Night Bus to Krabi

April 6, 2007

This was written several days ago, yet went unposted because internet access in Railay costs $5/hour (!!!!) and the internet cafes wouldn’t allow me to hook up Shin’s laptop to one of their cables. Retyping it would have cost me the same amount of money as one night’s stay in a 5-star hotel. Apologies for the delay.

railay-beach.jpgYesterday, we arrived in the paradise that is Railay, on Thailand’s west coast. Famous for limestone cliffs that plunge directly into the lapis-lazuli bays, Railay attracts both vacationing European families (I’ve never seen so many blonde, sunburned people wearing speedos in one place in all my life, and I’m from Miami so that says a lot) and hardcore rock-climbers, with their dreads and funky sneakers. Of course, there are the backpackers, too, but it seems we’re outnumbered here. We’re staying on Railay East, at the Railay Cabana, in a jungle-esque clearing at the base of the rocks, making this stay feel very secluded and primitive, save for the croons of Bob Marley wafting over from the bar next door.

Getting to Railay was no easy feat. It involved taking a dreaded 16-hour night bus from Khao San Road in Bangkok. Total driving time was actually 12 hours, but in true Thailand-style, we did a lot of waiting around.

It was our fourth haul on a night bus, and by far the most pleasant. I have learned well from many a hellish bus ride. Experience has taught me the secrets of not only getting through a long-haul night-bus ride, but also how to get at least five hours of sleep on them.

First, pick the right company. Do your research. I use Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum. In Vietnam, we used Sinh Café tours. In Thailand, we went with Olavi Tours and Travel for the bus to Krabi (the drop-off point for Railay). With both companies, we experienced no major problems, only inconveniences, which I suppose are inevitable no matter where or who you travel with (cough, United Airlines, cough, Northwest Airlines, cough, cough.)

Second, book ahead, especially if you’re traveling in peak season. Even if you’ve picked a good company, if you book a night bus three hours for departure time, that company won’t have seats left. Then, they’ll call their “friend” at an inferior company to get you on any bus. This is how I ended up suffering through the long, painful journey to Chiang Mai, back when I was a night-bus novice. I know backpackers want to be spontaneous and live in-the-moment (man), but nothing makes those virtues as unattractive as getting stuck in a seat that doesn’t recline or has a broken air-con vent.

Third, eat before departure or bring food on the bus. Of all of the bus-rides we’ve taken, day and night, when we stopped for food, it was never at mealtimes. Dinner is at midnight, lunch at 2 p.m., and breakfast? Don’t make me laugh. If you’re a snacker, bring something with you. The food at the food-stops is always expensive, usually double price. Don’t try to be healthy; there’s something about long-haul bus rides that crumbles even the steeliest of will-powers. Oreos and Pringles always taste that much better when you’re trapped in the same two-foot space for half a day.

Fourth, do use meds and other doo-dads to enhance your travel experience. Motion sickness pills, now with extra drowsiness inside! Head pillows, earplugs. Bring wet-naps or a wet face towel to freshen up. Carry your toothbrush; there’s nothing like waking up to the taste of the Oreos and pad thai that you ate for dinner the night before still on your breath. If possible, do something strenuous the day of departure so that you’re nice and ready to fall asleep at 7:30 p.m., when they always, inevitably turn off all the lights on the bus.

Lastly, your seat will directly affect the quality of sleep you get. If at all possible, ensure that you get on the bus ahead of the other passengers. In general, front seats good, back seats bad. Obviously, don’t sit in any broken seats; in fact, the moment you get in your seat, check that it’s comfortable and that it can recline, that there are no springs jabbing into your spine, that the footrest works, etc. Sit by the tires and say goodbye to your legroom. Due to some excellent strategizing, on the ride down to Krabi, we sprawled out in the bus’ prime seat: the chair right behind the door. No seats in front so we kicked our feet up onto the rail and lounged like those smug bastards you always pass in business class as you’re marching off to the cattle-car section of another crappy Northwest flight. I slept like a baby.

railay-final.jpgAnd now I’m on a beach paradise, where I’ll remain for the next two weeks, my only care in the world being how I’m going to afford all of the overpriced resorts, seafood barbeques, massages, and ice cream. Damn these European tourists, driving up the local prices. If I wanted to pay $5 to use the internet, I would have gone to Sweden.

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