This is a story of a 14 hour bus adventure over two days through central Thailand.
While in Kanchanaburi we thought it would be a bit of fun to take local transport overland to Mae Sot, rather than head back to Bangkok and get the touristy main road ‘Big Bus’. Mae Sot is on the border with Burma (Myanmar) and a bit off the beaten track so taking local buses meant that we’d be having to change quite a few times. We didn’t quite know how we’d get on or how long it would take but, that’s all part of the fun, innit?
We left Kanchanaburi at about 9am in the morning and arrived in Mae Sot at around 8:30am the following morning. Admittedly this was a teeny bit longer than we were expecting.
The first bus was a local bus to Suphanburi. The local buses are well cool. Full of character, rattles, colour, people, fans and animals (no chickens yet though – just a cat). For a couple of hours we rode along the Thai countryside with the wind in our hair, the sun on our skin and smiles on our faces. People get on and off, the conductor up and down with his little ticket/money box helping people out and chatting. Sometimes the bus stops for a while in certain places so people can get on and off to get snacks, drinks or go to the toilet. The helpful conductor was helping people buy snacks through the windows so they wouldn’t have to get out. They also seem to have to stop somewhere along the way to ‘clock in’. On this journey it was a machine attached to a wall of a small shack in the middle of the countryside. I have no idea why they do this though.
Note the high tech air conditioning on these buses; open windows and doors and fans on the ceiling.
At Suphanburi bus terminal we got off our bus and pretty much straight onto another of the same type, this time heading for a place called Nakon Sawan. This journey was about 4 hours, so we’re getting into late afternoon now. We know we’ve got another two buses after this one so at this point we’re thinking it’s probably going to be a late one. But, it doesn’t matter when you have plenty of time and no alarm to get up for. This journey was probably my favourite. The scenery was just delightful, passing through central Thailand there were mountains in the background, small villages and towns, people on bicycles, animals, children playing, street stalls selling everything you can imagine. Everything was so green; all the plants and trees so colourful and tropical, and bright flowers and colours dotted amongst them all like iced gems.
Arriving at Nakon Sawan we had a bit more choice of bus now. It was 5pm and after quite a bit of conversation with many different people telling us lots of different things, some food and a sit down away from the touts, we discovered we could either go with a company on one of the ‘Big Buses’ (air conditioned coach) or the government bus (similar kind of thing – it seemed there wasn’t a local bus to do the same journey, perhaps because it’s a bit of a longer route). After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing and a skilled bit of haggling from me, we got the ticket price down for one of the Big Buses to get into Tak at about 10pm. This journey was a bit uneventful, it was dark so there wasn’t much to see, apart from the odd town we passed through all lit up, or the odd remote places all lit up with fairy lights. We stopped after about an hour at a kind of Thailand-style service station where we got a fab hot meal (included free with the bus ticket). These service stations are a bit bizarre – they have a strange feel about them but are pretty much the same concept as back at home – somewhere to go to the toilet, buy some snacks or hot food. However, they’re not at supidly inflated prices here, you can’t buy tat and the food was some of the best I’ve had. No microwave-reheated plastic food at these places. And to get a free meal in with the already stupidly cheap bus ticket is a Billy Bargain.
We arrived at Tak at just gone 10pm. One more journey left – Tak to Mae Sot. We were a bit dismayed to find out that the next bus to Mae Sot was at 3am that night (well, the next morning). Hmm. Not quite ideal. We didn’t really relish the thought of getting to Mae Sot at about 5 in the morning and trying to find somewhere to stay. We knew there were government minibuses that ran between 6am and 7pm from Tak, so we decided to find a bench and settle down for the night. After all, 6am wasn’t that far away. You might wonder why we didn’t try to find somewhere to stay in Tak? Well, we didn’t know the place, there was nothing in my guidebook and no taxis or tuk tuks about at the time of night. It was just easier to be hobos for the night. It’s the first time I’ve spent a night like that, so that’s another thing to tick off the travelling list. Using my rucksack top pocket as a pillow (I am sure its designed that way) I managed to get a few hours kip on the hardest wooden bench, much to my surprise, in between the barking stray dogs, the toilet attendant’s untuned guitar playing (yep, he worked all night, no free pee’s for me) and the arrival of buses throughout the night.
Nick didn’t get so much sleep, but had just managed to drift off at about 5:30am when a woman came and woke him up because she wanted to sit on the end of his bench. There was a perfectly good seat nearby, but no, she wanted to sit on that bench. She was the attendant for the minibuses for Mae Sot so after giving her a few glares we bought a couple of tickets and waited on a cramped minibus until it was full. You see, over here, buses don’t always go on time, they go when they are full. So, after about a 45 minute wait, the minibus was crammed full of people and luggage and we set off for a most uncomfortable 90 minute journey to Mae Sot. I struggled to keep my eyes open but was awake to see yet more stunning scenery, and also be aware of a girl next to me hide beneath my legs and under my rucksack and plead with me not to say anything when we stopped at a control point. I’m not quite sure what these points are but it seems to be the police checking ID cards, so I’m guessing it is perhaps for illegal immigrants given that we were so close to the Thailand-Burmese border. Clearly this girl didn’t have any ID, I’m not sure what was going on but the chap didn’t spot her and we moved on again.
We arrived at about 8:30am in Mae Sot tired, stiff and uncomfortable, but having had an awesome little adventure on the buses. It’s what travel is all about. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination.