To Cambodia, Part 1: Phuket to Bangkok

Thai Government second-class bus at a reststop somewhere outside of Chumpon, Thailand.As a teacher in the Thai government school system, I don’t have much of a salary during the long between-term breaks (March-May is summer vacation).  Thus, I have to plan any travel very carefully and take the cheaper option whenever possible.

There are easier ways to get to Cambodia from Phuket (there may even be a direct flight soon).  But if money is tight, my method is definitely the least expensive.

There are a myriad of bus companies providing inexpensive transport from Phuket to Bangkok.  From my viewpoint, there is very little difference between the “VIP” buses and the second-class buses run by the government’s Transport Company (orange-and-white).  Yes, you might have a bit more leg room, less stops along the way, and perhaps even a free boxed meal bus is it worth paying double the fare?  All of the buses have arctic air-conditioning and tickets can be purchased in advance so you have a choice of seating (my recommendation: choose the front row in the “downstairs” section for maximum leg room and privacy).  While the VIP and most first-class buses have a restroom on board, this is a blessing in disguise as the smell infiltrates the cabin rather soon into the journey.  The second-class bus makes frequent meal and toilet breaks and usually arrive only an hour or so later than the more expensive buses.

Early morning view from my bus at Phuket's Bus Terminal No. 2.I paid 529 baht (USD$18.60) for my thirteen-hour journey.  Unfortunately, I chose a 6:30a.m. departure time and there wasn’t a motorbike taxi to be found when I stepped outside my apartment.  I walked the entire four-kilometer or so distance to Phuket’s Bus Terminal No. 2 and so was tired and sweaty by the time I boarded the bus.

Note that there are now two long-distance bus stations in Phuket with the opening (finally!) of Terminal No. 2 a year ago.  This one is near to the Super Cheap shopping center in the northern reaches of Phuket Town; construction had been completed a number of years ago but it remained empty as the local mayor held up the opening – he lived across the street and didn’t want the extra noise and traffic the station would bring.  It’s used by the long-distance bus services and most of the Surat Thani-bound minivans.  The old bus station on Phang Nga Road – a short walk from my home – is now used by buses going shorter distances i.e., to Phang Nga, Takuapa, Krabi, Trang, etc.  The famed pink buses, operated by the municipal government, transport passengers between the two stations for a mere 10 baht between the hours of 07:00-18:00.

The bus station in Phang Nga Town, Thailand.The bus left right on time (they usually do in Thailand) and made numerous stops for more passengers before we’d even left the island of Phuket.  The empty aisle seat next to me didn’t stay empty for very long!  I was a bit surprised when the bus pulled into the station at Phang Nga Town – one that I never visited during all those trips to Hat Yai a couple of years ago.

Our first meal break came around 8:30 for breakfast; don’t ask me where it was.  I usually don’t exit the bus during these meal/toilet breaks unless I really have to use the facilities.  If it is a meal stop, there is usually a large food hall with rows of tables.  One looks at the dishes of food kept in a glass case and points at one or two items which the server will spoon over a plate of rice.  The portions are very filling and cost 30-35 baht.   Most of these facilities also include a selection of package local food products, particularly the ubiquitous boxes of flavored cakes.  You often see the Thai passengers returning to the bus with bags full of these boxes.  I did the same on a couple of my trips to Hat Yai but the cakes are usually only half the size of the box and disappear fairly quickly!

One place we pulled into but weren’t allowed to get off of the bus (it was a driver-change and paperwork-check station) was a very scenic rest Old Thai police pickups parked north of Chumpon, Thailand.area called The Farm @ Khao Pho.  Through the bus windows, I observed a petting zoo with a bunch of sheep, some interesting shops, and even a line of Indian tipi’s which really looked out of place.  At any rate, it was a pleasant spot.  At another stop, a field opposite the parking lot contained hundreds of the old-style Thai police pickup trucks.  I think the entire nation is modernizing their police vehicles so these are sold at very discounted rates.

We approached the outer regions of Bangkok while it was still daylight and I thought we would arrive much earlier than the scheduled 20:00.  I had a great view of fishing boats when we crossed the southern reaches of the Chao Praya river near it’s mouth.  Now, the bus system is set up where all buses coming from south of Bangkok arrive at the Southern Bus Terminal (on the western side of the river, a fair distance from downtown) and buses arriving from the northern regions stop at Mo Chit which is near Don Muang Airport in the northern reaches of the city.  When the conductor asked passengers their ultimate destination, a fair number said “Sai Tai Mai” (meaning Southern Bus Terminal) and I was surprised to hear a few say “Mo Chit”.

I was amazed when we actually arrived in Bangkok in the southwest reaches and traveled all the way to the great Rama 2 Bridge and cross that without ever stopping at the Southern Bus Terminal.  So much for being early!  I thought that, perhaps, the driver was going to stop at Mo Chit first before going back across the Chao Praya to deposit the majority of the passengers.  Well, we soon hit one of the massive traffic jams that Bangkok is infamous for.  It got so bad that gangs of motorbike taxi drivers were walking amongst the stalled cars and buses trying to pick up fares.  A fair number of our bus’s passengers accepted rides from them.  By the time we arrived at Mo Chit, everyone else disembarked – all but myself and one young Thai lady.  The bus driver seemed rather angry that we insisted on his taking us back the way we’d come already.  The young lady got off the bus somewhere in Thonburi and then it seemed like they were very eager to be rid of me as well.  The bus stopped in front of a Central World department store in an area wholly unfamiliar to me and I was told to go.  Luckily, I did see a taxi stand and knew that this was my best shot.  It was about 21:30 by this time and I just wanted to get to the train station for the next portion of my journey.

The metered taxi to Hualamphong Railway Station cost just 97 baht.  I wish the taxis in Phuket were that cheap!

My “adventures” at Hualamphong and beyond will be covered in my next blog article…

Finally! Hualamphong Railway Station, Bangkok.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013
Bus Ticket (Phuket to Bangkok): 529 baht/USD $18.61
Taxi Fare (Central World Thonburi to Hualamphong): 97 baht/USD $3.41
Spicy Chicken & Rice with Small Coke (@KFC): 79 baht/USD $2.78
Total Spent: 705 Thai baht/USD $24.81


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