A poor night's sleep isn't without its funny moments. As I mentioned, our room was warmer than the outside and a distinct lack of mosquito nets prevented me from simply throwing the balcony door open or maybe just sleeping out on it. As I tossed, turned, smashed my pillow and tried to find something that even resembled a comfortable position, I listened to the fitful snores of my travelling companion and the whir of the fan, every now and then getting a cool rush as it swept overhead. Except my travelling companion rolled over and asked if I was ok, whilst the snoring continued.
It turned out that our ceiling fan was a species similar to birds that mimic the bleeps of car alarms and instead had perfected a snore that had us both fooled. We both thought the other was asleep. Eventually sleep did come, in that close, humid way that leaves you desperate for a thunderstorm.
The ferry that would take us back to the mainland left at ten and knowing our tendency to have slow starts, the alarm went off at 7:30 and we packed in our usual way of building piles of things that eventually get dropped, crushed, pushed and twisted into a backpack. Showering off most of the night before went a long way to feeling ready to face what would be a day of travelling.
Surprisingly we are packed and ready to go on time. We check out, regaining our deposit for our key, something we hadn't come across before. The woman on duty this morning seemed surprised or put out that we were asking for it back and eventually after a bit of a show of digging through the office for the keys to the till, handed over a creased 500BHT note.
The walk towards the beach was pretty deserted. On getting to the main junction we actually walk towards one of the many people offering a taxi service and so would begin our vehicle hopping for the day, but not until after an accidental attempt to try and haggle them up on price, eh Sarah?
As always taxi in Thailand is basically synonymous with a life on whatever vehicle someone may be driving and pretty much outside of Bangkok I haven't ever seen a tidy looking cab. This time it's a pick up truck. As there's only two of us we can sit in the cab and our bags get tossed into the back. It drops us right by the pier and we see that a good chunk of Koh Tao are queuing up to leave. As we're early, this seething mass of dive school shirts, dreds and flip-flops is heading on to the next island, Koh Samui.
Our hand written slip is exchanged for tickets which we top up by 100BHT to get us to the train station in Chumphon and then we escape for breakfast. It's funny how the things we think will be the most complicated, turn out to be the most simple.
No Pad Thai this morning. We land in a café that has laminated photos everywhere of beautiful looking 'full English'. It's only after we order that I spot one photo that has a 'Shutterstock' watermark right across it. After watching Sarah put coffee creamer from a tin in to her tea, turning the half pint jug into some orange potion, then breakfast arrived. They did not resemble the pictures around us, but it wasn't bad either. Sausage in Thailand is always hot-dog sausages but otherwise, the beans were good, eggs were great and for not a lot of money. Avoiding the risk of getting too comfortable we walked back to the pier. One catamaran was making waves across the bay as ours was maneuvering back into place.
As we walk down the pier I take one last look into the waters. So clear that you can see the bottom, even with the traffic moving across the bay. We're back in the nowhere space of being at sea. The luggage is stacked to man height at the front of the boat.
As we pull into Chumphon there's the scramble for the bags and we neatly step out of the crowd and onto the pier. The water here is still azure blue, but not clear. We are ushered on to a coach and wait for it to slowly fill. It starts to pull out when a woman stands and shouts "Shhhtop, shhhtop, someone is missing!" It turns out the person she was travelling with had popped off the bus to buy some water.
It's hard to give anything a relative value in Thailand. The taxi to the pier, 400BHT, coach from Chumphon port to the station, a 45 minute ride on main roads, 100THB, a room for a night vs a meal has a similar disparity. There's a mix of people charging what they can get away with and not really sure what it should cost.
The coach to Chumphon pulls in, moments after the train ride should have left. We step off the bus and the taxi drivers are already upon us. There's one older man who is coordinating the whole show. He turns out to be very well informed. We can get into the taxi (somewhere between the size of a tuk tuk and a small pick up) that he gestures towards and it will take us to the bus station where there is one bus to PKK an hour. Our other option is to sit in a bar and get horrendously drunk before we get on a late train that would take us to PKK for about 11:30pm. Considering our love of Thai beer and the trains, you think this would be an obvious choice. Actually we took the taxi.
The driver was a little kamikaze in his driving style, generally one handed steering, the same hand being used for gear changing whilst in the other he held his mobile phone to his head. The small steering wheel seemed to mostly go where it wanted to and he was happy to let us drift almost half way across another lane before correcting our course. The mobile phone did not move the whole time.
We are dropped off at a bus station where only one coach is waiting. "That one, that one..." We wonder over and the taxi is gone before we even get to speak to the coach driver, making this a fixed onward point in our adventure. It still feels like that, every time I step out of the door in Thailand I still have no idea of quite how we'll get where we're going on what will happen along the way, but a strange sense that it'll work out, if not quite how we planned. The fact that there's usually a Thai person smiling (or laughing) at you helps reassure that you can't be too far off course and when you are, they generally step in to help you out.
Our coach has 'First Class - Air Conditioned' emblazoned on the side. After confirming how much it is for us to get to Prachuip, a whopping 120 BHT for a journey we estimate will take somewhere between 2 and 4 hours of elastic time, we get comfortable and head for the seats at the back that have the most leg room. They do however leave my legs dangling above the floor and impossible to get comfortable. Thai's are a bit shorter than me and so the headrest goes high enough to be squarely between my shoulder blades.
The first class coach appears to disintegrate around us with small bits rattling, on the edge of being pulled off by the wind as we drive north. It is a strange mix of etched glass down lighters, beige leatherette, a hacked in sound system that looked to be made up of about 6 car speaker systems and behind two recently added panels at the back, I'm pretty sure there are two domestic air conditioning units that are struggling under the strain of their new job. The speakers let out a constant low squeal and the curtains on the bus looked like they had been robbed out of a slight trendy funeral parlour. All in all it was a sight to behold.
Even the coaches have hawkers. A lady so small she can barely carry the bucket she's holding and around its handle are rice and meat combinations in sandwich bags that she cuts free from their elastic band tethers when people order them. The kilometres to PKK wind down. We pull over by the side of the road, close to where we expected to be. No they had just stopped for a chat and wave us back. About a kilometre further up the road they stop, try to offer me a different passenger's bag and eventually extract my backpack form the cavernous luggage hold.
Crossing the road, we pass through the red and gold gates into PKK. The picture of the King is so bleached by the sun that only the faintest outline of him remains. As we walk down the road, amongst the minivans collecting children, a cyclist who rides past and shouts "Where you going?" without stopping, a 4x4 stops along side us and the window comes down. Did you book using this website? Yes, we did. Then come with us. Without even asking our names, we have been recognised as the two Westerners that have booked into the resort and by chance have been collected by the hostess as she was driving back. We couldn't quite believe it. It's luckier than we are initially aware of. Thai maps need a disclaimer of "not to scale" or simply "may not represent a real place". We thought we would be much closer to the station, rather than moments from where we were.
To say this gated resort of about 12 rooms is manicured would be an understatement. Either our hostess is beating her staff or paying them really well. We are handed our key, a small plate of bananas and shown to our gleaming room. A far cry from our usual guest houses. We are the only non-Thai staying the night.
Contemplating staying here for the remainder of our stay, scrub the dust that is acquired simply from travelling here from ourselves and head towards the sea. We now realise quite how far it is from where we are staying to the sea-front and quite how deceptive the diagram map had been. The walk to the sea-front takes about thirty minutes but we are welcomed with the view of the bay, not so distant islands and the sound of the sea at dusk.
The route in brings us quite a way away from the places we know and so we turn and walk along the sea looking for dinner and future places to stay. The markets and food stalls are not yet in full swing but there's the beginning of smells of fried meat and fish, the stoking of fires and jostling for the best spots. There is now a long pier that goes out to sea. Walking its length there are runners going up and down and people clearing away after a day of fishing. In the background I can hear the sounds of a group exercise class that has been taking place with 90s club music providing the beat to the steps. It's too dark to get decent photos by the time we get to the end of the pier and so we turn and walk back.
Passing into a restaurant that we ate at on our last stay, we debate whether a good gin and tonic should make you wince a little bit and have yet more delicious Thai food. Even when the food hasn't been stunning, I have never eaten badly here. I might not have ordered the right thing on a few occasions on my last trip and now have a much greater understanding and fear of Thai Basil, but the food is always great. Sarah devours the biggest chicken salad you have even seen and my fried rice is great.
We walk further town towards Ao Ma Noh, Sarah cringing a little at the kind of places that still appeal to the backpacker in me. Eventually we are at the hotel we stayed at in our last visit and pop our heads in to check out the night rate. 700THB. Double room. Non-sea-view. About £1 more expensive than where we are staying and not a 40 minute walk away. We put a reservation down. It's not that we have to stay where we have stayed before but there's something to be said for doing things that work. Once again I am slightly gob smacked at the amount of ground we have covered over the last 9 days. This is the wind-down. Between us now is 4 nights here, what will inevitably be some crazy dash to Bangkok and by Sunday we'll be on a flight home. This hasn't been a whistle stop tour, it's been warp speed. There are worse places than PKK to stop for a few full on days of very little so that you're not left needing a holiday to get over your holiday.