the animals that live in jungle (how poetic, I hear you say) The first thing I noticed when I checked into my treehouse was the lovely quietness that I had seemingly forgotten the beauty of after the carnage of the last week. My room also has a balcony that overlooks the limestone mountains. There’s something quite brilliant about taking a shower and going straight out to your balcony to dry off in 30c heat.

All in all everything is good. The journey getting to Khao Sok gave me a taste of things to come in places such as Malaysia and Indonesia. Personally I can’t see the Khao San Road tour operators offering Batam to Pekanbaru ferry tickets – even if they do they’ll be a massive surcharge!

Power to the people and all that.

Hua Lamphong Railway Station, Bangkok

Surat Thani, waiting for bus 2

Chilling on the balcony, about £12 a night

Blogging from Smiley's bar


5 Responses to “in the jungle, the Khao Sok jungle”

  1. 1 Matt
    October 7, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Yo Rich
    Love the approach you’re taking to the travelling – the attempts to integrate with the locals – and the joy of doing so. If you can remain patient and good-humoured, especially when things don’t quite go to plan, and keep looking on the positive side, you’re going to have a fantastic trip.
    Enjoy the tree-house, the balcony, the beach, the beer (I’m allowed to be a little jealous aren’t I?? 🙂
    Take Care

  2. October 7, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Dr Matt,

    Who’d have thought i’d get such a kick from local bus travel after the carnage you introduced me to while stupidly hungover in Kandy!

    Nice one 🙂

  3. 3 Sara
    October 7, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Hi Rich

    As one of those current strappy topped, water swigging females I applaud your sense of adventure. Local bus travel is great whatever mode you use. We have been using the Laos minibuses which have fewer stops, but some great locals on and as we are all crammed in you have to communicate. Its great…….

  4. 4 Martin Chapple
    October 7, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    Brilliant blog! Girl on train compared to Arriva Wales made me laugh out loud!

  5. 5 Donna
    October 8, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Hi Rich,

    I really enjoyed reading your updated Blog! Following your travels is a real adventure. But also I love the way you write – it seems to me you’re a natural at it….looking forward to the next one… happy traveling…

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