Current Location: Cha-Am, Thailand
Current Weather: 90° F (feels like 107°F)
Days Gone: 5
Days Remaining: 210
I had just finished dinner and was enjoying the rest of my liter-sized bottle of Chang (a Thai beer) when I struck up a conversation with a Scottish fellow named Keith. He was surprised to discover I was from the United States, and I agreed that Americans seemed scarce. Despite being in a major backpacking hub for three days, I had yet to me a single other person from the US. He explained to me that this was because I was especially distinguished, and broke down my rarity with statistics (though no sources were cited, these estimations are probably accurate enough). Let’s say 15% of US Citizens have a passport. That number used to be 5%, but since Canada now requires a passport for entry the number jumped. From that 5%, subtract anyone who wanted a passport for Spring Break in Cancun or any other pleasure-centered respite on a white beach or cruise ship. Then from that number subtract anyone who has a passport for business reasons. Keith estimated that the remainder, those US citizens with passports for “real” travel, was about 1 in 400. He went on to say that, based on these estimations, an American traveling abroad has, by default, overcome greater odds than the same traveler from Australia or Europe where international adventures are seen as commonplace and even expected. Thus, being an American traveling abroad is not only disturbingly rare, it is also something to be proud of.
After this chance meeting, I ended up indulging in the local nightlife with some other characters around Khao San Road. Eventually I found my way back to my guest house room which was located on top of a restaurant on the main strip. It was basically just a room with a fan, but it cost a mere 200 baht ($6) per night.
As all the best dive spots and beaches are to the South, I decided to start working my way towards the Southern islands. I figured because I have time, I’d just city hop my way down. But now that I’m staying a night in the lazy (and mostly empty) coastal town of Cha-Am, I’m feeling a bit anxious to get to a locale that’s a bit more….social. I did get the opportunity to flex my old travel muscles by taking a public bus from Bangkok to Cha-Am. While private mini-buses were available for 400 baht ($12.30), I knew that a regular bus would be far cheaper. I decided that even if I broke even cost-wise, I’d at least have the added experience of getting myself to/from bus stations, acquiring a ticket, and actually boarding the bus and getting off at the right spot.
Here is how I managed to navigate the shaky world of public transportation. Only read these next four paragraphs if you are truly curious about the process, because I’m going to get technical. After packing up all my gear and making sure I had small bills available, I checked out of my guest house and flagged down the first Tuk-Tuk driver (which really means I just answered his cry of “Hey, sir, where you go?”) His original demand was 200 baht ($6) to the bus station 20 minutes away. After some debate, we agreed that he could take me to a ticketing center 5 minutes away and, if they had a ticket and a bus leaving soon, he would take me on to the bus station itself for a total charge of 50 baht ($1.60). If they didn’t have a ticket he could bring me back to Khao San and I’d pay 10 baht (30 cents).
The ticketing center was government operated and the friendly Thai working said the tickets he sold were a rip off and just to get one at the bus station for 150 baht ($4.60), and that buses left every 2 hours and were never full. Props to this guy for his honesty, it’s great when someone isn’t paid on commission. I told the Tuk-Tuk driver to head on to the bus station and off we went. I knew something was wrong when he pulled back onto Khao San. He claimed the bus station was too far so, after more debate, I just got off without paying as he broke the contract. I walked up to the next taxi (an actual car) I saw and negotiated a fare of 120 baht ($3.70) to the bus station. Some Bangkok taxis are metered and some aren’t, and as such people usually stick to the metered ones. From my airport taxi ride I knew that metered taxis ran about 100 baht per 10 minutes, so 120 baht for a ride that I knew was greater than 12 minutes was in my favor. It ended up taking about 20 minutes to get to the bus station, which was also a shopping mall.
I walked around the side to where dozens of buses were parked and searched for a ticket booth. I went up to a booth with a window and asked about a ticket to Cha-Am. A uniformed officer led me into the mall, up not one but two escalators, and past several booksellers and vendors, to a line of tons of tiny ticketing booths. I bought my ticket and wandered around the mall, noting prices about half that of the Khao San district. I also bought a small “Muslim pizza” for 60 baht ($2) that had a strange variety of toppings including corn and (I think) imitation ham. The mall also had a KFC – it’s hilarious to see international chains because the menus are spliced. I’ve seen Subway and KFC both offer slightly different versions of the normal stuff, but they also have Thai additions to the menu, like chicken and rice.
Anyway, I finally board the bus at the last second, pizza in hand, and settle in for a 3.5 hour ride. The whole ride went smooth except for a 30 minute unexplained stop in front of a massive superstore called “The Big C”. Eventually the bus stopped at a nondescript part of a main street and the driver stood up and called out “Cha-Am” a few times, so I grabbed my stuff and disembarked. Having no idea where I was, I sat down at a sidewalk table to see if my guidebook had a map. The town is so small there is no map, but there was the name of a hostel (Cha-Am Villa Beach) with AC, a pool, and wi-fi for 500 baht ($15). I asked a motorcycle transport guy if he knew where it was and he offered to take me for 30 baht ($1). He said it was 2 km away and I tried to talk him down in price but he wouldn’t budge. I folded and climbed on the back of his little 100cc bike, and off we went. So in the end, my total cost to get from Khao San Road to my final destination was 120+150+30=300 baht. So I only saved 100 baht by taking the adventurous route, but I also got to take a free Tuk-Tuk ride, learned of better Bangkok shopping prices, took a motorcycle taxi, and generally remind myself I have the ability to get around without the tourist-ready options if need be.
Shout outs for this post go to Keith of Scotland, Flo of Germany, and the four Thai girls from Chiang Mai (whose names I have forgotten, so sorry) that took me and Flo out to some crazy club in downtown Bangkok.
To my readers, I don’t know what you are particularly curious about, so leave a comment if there are things you want to hear about or things you don’t really care about. Detailed travel technicalities bore you? Let me know. Want to see pictures of crazy Thai snack food packages? Let me know. Want to hear about temples and architecture? Let me know.
Last thing consumed: Chocolate ice cream on a stick – 10 baht (30 cents)
Thought fragment: I saw a naked baby run out into the street and almost get nailed by a passing motorbike. Also, it seems common to have the shower area simply be the whole bathroom. Essentially, when you shower, you’re standing right next to the toilet and sink and water just goes everywhere. The bathroom -is- the shower.
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