We’d taken a ferry over to Phuket, and were now on another one with friends, Gillian and Craig, to another island off Phuket’s coast, popularly known as James Bond Island.
Part of the job of being a marketer is to make connections between things that make one thing seem more interesting than it really is. Often this can be tenuous: “Hey the shape of that island looks like a Walter PPK”, and voila this could be logic of how the island was named.
However, in this case, the hard work was already done for the marketers: a Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun had been shot there.
Right, you’re thinking. Which one was that?
This clip might help:
Still blank? There’s more YouTube where that came from – I leave it up to you.
On the island I couldn’t bring it to mind either, though Gillian had said it was her favourite Bond film. I don’t remember anyone re-enacting the scene above: pacing away from each other then spinning around. Of course, I also wasn’t attuned to what was happening since I had no idea of the plot upon arriving (admittedly: not that uncommon for me in most circumstances). So there could very well have been Bond geeks acting it out, I just wasn’t paying attention.
In Phuket I wasn’t as disciplined about pre-studying spots and sorting out where everything was: ultimately we were just catching up with friends, and wherever that happened, whether on the island of a Bond villain or in a restaurant with a steaming bowl of coconut curried chicken was fine with me.
To that end, lo and behold, here’s the next place we’d do it in:
It was a fun tour through some of the limestone islands, sometimes dropping underneath little cave openings:
A well established tourist spot, Phuket has a lot high rises, big hotels and all kinds of other tourist attractions, meaning its far from the laid back spots we’d just come from on Koh Lanta. Interestingly, Phuket gets a ton of Russian tourists, such that the restaurant signs and menus on the beachfront road are all bilingual in English and Russian.
This of course gave me free reign to practice my English/Russian accent whenever I could: “You vill enjoy thiz vudka. From mai hummtoown. Good ya?”
We also got a view from one of the highrises after meeting two Australian women who were having a ladies weekend with other friends, and had pooled together their money for a rooftop spread that looked over the beach, and more or less everything else.
They invited us up for drinks where we hung out, swam in their outdoor pool that happened to be ridiculously freezing while staring up at floating lanterns, which people light with flames on the beach and let them go as the flame’s heat sends them, really, wherever it wants.
As the lanterns swayed over the city, heading more inland, they looked really cool lighting up the night sky, but I couldn’t help thinking they were a really bad idea for anyone who owned flammable property.
It’s true that in the majority of cases, the lantern burns out in the air, and no harm is done through flame. However, there have been cases where it has happened, plus lanterns are made of wire casing which plop down anywhere, including the ocean making a big mess.
However, one of the side effects of alcohol is losing interest in the wider world, and so soon enough I cared less about a city-wide bonfire, and kept one eye up to make sure one didn’t land on us.
Luckily for us, the night ended sans feu.
The next morning, however, Rose and I did spark one of the longest, most complicated trips between places on our entire trip. I’d written previously of a 24hr+ jaunt across islands by ferry and bus in Indonesia, which had its own surreal moments from being so tired and having nowhere comfortable to sleep en route.
We’d be more comfortable this time around, but it would rival Indonesia for its epic scale of trying to be on time to catch a connection to the next connection to get the next connection and so on.
Here’s how it went. We said goodbye to Gillian and Craig after breakfast and set off on a local bus, much like the jeepneys we’d ridden in the Philippines:
And, similar to Phillippines they were jam-packed, which meant Rose and I hung on to the back of it, looking as if we were two garbage men, with the difference that we were each carrying our own mighty backpacks weighing around 15kg each.
I’d love to share a photo, but you could probably understand our hands were a little full at the time. Mine, white knuckled hanging on to the back of a railing, while noticing that the platform I was standing on below was flopping up and down a bit like a diving board. On her side, Rose stood intentionally pinned behind a ladder to give her support while her bag sat in front of her.
In short, we were stunt tourists.
Bus 1 dropped off us of at a boulevard where we had to catch the same local style bus at a specific time, which we managed and also got indoor seating. Impressive.
From there, Bus 2 brought us to a larger bus station where we caught Bus 3 for another two hours to the nearest train.
So far so good. We caught the train, an overnight to Bangkok, which came with sheets, had good food in the restaurant car, but also unfortunately for me, had an air conditioner unit pointed directly at me on the top bunk. I put on more layers for the night, but didn’t manage to get a great sleep.
However, the better news was that we made our train connection the next morning from Bangkok to Phitsanulok – the town that brought us nearer to our last stop: Sukhothai.
The train journey went ahead without much funfare, but our arrival wasn’t quite as smooth. At the train station we had to get to a bus station to continue the leg, which meant negotiating with a tuk tuk driver for a good price and to drive as quickly as he could.
I’d previously read in travel guides that rickshaw drivers were known at this bus station to extort tourists for much higher prices than normal. And, unsurprisingly negotiations opened at three times the level price. Rose, however, had been refining her bargaining techniques throughout our entire trip, and far from shrinking away from the exchange, considered it a thrill, and another chance to subdue a worthy opponent.
After parrying back and forth, Rose agreed on a price, in enough time that we could get to the next leg: our bus station where we’d catch a bus to New Sukhothai.
In my same reading of the dubious rickshaw dealers, I spotted another blurb which said that someone would hang around the outside of the bus station, where we were next headed, saying: “SUKHOTHAI follow me!”, which would trick tourists into taking a private bus that was much more expensive than the local one.
Exiting out our rickshaw at the bus station, sure enough, I heard the siren call: “SUKHOTHAI! SUKHOTHAI!”
Impressed with myself for being armed with this inside information that would repel me from his spell, I shouted back at him: “NO! NO!”, and walked around the station, feverishly looking for the Sukhothai stand.
This same man followed my every step. “SUKHOTHAI over there!”, he pointed. Again feeling proud of myself I barked more loudly: “NO! NO!”.
I spun around like a top for a few minutes walking around looking for the signboard at the ticket counter. All the while the man was on my heel saying the same thing, pointing in the same direction, while I instinctively kept shouting “NOOOOO”
It was beginning to look like we were in an Opera. Me rebuffing the advances of a suitor again and again with an impassioned stance.
Then reality. After feeling worn down by this man’s insistence, I finally glanced the direction he was pointing.
SUKHOTHAI, read the ticket counter.
“Oh fuck”, I said in my mind.
I looked over at the man sheepishly, said: “Thanks. That’s great” to which he must have thought I was the deafest man he’d met.
We got on the bus for another two hour haul, before being dropped off at another bus station where we had to connect with yet another guess what.
Again we were encouraged by drivers in the parking lot to take a private bus for 4 times as much as a local bus. After I chatted with other locals, they steered us in the direction of a local bus, which was good timing, as the rain started and we thankfully stood inside while new passengers would get on dripping from head to toe.
Eventually we got off this one, and caught a final tuk tuk to our guesthouse, arriving at our final spot: Old Sukhothai, the earliest seat of the Thai empire in the 13th Century – where we promptly dropped our bags and ourselves into a deep sleep.
If it were an equation, this is how it would appear:
Bus 1 + Bus 2 + Bus 3 + Tuk Tuk + Overnight train + Day train + Tuk tuk + Bus + Bus + Tuk tuk = 26 hours straight.
The following morning we’d take a breath, and slowly explore Sukhothai at a pace we could both agree on: by bicycle.
Until then, we snored.