I had the night ferry off Koh Tao on April 15, before I left I had dinner with my instructor friend. We went to a local place for all you can eat hot pot. Hot pot was my favorite food while teaching in China last year. Traditionally, you have a pot of soup, spicy or non-spicy, where you dump meat and veggies; once things are cooked you eat them. This hot pot was set up with a Korean barbecue style middle so you could grill things, and the soup around it to cook things. So delicious. The instructor kept calling my ferry the slave ship because I had the fan boat instead of the air conditioned boat.
In a way, she was right about the boat. It was a bunch of small mattresses squished together on the ground with fans running. We were packed in like sardines, there was enough space to lay on your back but any movement and you smacked your neighbor. I was so tired from diving in the morning and hiking up the mountain in the afternoon that I fell asleep quickly.
The ticket I bought was a joint ferry bus ticket. The ferry left at 9:00pm, arrived on the mainland at 5:00am, the bus would leave at 6:30am, and it would arrive in Khao Lak at 11:00an on April 16. The ferry arrived an hour early. There was one other girl with a bus ticket for the same bus company as me. A woman herded the two of us into the bed of her pickup and drove off with us. She dropped us off outside a little office, we waited on the sidewalk in plastic chairs. She took our tickets then drove back to the pier to wait for more people. A man in the office offered us in stand Nescafé coffee and then wanted 30 baht per cup. It was a sketchy set up, but nothing too out of the ordinary for Thailand.
The girl I was with was an Australian girl studying in New York and traveling Southeast Asia before an internship. She said you don’t meet many solo American females while traveling. She also said her advise for traveling Asia was to not trust anything anyone said. Our situation was making me nervous but I didn’t feel in danger. If anything these people were just trying to scam us and the worst thing that would happen would be I would have to pay more money to get where I wanted to go.
However, the closer it got to 6, the more this girl started to panic. When the woman came back, the girl demanded to see some id or at least something that proved this place was legitimate. The woman refused. The girl demanded her ticket back, the woman was furious. They got in an argument on the street. The woman told me to go with another person on a motorcycle to get to the bus. The girl was practically in tears begging me to stay and not leave her alone. Me, being my usual softy self, stayed with the girl.
After we walked away from the office, the girl was panicking about how we were going to get out of the town. I hailed a songtheaw, and asked the driver to take us to the bus station. If you ever want to leave an unfamiliar city in Thailand, getting to the bus station is usually your best bet. There was a woman in the back who spoke English and chatted with us a bit. The driver dropped us off at a travel agency next to the bus station. The woman in this travel agency called our bus company. She wrote down where we wanted to go in Thai on a piece of paper to show a songtheaw driver. We grabbed a songtheaw, showed the driver the paper, and he dropped us off at the office where we had come from.
The woman was not happy to see us again. She told the other girl her bus was gone but my bus was still there. She herded me into a car with my backpack. The woman and the girl were back to arguing and the girl was back to panicking. I didn’t want to miss my bus to help her again. She all of a sudden decided she wanted to go where I was going because she didn’t want to be left behind. And that was how I ended up with a travel companion. Our bus was one of the government coaches at the bus station. I’m guessing our passage was not exactly legal not exactly illegal. On the bus I talked with the girl some more, found out her name. She was traveling to some of the islands in Thailand before going to a monastery in Myanmar to take a vow of silence and meditate for ten days.
We ended up in Khao Lak at 11:00 on April 16, right when I was supposed to. I didn’t have a hostel booked or really a plan of sorts so the girl started freaking out again. A scuba instructor from Canada pointed us in the direction of Monkey Dive. It was cheaper for us to book a private room together than to book beds in one of the dorms, so we ended up sharing a room. When we checked in there was a whiteboard advertising a live aboard trip leaving the next day and discounted to within my price range. It seemed like fate so I signed up for it.
The girl and I went to lunch at a local place the Canadian scuba instructor recommended to us as having the best Thai food in town. The food was good but not the best I’ve had. We ran into another Canadian scuba instructor who has lived in Thailand for over ten years now. He was a character. He told us the Similan islands were dead and the only reason anyone goes there was because the Thai royal family owns them. He thinks the Surin islands are the best diving ever. He also said not to trust lives boards that are really cheap because the cheap ones are cheap to attract customers and the expensive a ones are the better ones. (Spoiler alert: my cheap live aboard was great. The Similan islands are dying but they aren’t dead. My dive guide said the Surin islands have awful visibility. It’s all in your opinion.)