travel

Travel Skills: What I learned from my latest trek across Thailand

I made a 30 hour trek across Thailand from the island of Koh Phangan to another island called Koh Chang. I took a tsongtao (pick up truck taxi with benches in a covered bed) to a ferry to a van to a train to a tuk tuk (three wheeler taxi with a covered bench seat behind the driver) to a van to a tsongtao to another ferry to another tsongtao. 

Like anything else, there were ups and downs, parts I liked/disliked, parts that evoked intense emotions, and interesting characters along the way.

Here are some tidbits I learned:

1. Traveling in Thailand is a bit like organized chaos. There are parts I just don’t understand. There’s a huge element of trust plus skills to make sure you get where you need to go safely and in a reasonable period of time. I never really thought of travel as a skill before!

2. Booking in advance with 12go.asia is handy. That being said, you have an online confirmation but no actual tickets. Tickets must be picked up at various offices. It’s good to give yourself plenty of time between legs of your journey to find said tickets. Don’t be afraid to go to several ticket counters and ask multiple folks where to go to obtain the tickets.

3. If you arrive early somewhere or if you’re like me and you left extra time between legs, you might be bumped to an earlier van, for example. Thai travel is all about keeping the flow. It’s flexible.

4. That being said, Thai vans (usually) don’t leave when they are scheduled to leave. They leave when they are full. I had a 4pm van that left at 3:30pm, and a 9am van that left at 8:40ish. Not much you can do about this other than make sure you find out where your scheduled van is and hang out there. This isn’t always the case, as I have had a van leave on time, but it was because my three friends and I arrived at the last minute and were the last to board.

5. Traveling by train is AWESOME! The air conditioned sleeper train rocked my world. Request a lower berth, and your seat will turn into a private nook with fresh bedding and privacy curtains. I had plenty of space to stretch out and keep my bags right in there with me. There were restrooms on each car with showers as well. Food was offered, but I didn’t try it.

6. Bring snacks or plan to fast, especially if you are vegan or vegetarian. On the train, there were no veggie options, so I was glad I had dined beforehand. Also, food options can be sketchy on your waits in between legs depending on your arrival times. I was at the station very early, and although I could see that there were normally many vendors, no one was open. Plus, smoothie stands are hit or miss; some smoothies are delightful, and others taste like ice water with a hint of fruit.

7. Just when you think you’re going to pee yourself on the van, your driver will stop for a break. Have faith and maybe learn Thai for "potty break," so you can request one in the event of an emergency, haha!

8. If renting via Airbnb, make sure you know the address of your rental, because sometimes Google Maps is not accurate! Once on Koh Chang, I waited for a tsongtao thinking I needed to go to Long Beach, as indicated by the Google Maps link on Airbnb. I had to wait an extra hour for a taxi headed to that side of the island, only to find that driver unwilling to take me all the way there. With some convincing, he took me there after dropping off everyone else. We arrived in the general area, and I called the hostess to ask for directions. Apparently, the place was on Lonely Beach, not Long Beach. We had to drive around the island again in the rain, and the whole trip, which ordinarily would cost 100 baht and take 30 minutes, took at least two and a half hours and cost 800 baht.

9. Make sure you have plenty of cash in the correct currency. I didn’t imagine my taxi would be over 500 baht, which is all I had. The place the ferry lands doesn’t have anywhere to exchange money. Sometimes exchange places are everywhere, and other times they aren’t! Fortunately, a European man on the tsongtao exchanged money with me, so I had enough to pay the driver.

I feel like I am becoming quite the savvy traveler these days. I am learning to let go and relax. I can only plan so much, and the rest just comes together.

This is a metaphor for anything in life. Plan what you can, and let go of the rest. Things will work out. They always do.

I lost sight of this momentarily while in the last taxi. I felt myself escalate into stress mode, really fearful that I would be stranded and unable to get to my accommodations.

One thing I would suggest is that if you are in a sketchy tsongtao situation, ask to sit up front. Obviously, feel this out. I had a feeling it was going to rain, and it did. It’s much nicer to be dry in the cab than to get soaked (as I had earlier in the day!).

Plus, in a situation like mine, the driver could have easily said he wouldn’t take me to my correct destination. By sitting with him and connecting, I encouraged him to do me a favor. Granted, I paid him for it.

In the end, I got to where I needed to go. The right currency came to me. I was safe and sound, if not weary and rattled. The universe/God/the cosmos/source has our backs, truly.

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