After Marilyn left Bangkok, I took an overnight bus south to Ko Pha Ngan. Joy at U-baan Guesthouse, suggested it for a nice, quiet beach getaway. Now, most people familiar with Thailand know that Ko Pha Ngan is famous (or infamous) for its monthly Full Moon parties. However, she assured me that outside of these wild and crazy days, the island was peacefully serene.
Taking her word, I took a taxi to the southern bus terminal called Sai Tai Taling Chan. It was a bit nerve wracking because there were so many booths selling bus tickets for transport all over Thailand. Joy suggested I stick with the government-run bus company as they were more reliable. The ticket I purchased was a two-in-one that covered an overnight bus from Bangkok to Donsak Pier and a ferry transfer from the pier to Ko Pha Ngan.
As the afternoon turned into early evening, it was time to find my bus. It was large and somewhat spacious given the nature of its purpose. There were a few backpacker couples on board, but most of the passengers were local. I found a seat and was quite surprised when the bus rolled out on time. I got another surprise when a staff member passed out amenity packs to all the passengers that included a blanket, some food and a bottle of water. I was getting better service here than on all the airplanes I’d flown on so far!
During the night, the bus made several stops along the way and a few people disembarked. But, more often than not, people boarded and the bus quickly filled up. It was difficult to get a good night’s sleep because of all the stop and go happening. Sometime around midnight, the bus driver stopped for a 30-minute break at a roadside stop. I took this opportunity to relieve myself at the facilities, which was an experience in itself. Squat toilets with buckets of water and ladles lined the wall, but at least there were partitions and doors separating them all. Still, the smell was horrendous!
We finally arrived at Donsak Pier as the sun rose the following morning. We got there a bit early and had to wait for the ferry to arrive. The bus driver told us to board the ferry while he drove the bus on it. I was really uneasy with this as I’d heard so many stories about bags going missing. However, what else could I do?
In the end, everything went well. Most passengers on the ferry dozed on deck as the ride was slow and uneventful. There are several companies that run fast boats between the mainland and the islands, but the joint bus and boat ticket uses Seatran Discovery. These are larger boats and take a longer time to get across the Gulf of Thailand.
Despite being nervous about traveling alone on my first overnight bus, this little adventure turned out to be just fine. Nothing along the way triggered my “uh-oh” sensors, and I think all the bad stories you hear about this route may be exaggerated. The 12-hour journey wasn’t particularly enjoyable, but it wasn’t totally bad. It’s definitely worth it as the Thai islands are absolutely amazing.