Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Thai tourist machine

Last night saw me board the good ship Suratthani, the infamous night boat which will took me from Koh Tao to Surat Thani. I‘m in Southern Thailand until the 14th so I‘m making my way across a few of the islands before heading north to Bangkok. First stop is Koh Lanta - in the beauty stakes, if Koh Phi Phi is Gabriela Sabatini then Lanta is Martina Navratilova - which offers a chilled alternative to the supermodel vibe of Phi Phi.
There were no seats whatsoever on last night‘s little chugger, instead the floor was strewn with mattresses and your bed for the night was the number on the wall which corresponded with your mattress. I was number 39 which left me sandwiched between the monosyllabic young German couple and the two British girls whose first words were - in a very serious tone - “This is going to be fun.”
Our crossing time was about 9 hours and, remarkably, I slept right through it, almost. Something I’ve noted very quickly about this country is that when it comes to moving tourists around from A to B, Thai tourism is a fucking machine. It’s quite amazing to witness. Once you’re travelling in Thailand you very quickly become a product. On arrival at the port, scores of eager drivers hoover each tourist up and ship them off to a variety of back-street tourist agencies where everyone is checked then, quite literally, labelled - everyone gets a sticker depending on where you’re going next - and within minutes buses from all directions converge and you’re shipped off to your next destination for the next instalment of labelling to begin. Every journey involves the tiniest of route changes and alterations but they don’t screw it up. It’s quite a process and the Thais have it perfected.
Pick two obscure points within Thailand and you’ll be deposited there, wondering what the fuck just happened but happy you’re now you’re where you wanted to be.
As an example last night’s journey involved the following;
1. Taxi from agent in Koh Tao to ferry
2. Ferry from Koh Tao to Surat Thani
3. Jeep ride from ferry port to tourist agent (for packaging and labelling)
4. Coach ride from Surat Thani to Krabi tourist agent
5. Bus ride from tourist agent to minibus meeting point
6. Minibus to ferry (x 2)
7. Minibus on to tourist agent in Koh Lanta
8. Agent in Koh Lanta calls accommodation for pick-up from office
9. Product i.e. me delivered to destination via one final jeep ride
So yes, here I am in Koh Tao and it feels as if not just winter, but a nuclear winter has descended upon the island. I’m staying at a place called Lanta Emerald and it’s absolutely deserted. Adding to the dreary feel is the fact that the weather’s been shit all day - truly dreary Irish rain. The place itself is fantastic and only a tenner a night - beautiful beachside bungalows, a pool, restaurant and bar (though the barmen give you that haunted out of season thousand yard stare imploring you to order a drink which is slightly unnerving) but this place is haunted by the spirit of summer’s past and yet to come for sure. But I could care less - after 6 days of diving I came here to relax by the beach - and I’ve already discovered a restaurant across the road which serves up a quite wonderful Pad Thai (and no fucking tofu!). Home for now.

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