After three weeks in Malaysia, we’re going overland to Thailand. We leave early, hoping to save some money by taking the local bus. At the bus station we find out there is no direct connection to the border and a ticket-seller urges us to take a comfortable minibus directly to Hat Yai in Thailand. Despite the advice, Marcin decides to take the bus anyway and change in Kangar, lured by the potentially lower fare. We get some of the last remaining seats on the bus, at the rear, and are catapulted into the air a few times, when the bus goes too quickly over bumps on the road. It starts to rain while we’re still in Malaysia. When we reach Kangar, it turns out we’ll have to wait a few hours, since the schedules are not correlated. We decide to eat something and have thin soup at a local bar. The seller praises the food: “very cheap!”
The rain keeps pouring down when we are crossing the border. Thailand aka “land of smiles”, greets us with grim and unfriendly faces. Marcin disappears trying to change some money and I get left opposite the bus stop, watching the rain. At that point I realize how pleasant and friendly were the people we’ve met during our two months of journey, especially Indonesians.
We reach Hat Yai, a large city in the predominantly Muslim deep south of Thailand. The rain keeps pouring and we get suckered again into an over-priced tuk-tuk ride. The next day we will pay half for the same ride. We’re really tired and we loose each other while shopping for some essentials. The attempt to save a few dollars was not worth the twelve-hour-long journey and the stress of getting lost.
When I look at the guide to southern Thailand the whole place seems made up of tourist resorts and cities connecting the different destinations. It does not look enticing at all. But I want to explore the local culture and cuisine, so I don’t give up. From the “catalogue” we choose a tiny island called Bulon Leh. Not fully deterred by yesterday’s difficulties we try to buy tickets for the local bus, but give up quickly since the connection described in our guide does not exist and the guy in the information office gets upset when we keep asking for details.
It’s still raining when we get on the minibus to Pak Bara, a town connecting the land with the nearby islands, the most popular destination being Koh Lipe. While waiting for our boat to Bulon, we buy a bunch of fruit, water and beer, fearing the prices on the island. And rightly so. After we’ve already paid for the boat tickets, we start to wonder what’s the point of going to an island, when it’s been raining and there are no signs of letting up.
The island has no pier, so our speedboat anchors at a sheltered bay and we change to a small taxi-boat. The little boat plies the rough seas while rain and wind hit us with moderate fury and the waves splash salty water in our faces. We reach land completely wet, but happy.
Bulon is green and quiet. Apart from tourists, it’s inhabited by Chao Leh or Chow Lair (“people of the sea”), or the sea gypsies. These people traditionally live on islands off the west coast of Burma and Thailand. Chow Lair used to be nomadic, sailing from island to island, but now most have settled but still fish to make a living. Our host, a lovely half Chow Lair lady, operates a homestay consisting of small wooden huts and a restaurant that serves delicious home-made meals.
There is no electricity on the island and the power generators at our lodging were turned from 6 pm till midnight. Together with the continuing rain, it meant we would spend our time reading and trying various dishes. An unexpected entertainment in the form of a half-meter long lizard living under our roof was only partially welcome. Short dry spells gave us an opportunity to stroll around the island and visit the beautiful beach.
While laying in the bed and listening to the sounds of a rain storm, we wondered about the impact the masses of tourists have on Thailand. We think it’s worthwhile, if possible, to steer clear of international hotels and choose a local, family-operated guesthouse and eat at a local restaurant. The conditions won’t be necessarily bad and the money will stay around, instead of ending up in investors’ pockets.
Right before we leave, the skies clear up as if Bulon nevertheless wanted to show off its beautiful blue and turquoise colors.