Leaving Thailand – it had to happen eventually!
(Emily) All things considered, our night camping out on the floor of the service station really wasn’t too bad (that said, our standards have dropped significantly on this trip, a fact normally made apparent when we bump into other westerners!) As I mentioned in our last entry, the locals were remarkably relaxed about this unscheduled and unwanted event and were proceeding with the usual Thai spirit – remaining cheerful and helping each other out despite the fact that they may have just lost everything. Many had either elderly relatives or babies and young children with them, all of whom were frankly astonishing in the manner they were dealing with the situation even though most had already been at the station for several days . As we looked for a spot to bed down, the family groups who had already set themselves up on the floor of the disused shop front voluntarily shared out the cardboard boxes they’d found and we were even given free ‘rations’ of rice and meat by the food stall owners! We tried to say we didn’t need it but they insisted (James: Can you imagine this happening at home? If anything the price of food would go up!) I think it was quite a novelty to have three’ farang’ bikers camping out with them! For us it was all very humbling. The night air was warm enough that we didn’t need to get our sleeping bags out so we just slept in our clothes, occasionally woken by the chatter of a new coach load of people turning up to wait it out for the night. The only problem, as ever, was the mosquitoes and cockroaches (an inevitable part of life in the tropics) but once we’d moved further away from the electrical lighting, we were only bothered by the occasional winged assailant.
We were up early in the morning and noticed immediately that some of the cars were starting to leave – perhaps we’d missed an announcement that the road was open? Sadly not, it was people who’d given up and were heading back north. In the end, we decided we’d probably have to do the same after a stroll back down to the flooded road showed no change, in fact it was possibly worse after some more heavy rain in the night. Aid lorries loaded up with small plastic boats lined the road at the edge of the flooding and occasionally a huge truck, complete with snorkel, made it through from the other side, laden with cheering passengers elated to have gotten across (only the vehicles with an elevated exhaust – the aforementioned snorkel – and high road clearance could make it through the neck-high water). It would have been great if we could have got our bikes onto one of these trucks – by all the accounts the impassable stretch was several kilometres long – but aside from the fact that there was no way to mount them, there were other people who needed the transport far more than we did. So we left, having said goodbye and good luck to German Harley guy (he was on the phone to his ‘contacts’ – other Hell’s Angels - to find somewhere to stay and was getting worried about his dog – a pit-bull naturally – who was alone at his house on Koh Phi Phi, a house which may or may not still be standing…) Our vague plan was to head back in the direction of Chumphon and hopefully find a guesthouse along the way to wait it out for a few days. To say the plan was vague was an understatement – how would we know that the road had become clear when even down here at the floodzone, there was little communication about the state of it? Still, doing something was better than doing nothing, even if that something was riding in the opposite direction of Malaysia and it was now only four days before our visas were due to expire…
Just as we were getting to the tail end of the queue of traffic (which had built up considerably since yesterday when we’d arrived), James noticed an impromptu police shack that had been set up at the side of the road, all but hidden behind parked trucks, and suggested we stop to ask for an update. There didn’t seem much point to me – surely alternative routes would have been communicated to the thousands of stranded motorists – but as we pulled in, they did seem to be pinning up a makeshift map. No one spoke much English but from what we could tell, this was indeed a diversion route up through the mountains (now draining of flood waters) that 4x4s were being advised they could take in order to continue further south. One of the police officers gestured that we follow a family in their car who were just about to set off – it was all a bit of a rush, and I was still dubious as to whether we’d got the right end of the stick but James convinced me we should give it a go so off we went!
All too soon, we turned off the main highway and onto a much narrower road, overhung with trees and riddled with potholes. Convinced that we would soon be riding through mud and all sorts (after all, this route had only just reopened after being flooded itself), I turned each corner with a sense of trepidation. However, fortune was smiling on us and apart from the potholes, occasional broken surface and the odd very temporarily repaired bridge, it was a lovely route that climbed up through the green hills. The traffic was all 4x4s and occasionally it ground to a halt convincing me that there must be a really bad bit ahead, but each time we’d simply ride down to the front and find it was something we could get through. Eventually James indicated that he could see roughly where we must be on the map (up until this point, he’d been using geographical features such as hills and rivers to gauge where we were in the absence of any road signs)and we were able to find our way to a marked road running along the hills in the direction of Krabi. The road was made even lovelier by the lack of traffic; clearly not many people had either found out about this route yet or simply hadn’t made it. Slightly more painful was admitting to James that he had been right!! (James: Given the regular practice you have, I’d have thought you’d be used to it by now…..)
At one point, we’d stopped to photograph some spectacular thunder clouds that were gathering rather too close for comfort when a motorist pulled in ahead of us and he and his wife came over to say hi. Tim’s a Yorkshire man but was over in Thailand to visit his wife Lek’s family, and had spotted the foreign plates on the bikes. A biker himself, he’d done his fair share of overlanding so we had a good chat and swapped details before continuing on our respective journeys – so, Hi Tim, hope to catch up with you in Richmond at some point! It wasn’t much later that we were rather surprised to find ourselves in Krabi, a popular beach resort and gateway to many of Thailand’s island getaways; just that morning we’d expected to be spending the evening back in Chumphon waiting anxiously for the flooding to relent and possibly facing the headache of getting a new visa whereas now, here we were, under 400km from the Malaysian border with four days to spare! And, perhaps most miraculously of all, the sun was actually shining! Staff at our guesthouse confirmed that Krabi too had suffered the unseasonable rains and cold weather experienced by most of the south in recent weeks but that the forecast was set to improve… this might finally be our chance to hit the beach! It was bliss to get a shower and clean away the grime of a night on tiles (literally rather than in the fun way!) and we spent the evening relaxing (after an obligatory pad thai), enjoying a fantastic sunset from the roof of the hotel, happy hour G’n’T in hand!!
The following afternoon, after a long lie in and a sublime banana/coffee shake, we rode two up to the beach at Noppharathara (just 15km away). The tide was way out and we took our time strolling along the deserted sands, then indulged in a bit of sunbathing before, once again, watching a glorious sunset. Perfect! So perfect in fact, that we decided to stick around for one more day and this time actually moved from the guesthouse in Krabi town to some accommodation on the beach front – and why not, eh?! The ‘Blue Banyan Bungalows’ seemed suitably fitting. We were a bit on the pink side by the end of our second day on the beach (we may have been away for a year and look all ‘weathered’ but from the neck down we’re still pretty much whiter than white!) so it was just as well that our time as sun-seekers was short lived. That evening, outraged by the prices at the local bar, we bought some beers at a convenience store and sat on the beach to watch yet another stunning sunset. We both agreed it was a great way to spend our last few days in Thailand.
With our visa entering its last 24 hours, we aimed to ride to the city of Hat Yai which, at just over 300km away, would leave just a short hop to the border the following day. Unfortunately, I’d slept terribly and felt decidedly dodgy for the majority of the journey – it was a case of enduring rather than enjoying the ride. But at least the weather was great and we rode through some spectacular scenery. Hat Yai itself is a big, rather ‘grey’ town and decidedly un-Thai, with a large Chinese and Muslim population; it felt rather like we’d left the country already. It took us a while to find a hotel with secure parking and we rejected several places when confronted with rather rude proprietors (which often seems to be the way with Chinese-run businesses here) but we did have a great meal that evening which was a relief: our last repast in Thailand was a sad event indeed and it would have been gutting not to get a good farewell dinner! We were up bright and early on D-Day; we were already cutting it fine to be leaving it until the last day of our visa so didn’t want to push our luck and invite any unforeseen delays by being too cavalier. That said, I’m sure a visa-overstay wouldn’t be quite the same disaster it had been in Uzbekistan (when, you might recall, we were put under house arrest…) We road south west towards the border under a really hot sun, but were periodically cooled by an incredibly black storm cloud that sat above us almost perfectly dissecting our route, allowing the sun to shine on one side of the road whilst drenching the other! All too soon we were at the border post and having to say good bye to Thailand for good. It’s fair to say, we were really sad to be leaving after all this time (surely we qualify for residency by now?!) but knew we’d be back some day…