We quickly got onto the Phuket Express Bus, a seat up front, near the door, on the right side.
Our fellow passengers began to load up, a variety of northern Europeans, mostly backpackers, a minimum of locals, mostly carrying large bags and/or boxes of varying size, none smaller than a 20″ TV set…
With all bags packed, the full bus, not a seat left empty, the driver appeared with all the elegance and aplomb of a big fat general from Nicaragua.
He sat in the large drivers seat, slightly to the right, a 2′ boom box in front of the steering wheel, partially obstructing the view, but only slightly, setting on the elaborately painted and properly ornamented dash.
He shut the door and pulled out of the main terminal at break-neck-speed[bns], obviously he’d trained well at the same driving academy as the taxi driver from the airport and ALL samlor[a 4 wheeled mini vehicle]/tuktuk[a 3 wheeled motorcycle type vehicle] drivers!
The scenic tour of Southern Thailand was rolling by..at about 80mph, could a bus really motivate at speeds over 120kph? This one DID!
The huge Mercedes, honk honking the prescribed 10times per minute, which didn’t let up the entire 10hrs run, soon commanded the respect of all in front of it, the locals however needed to make death defying sudden dashes within seconds of eternity, but, all made it to the safety of the other side of the street, usually to just stand there and wait for another fast moving vehicle, hopefully a similar sized bus or large truck to once again see what was on the other side of the street, of course…at the last second.
This death-wish mantra played over and over before my startled eyes the rest of the journey. I prayed for each soul that made the last second jump in front of the massive bus, my prayers were answered, but inside, I wondered if this was in fact their real intention.
The scenic journey was helped, somewhat by the extremely loud music coming from the ghetto blaster on the bus dash, blaring out the King Of Rock N Roll at about 100 decibels, the happy driver continued to honk and swerve the mighty bus at will.
Several hours later, the bus made the first of it’s many stops along the road to unload passengers, baggage, but mostly to resupply our Northern European friends with Singha[Thai beer], Mekhong[Thai whiskey] or, in Pattys case, noodles.
I knew if I left the bus, moving at a snails pace, I would stand little chance of returning as my beloved would be moving down the road at 80mph into oblivion, I never left my seat that night, except once when I ventured back, stepping lightly over inebriated limbs to the rear hognam.
It was evident the happy imbibers were mostly passed out by midnight…
As darkness quickly overtook all, the “scenic” part of the journey ended, hmmmm, I would see nothing until the sun arose in 6hrs…
Along about 1AM, Elvis began to sing rather lazily, the batteries in the ghetto blaster slowly, sadly winding down to a mere slur of the King Of Rock N Rolls voice, it must have been the fat Elvis.
Mercively, the music completely stopped around 3AM, I actually fell asleep for 30minutes, leaving the health and safety of those on board, entirely to the driver, keeping Pattys head balanced on my shoulder still, the noodles had taken effect on her around 11PM….
After nodding off, I knew as long as I stayed awake, I could save her and ALL the passengers and cargo on the bus, when the driver passed out and ran off the road…
The sunlight squeaked thru the jungle around 5:30AM, I could now see various small villages, the passing Pagoda, and then over the Sarasan[?]bridge onto Phuket Island.
A few of the passengers were waiting in queue by the entrance of the hognam,but now, thoroughly clogged and when the door opened, it put the humble durian to shame.
We swerved into the Phuket bus terminal and screeched to a halt with-in a meter of the next bus.
Our front seats afforded us a quick exit[escape], as the mostly drowsy, hung over Northern European travelers bumped and jostled to figure out first, where they were, second, where the hognam was, and lastly, how to disembark carrying each other and baggage,etc.
Once outside the bus, a hoard of samlor drivers surrounded us, each with MANY colored pamphlets and brochures showing off the island delights to be offered.
We were particularly entranced with the pix of Ao Patong, Patong Beach, a sunny, horseshoe shaped perfect bay, it looked like the South Pacific, with its coconut groves to the sea, small rice paddy behind the very few bungalows and the tall green covered rubber tree’d mountains on 3 sides.
The blue Andaman Sea called us!
We loaded my wheelchair and one large suitcase in the samlor, the friendly driver peeling rubber as he broad slide around a few buses, many pedestrians and those vile slower moving vehicles, tuktuks, bicyclist,etc all the while honking his horn to let all know that we have divine right to road and they shouldn’t empead our progress to Ao Patong!
Downtown Phuket town was rather busy, but the driver made easy headway through the throngs and traffic, the flat part of town easy work for his great skills at BNS.
The countryside suddenly went from almost flat terrain to San Francisco-steep hills, actually more like small mountains. The over loaded and extremely under powered samlor still instilled on his superiority of the highway, honking lesser vehicles, those walking, to either go faster or get out of the way!
Our skilled driver finally made it to the crest of the first steep hill, turned back towards us, a wise smile on his face, as he turned OFF the engine, saying something like “save gasoline” as the 3 wheeled cart kamikazed down the steep hill towards certain disaster!
We held on, as he swerved and twisted the samlor, dodging the various slower vehicles or walkers, or those that used their brakes or gears to slow the decent.
At the bottom, he quickly clicked the engine back on, powering up, never missing a shift as we slowly slogged up an even steeper hill this time.
Once again at the crest of the 2nd hill, he again turned off the engine and slide down at an even faster pace than the first hill!
He must have had the samlor go over 50mph as he pointed to the burnt out bus in the ditch on the side of the road, the jungle slowly taking over what remained, saying “that one not so good” and laughing madly as we screamed like schoolgirls on a roller coaster…
Bottoming out, he again switched the engine back on for an even steeper hill ahead. We went so slow up that hill, I knew I could go faster in my wheelchair.
At the top of the hill, we could see a quick glimpse of paradise beyond. The blue Andaman Sea and the green coconut groves. We dare not exhale too quickly though, because he again switched off the engine, this last hill was the steepest yet, it seemed a mountain goat might balk at the edge, but our driver steered us onward and over the precipice , as the wind blew through our hair, we could see a 90 degree hairpin turn just ahead, he finally used his brakes, just enough that only 2 of the 3 screeching wheels were needed to coast around the bend, down below straight for the Wat.
At the Wat, the driver let go of the steering apparatus, Wai’d, and then clicked the engine back on as he slid us to the right quickly and towards a straight FLAT road ahead. We could see, thru the thick palm grove, the blue of the awaiting Andaman Sea!
Our first bungalow, by the stagnant and mosquito infested pond, just didn’t seem to have that charm we were looking for, the next bungalow just a few hundred meters south along Patong Beach was somewhat nicer, a lot cleaner, full of happy Scandinavians, all with the 1 liter Singhas safely in hand, we asked for a bungalow with screens on the windows, air conditioning and hot water showers, they were still laughing as we drove yet another 100 meters to Valentine Bungalow.
The small Chinaman, Mr Singh properly informed us that there were NO air conditioned bungalows on Patong Beach, or ANY other beach in Phuket and hot water showers could be had at the big, expensive[500baht a day]Patong Beach Hotel we’d passed a few clicks back or the ultra fancy Pearl Hotel in Phuket town.
But, there were screens on the windows, we took it immediately.
There were two rates, not counting the “local” rate which we didn’t know about then: Short time rate: 50 baht per day, Long Stay rate: a stay of 30 days @ 30 baht per day. We took the long term rate!
We paid the driver, Mr Singh paid the driver, then we moseyed over to the little open air cafe next to the bungalow, bought the driver a beer, we had a delicious GreenSpot, Patty some noodles, and we gave the driver a pack of Gringo cigarettes.
Looking out at the blue sea, we were overjoyed to be alive and in such a beautiful place, we were even happier to be out of the samlor!
to be continued…