Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thai Time

      The culmination of our trip would be Thailand. Specifically, the beaches of Thailand, some of the most famous beaches in the world. In fact while we were travelling I got an email from Trip advisor, or some such traveler's web site, listing Thailand's beaches in the world's top ten.  You can imagine our anticipation- pristine white sand beaches, tourqoise blue water, all in an Earthly paradise. We were looking forward to relaxing ocean side after our conquests in Vietnam and Cambodia.
      We arrived at the tiny Siem Reap airport in high spirits. We had spend a decent amount of money to fly from this small, local airport because it was the only way to get from where we were, Northern Cambodia, to Phuket in less than 24 hours.
      When it was time to board we walked outside our gate and to a small plane decorated with the sea and fish; an indication of our ultimate destination. It was what I like to think of as an "oh shit" plane. I get motion sickness on planes; so for me, the bigger the better. Whenever I see a place of this size- the three steps leading to the door, the propellers, the shadow cast by the much larger jets next to it- I think to myself "oh, shit." I don't like these planes. I've never had a great experience on a plane this small, and they are always old. And the airline always conspires to have me sit next to the propeller which is loud and scary; the metal blades taunting me with the thought of what would happen if one of them came loose. I saw one of these propellers being safety checked once while on this trip. A man with a flashlight and a yellow vest stood on the ground and spun the propeller, shining his flashlight on the blades while doing it. In the dark. That's it. That was the extent of it. No wonder Lindsay was so concerned with flying reputable airlines while in a third world country.
      The flight was much as I expected. Turbulent but not worrisome. We had a layover in Bangkok and that's when it happened. We were no longer on the world agreed upon time table, we were on Thai time. I know, I know there has been a lot of talk about the concept of time in these blogs- it's a  mystery I can't quite explain but it fascinates me none the less. I never find extra days in New York (or as the Japanese say, "New Yolk") or wormholes which take you back in time and I certainly cannot simply ignore the clock.
      Luckily I spotted Bangkok Airlines passenger lounge which had a sign out front inviting all passengers in. It was great. There was free unlimited wifi, food and drinks. We had only 15 minutes before our flight boarded so we stocked up on popcorn and drinks and surfed the precious web one last time. When our boarding call came we started to pack up but realized it was not a boarding call, it was an announcement letting us know our flight was delayed by 10 minutes. Fine, no big deal, we got back on the web. Then an announcement came saying it was 15 minutes delayed, then 30, then 40 then 80.
      It didn't end there. When we finally got in to the Phuket airport we decided to save money by taking a mini bus to our hotel rather than a private cab. Mistake. We not only waited for the van to be filled with other passengers, we then waited for the driver to stop chatting with his friend, before we stopped at a tour place.  Then the driver drove by our hotel...I think I've told this one before.
     The next day we explored the dumpy town that is Patong Beach and made reservations for a boat tour of the islands. We had to be up at 7am for the 7:30 am pick up. At 8:30 we had the hotel's front desk receptionist call the company to inquire about the location of the bus, thinking they had forgotten us. At 8:45 we left and then drove around town picking up more passengers. We arrived at an overly crowded dock to spend another 15 minutes waiting to board.  Then follows the infamous Russian boat incident, see my other blog post "Twilight Zone".
     The next day we were leaving for the 5 hour trip from our hotel to the ferry which would take us on the hour ride to the island of Samui, and, the day was virtually the same as before. We got up early as instructed, only to wait around and then have to pick up more passengers. When we arrived at the 'transfer station' we got our stickers and waited another hour for, yet again, more passengers.  Side note- Thailand loves both transfer stations and stickers. You cannot go to anyplace directly, there is always a stop where, most often, you get a sticker placed on your shirt with some kind of secret color code. No one tells you what the sticker is for or why you need to wear it, or that it is even important at all. Don't let the nonchalance fool you, the sticker is of the utmost importance. Do not succumb to pride or embarrassment and rip it off because it is hot pink and no one else has one, or everyone else has a cool blue. You will need that sticker, my friend. Your passage depends upon it, for when you arrive at the next transfer station there is one question and one question only- "sticker?" I shudder to think what might happen to the unfortunate soul who does not have his sticker. My best guess is that you will get yet another sticker and a transport back to another transfer station where you will receive your lost sticker again; after waiting for more passengers to arrive, that is.
      We boarded a hot pink party bus by means of a staircase for the transport to the ferry station. We nicknamed this bus the pink N'Sync bus. N'Sync and other various boy bands must be popular because the driver opened the door which led to his cabin several times to listen to the music and adjust the sound.  Lindsay and I sang along to the melodious sound of Justin Timberlake's voice, reliving the summer of our mid teen years when this CD was our soundtrack, about 13 years ago. I'm fairly sure Lindsay, Francesca and I each owned a copy of this legendary and all too soon forgotten band. Another N'sync song came on. Wait, or was that Backstreet Boys?
      The ride on the hot pink N'sync bus was actually pleasant. We arrived at the ferry dock where our stickers were confiscated and we were given new, more brightly colored stickers. Then we waited. For more passengers. For an hour.
       We spent 5 days at Koh Samui so we were on our time, not Thai time. Our flight from Koh Samui to Bangkok was only delayed by 10 minutes. Our last experience with Thai time was on our final flight, from Bangkok to Tokyo. It seemed to be off to a good start. We boarded on time and then waited, on the plane, for an hour- for more passengers.  The adage my husband used to use to describe the Marine Corps is applicable to Thailand as well; "hurry up and wait." If you are planning a trip to Thailand, keep in mind nothing is ever on time, it's on Thai time.
An "oh shit" plane
The pink N'Sync bus

Door to the driver's cab

Rock'n out

Had to go with some Adele after a while

Ferry dock.  Sticker?

After nearly 12 hours of travel, Koh Samui is in sight. A total travel time of 12 hours was logged between Phuket and our final destination. 

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