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Day 20 – Barely Sentient Luggage (The Delights of Gringo Travel)

March 23, 2010

Dateline: The road from Krabitown to Khao Lak, Thailand, Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I know what luggage feels like. It feels very confused.

Thailand has a system. They get so many non-Thai tourists that they’ve figured out a way to ship them efficiently from place to place. It works like this.

Yesterday, I booked a ticket through a tour company for my trip from Railay (rock climbing Mecca) north to Khao Lak (scuba divers’ paradise). As with most tour companies, this one gave me a receipt and a colored sticker with the tour company’s name on it.

This morning, I showed up in front of Bamboo Bar, a local open-air dive that sits next to the water at Railay East. I put on my little green sticker and stood with all the other travelers. A Thai boat driver found me and told me to wait. For the next 30 minutes, I amused myself by watching a Muay Thai lesson taking place in the mini boxing ring set up on Bamboo Bar’s floor. A blond girl and a local girl practiced hitting an instructor’s hand. It’s as exciting as it sounds but with more sun and humidity.

In time, another Thai boatman came around staring at the stickers on our chests and waved about 20 of us towards the boat. We loaded up and hiked through about 100 yards of sea water, mud, and waves. It was low tide. It always seems to be low tide on Railay East.

After hauling ourselves over the side and into the boat, we headed out for a short ride to Krabitown. When we got to the “pier” (more wading and mud), we made our way to a small bus terminal on the water. The trip is easy enough with a backpack. I felt sorry for two old couples and their rolly luggage. None of the backpackers felt sorry enough to help, though. Our packs were still heavy and the sun was still out. Plus, they were grown up enough to live with their decision to pack D&G luggage like they were traveling to Paris for fashion week.

Once at the pier another set of Thai people called out destinations and looked at our chest stickers. They directed us with broken English and hand gestures.

Now, I’ve been in Thailand for a while and have gotten quite used to having no idea what anyone is saying. Everyone who’s not a Brit, an Aussie, or a Yank speaks something besides English. I’ve learned to zone out and let the yammering of Russian, German, Italian, Swiss, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, and Thai wash over me. Everyone, however, speaks English with varying levels of skill.

When people do get around to speaking my language, I find it entertaining. It’s real life drama when a Japanese man tries to ask a Thai hotel worker where he can buy a SIM card for his phone. There are a lot of hand gestures and words that are intended to be English. I can only imagine what it’s like to ask a store clerk for condoms.

This tension is ramped up at these transportation interchanges because nobody wants to be left behind or misplace a bag.

That’s where the genius of the stickers comes in. The Thais treated us like barely sentient luggage. They asked, “Where?” to establish destination and “How many?” to try to figure out how to split up groups between buses. The whole time they’d match our travel company stickers to a list that each holds that presumably tells them which travel company was shipping what to where. Then they’d count and recount to make sure they hadn’t left a human package behind.

When we did finally get on our mini buses everyone settled in for a long ride. Wrong. After 10 minutes, the Thais unloaded us at an open air restaurant that acted as a bus depot. There was a lot of confusion as people again tried to make sure they and their luggage did not get misplaced. Thai people took our receipts and slapped us with another tag that stated our destination. Then we sat and waited.

It was fun watching other buses pull in and seeing the confused farang passengers. A couple girls even stumbled out with sleep pillows, which got the Thai baggage handlers laughing. “They thought it was going to be a long ride. Silly cargo.”

When it was time to leave, I kept getting shuffled between three different buses. Each time I was turned away because my backpack and I wouldn’t fit. I got asked 100 times, “Where? How many?” accompanied by a long stare at my chest. It’s awkward and I don’t even have boobs.

My luggage ended up on the roof of a white van. I ended up inside next to a guy I went deep water solo with. He’s from Spain and had acquired a tall Danish girl as a companion. Everyone on the bus is going diving.

We were crammed four to a seat. I asked the Russian girl next to me if she needed more room. She said she was fine. A couple days ago she was on a bus that was overfilled. Apparently that was much worse. I have no idea where else they’d fit on this bus. Perhaps they hung them from the roof or chopped them into smaller pieces.

The next two and a half hours were a mild version of road travel in Asia. Some honking horns, two perilous passes, and a partridge in a pear tree. Nothing I won’t get 50 more times this trip.

When we hit Khao Lak, the driver repeatedly asked us, “Where you go?” Spanish guy didn’t know the name of his dive shop, only the name of the person he’d called. He asked a lady who greeted the van whether she knew Glinda. It didn’t work.

In time, we all got dropped off somewhere, hopefully close to where we wanted to be. They’ve managed to get all of us to Khao Lak (so they tell us). That’s better than some airlines, I guess.


Stupid Travel Tip of the Day: If you forget the name of your dive shop, be sure you bring along a Danish person who remembers the phone number so you can call for directions.

Not So Stupid Tip: Be prepared for some chaos when traveling. Just chill and go with the flow. So long as you’re not being taken down a dark alley in the middle of the night, you should be fine. When in doubt, follow my rule of thumb: Follow the White people. If nothing else, you won’t die alone.

Bring along a little water and a salty snack. Alternate between the water and the snack to keep you comfortable. Thirsty? Sip a little water. Hungry? Nibble on the snack. Need to go to the bathroom but have no way of discreetly signaling to the drive from way in the back that you’d rather not relive that ‘80 trip to Yellowstone? Wolf down the snack, cross your legs, and quit sipping so much water.

Programming Note: Today, I booked a four-day liveaboard in the Similan Islands. It leaves tomorrow night at 8:30 p.m. As the brochure for this place says, this trip is “all about sleeping, diving, eating, diving, relaxing, diving, and sunbathing.” I intend to do all but the sunbathing. I will eat more to make up for it.

That means, unfortunately, I won’t have access to the internet. Luckily there are lots of old posts and pictures for you to peruse. Take this time to formulate inflammatory comments and write critical e-mails. It’ll give me something to do when I get back.

In the meantime, just because I don’t post doesn’t mean I’m dead or have been kidnapped and sold to a brothel specializing in awkward Asian males. It just means I’m on a boat.

If I don’t post something by the 29th, you can start to worry about me. Please, though, don’t call in the National Guard until the 31st. Give me a day or two to figure out whether I enjoy sexual slavery.

I hope to post at least once more tomorrow. If I’m unable to, I’ll catch you on the other side with a piece about one of my favorite things about traveling: new snacks.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan permalink
    March 30, 2010 5:40 pm

    I guess you ARE enjoying the brothel life. Good for you! It’s good to consider all careers options, especially in this economy. Rock on.

    • March 30, 2010 5:43 pm

      I am not in a brothel, so far as I can tell. I am in a dorm room in Penang, though which can feel like a brothel apart from the lack of sex and beautiful people.

      Posts regarding snacks and travel should be forthcoming later today (your time). Posts regarding diving will come all at once at a later time.

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