Thailand’s Generosity Getting To Phuket

I woke in the morning still at Pad’s place, my first couch surfing host in Thailand. We had a big breakfast with chicken, veggies, rice, fish, spicy noodles, watermelon - Thailand takes it’s food seriously.

A scooter ride later and I was on my own again, thanking another generous and knowledgeable host and walking along another road, backpack on back and thumb in the air, Phuket was my next destination.

The confusion of Thailand hitchhiking set in right away, a mix of the drivers and passerbys being unfamiliar with the practice, the lack of a common verbal language to clear up this unfamiliarity and the relentless generous nature of those trying to make it right.

First a scooter ride, holding on tight and wrenching my back, something I was already getting used to and knew there was more of to come, but I was getting better at staying comfortable, or at least making it so mentally. The scooter dropped me at a bus stop, of course, assuming this is what I was aiming for. Confusion rolled onto his face as I walked on, thanking him an assuring glance that I knew what I was doing and still appreciated the lift, there was no bus for me, or so I figured.

Another guy stopped, this time in a car, two one-way dialogues ensued until I just hopped into the car, this seemed like the best option. More talk of buses as far as I could interpret. I kept saying I was heading to Phuket, so people kept pointing me to the station instead of the road ahead.

The ride didn’t go far and I kept walking. Another woman on the street pointed me to the bus station unprovoked. Another scooter ride with the same confusion. A taxi rolls by, I tell him I’m going to Phuket as a way to say, “No I don’t need a ride because I’m going much further than around whatever town I’m in now”, he shouts a price at me anyway, I turn it down, more walking.

I got a ride shortly after, a quiet guy, primarily because once again our languages didn’t match. Sure enough, a town or so later we were pulling into the bus station and this time he handed me some money and seemed fairly insistent and dropped me off. I went inside the station, the money wasn’t enough to cover the ticket and the bus wasn’t leaving for a while anyhow. Food money, maybe beer money, pocket money for now and I kept walking.

I walked through and around the town, stopping at a convenience store for some water, so it was water money as it turned out, happy to speak to some people who spoke English and were curious about my adventure. We chatted a bit and I continued on, energized and confident I was still on the right road and so forth.

Walking my ways out of town I was waved down by a guy who was accompanied by a couple women and a couple girls around my age, all Thai. The girls spoke the best English, they too were curious where I was heading. They offered me water, juice and some snacks and we chatted a bit. I did my best to explain hitchhiking, that I was going to Phuket and coming from Phatthalung and previously Malaysia and Singapore and so on. I couldn’t get more than a few sentences out without being offered another snack, another beverage.

They were asking where I was going in Phuket, where I was staying, explaining Couch Surfing was not the easiest task, but they wanted to know my “friend’s” phone number, perhaps hoping they spoke Thai and could translate, I don’t know. I gave it to them, but the number didn’t go through, which wasn’t a good sign in general, luckily I knew their address already.

One of the girls worked for the bus in some capacity and knew it was on it’s way. Next thing I knew I wasn’t only being shoved pie and crackers, but more Thai baht money and a briefing on the bus I was about to catch. Relatives came out of the woodwork to say hi, hand me a few baht bills or just smile, then in the whirlwind of generosity the bus came, stopped right there and I was on it, waving out the window to my short lived friends and heading for Phuket which was still some hours away.

I arrived at dark, the city was a buzz. Instantly off the bus I had scooter taxis and the like telling me prices, asking where I was going. The price kept lowering as I kept declining, eventually walking away and still hearing shouts of lower offers. I always prefer to walk, money is better spent on food and beer, and even after being handed bills before the bus ride, I still didn’t have all that much to work with.

As I kept walking through the city, I realized I had quite a bit of miles to cover actually, with it getting later I just hoped the girls would still be awake when I arrived, my hosts in town. Another couple scooters saw me and my beacon of a backpack, I told them where I was going simply because they asked, but told them I was happily walking, “But that’s so far!”, the guy said, almost worried, confused.

“I know.”, I said with a smile, that’s all there was to say. More walking and another couple guys on scooter taxis again, it was relentless. I explained to them again that my money was low and my tolerance for walking was high, essentially, but this particular couple guys wouldn’t let it go. I said I’d only be able to afford about 20 baht (they were asking for 300) as a way of assuring them I had no cash and hoped they’d let me be, but they actually looked at each other and said “OK”.

I was locked in now, so I hopped on back and buzzed the extra miles holding on tightly again, the balancing act scooter pain was countered by realizing just how far I would of had to walk if not for the ride, it ended up being quite a ways. At last he pulled over, I was happy as hell, only blocks away from the girls’ house and off the damn scooter alive. I started reaching in my pocket and counting out coins, but the driver shook his head, “No money, welcome to Phuket.”, he smiled and hopped back on his scooter and cruised off.

I walked down the block and paused at a corner trying to get my bearings, the directions to their house were somewhat vague and the roads loopy, but I knew I was very close. A group in a cafe saw me pondering and asked where I was heading, I said the name of the complex and they knew it. The one guy who spoke English gave me yet another scooter ride, all of four or five helpful blocks, and I was there. Another person to thank, then I was knocking on my hosts’ door.

Inside I met the two girls, both English teachers living here in Phuket. They were currently playing with flash cards trying to learn to speak Thai. It always interested me that all over the world there’s people teaching English without knowing the native language of the people (usually kids) that they’re teaching.

I was happy to be there, happy to take a shower, see smiling faces, reflect on the day’s generous characters and the path along the way, soundly I slept on another one of the world’s couches.

The next day I began my exploring, walking into town along the strip, getting rice and donuts along the way. I walked main strip until a side street called for me, massage parlours and food spots along the way. I had directions scribbled down that one of the girls had given me suggesting a good beach to see. I followed those until I got to the main beach which I went to first, sitting in a lounge chair that I was quickly shooed away from, apparently it cost money to sit in those chairs.

No matter, I was off to the “secret beach”, her directions lead me through a hotel tunnel car port and around the cliffs and another bend then down a hill until I found it, my own personal patch of sand and surf to splash around in for a while.

A local bus ride got me back towards the house without repeating the days stroll that had gotten me to the beach, nearby I found some red curry to keep my taste buds and belly happy. At the house another guest had arrived, we got some beer and soon the four of us were heading out.

We landed in a bar with some of their friends, pad thai and beer. Afterwards there was a party, mostly (or maybe all) English teachers at one of their houses. Everyone had a story, they were from one country or another and had just started teaching or had made a life of it for the past decade teaching here, there and everywhere. Someone vomited, others danced, talked, flirted and gave advice on what to do in Phuket, other parts of Thailand, Laos, the beaches of Spain and anywhere people wanted to talk about. The lady boys in the red light district, the night they got drunk, the night they didn’t, where they were going next and where I couldn’t miss.

Passion and all the same, it was a great night, I hopped on the back of the scooter and we headed back home.

The next day I did some more wandering, then one of the one of the girls offered to let me use her scooter. I loved it, buzzing through Thailand the way it’s meant to be. Traffic lights and signs were all options, guidelines at best, this state of things made it all a bit safer in a way, attention to what was actually happening was important at all times if one wanted to stay alive. It was a buzz all and all, still getting used to the scooter and the traffic and the speed I could quickly pick up.

I zipped all around and there was a big Buddha statue up the mountain that became my goal, getting lost trying to find it by eye, still on track for the good times and loving cruising. At last I was going straight up the mountain and reached it. I enjoyed the statue in the view for a bit, then buzzed right back down, elephants every here and again off the road, perhaps with owners waiting for people asking for rides.

Later one of the girls took me around showing me where there was good fruit, noodles and other goodies, then towards the evening there was a beer run and a ride to a friends house for a “night of knowledge”. Just conversation really, throwing out moral predicaments and discussing them. I sipped some beer and chimed in when need be.

The next day the girls and I zipped those scooters to a beach further away where we lounged and splashed around for the better part of the morning and into the afternoon. The market came next, fried bananas, spring rolls, fish - Thailand was all about food for me. Cheap enough to afford for the most part and typically fried, spicy or both, this is what I love. One exception to the fried and spicy rule that the girls whipped up later - mango sticky rice - this was awesome and I’d have to find it again.

The next morning I had to be off, but not before borrowing a scooter again to get to the immigration office to finally deal with my dilemma. This being that I’d thought I was allowed 30 days in the country, however this only applies to US citizen that fly in, and I’d entered by land, which only granted me 15 days. Being that my flight was already booked out of Bangkok leaving at a time that would put me right around 20 or 25 days total, I either had to get a visa extension or jump the border and come back, so I was opting for the extension so I could keep on enjoying Thailand the full amount of time.

After this process of picture taking and form filling, waiting and nonsense of borderness - I headed to a cafe near the school and met the girls for one last coffee before setting out on foot. Another walk, another thumb to throw in the air, another adventure ahead.