Overland journeys and stories of the trials and tribulations that they ensue are ten a penny in SE Asia, however, Rich and I managed to complete our trip with no major dramas. Throughout our journey, we seemed to unintentionally work our way up in terms of the length and intensity of our overland trips. From 4 hour bus rides to 12 hours on the train to 6 hours on a bus to 10 in a mini van, this trend culminated with the ultimate overland journey – Koh Tao, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. That’s roughly 1,200km by overnight ferry, mini bus and big bus and took a grand total of 26 hours. Non stop. While I have done further journeys (Chicago, Illinois to Manchester, Tennessee and Orlando, Florida) it sure was far, especially with the lack of standards of comfort that pass in that part of the world.
The journey got off to a terrible start. We had a taxi booked (included in the price of our journey) to take us from the hotel to the ferry port. As this was not booked until 8pm we spent the day swimming in the sea and relaxing on the beach. It was only after we were both crispy with salt that we found out the outside shower didn’t work. Knowing how uncomfortable I’d be, 26 hours later if I didn’t wash the salt off, I did the very best I could with the ‘bum hose’ which wasn’t very affective. Finally 8pm rolled around, and no taxis to be seen. 8:30 rolled round and we just had to suck it up and pay for a lift with the hotel owner in the back of her pickup to save from missing our ferry. With minutes to spare, we boarded the boat.
We were lead to the back of the lower deck where the ‘crew’ were finishing having a flannel wash out of a bucket. Just for extra hygiene, this guy even changed his underwear … in the cabin… (so professional!)
This was my bed. Not exactly what I had in mind when I booked it but at this point, I’d well and truly learned to have very low expectations. Crammed between the wall and the engine (which was spurting out exhaust) I wasn’t too excited about the next 8 hours of our journey. Luckily, there were a few beds free on one of the lower berths so we moved to those instead.
Unfortunately for us… so did the cat…. and it’s fleas. Too bad it didn’t catch any of the cockroaches running up and down the walls.
Having spent a rough night with my face stuck to my plastic pillow and my headphones in my ears in an attempt to stifle to engine noise, we arrived at Surat Thani (mainland) at 5am. We took a mini bus to the bus station and waited for our 7am departure. Having spent the very last of our Baht on Koh Tao, the 2 Baht fee for the toilet was a little more than annoying. A kind person paid for my wee but once inside the stall I couldn’t help but wonder what it was you were actually paying for. I mean, I wasn’t expecting any luxuries like toilet roll or soap but there wasn’t even a toilet! Just a hole in the ground with a broken door and no running water. Even the sink didn’t have running water. Anyway, the sun rose and (though we were expecting a coach) our brand-spanky new mini bus arrived to whisk us to the border. Us, three Swedish girls, loads of locals and a rabbit in a box, that is.
By mid afternoon we’d made it through Southern Thailand, across the border, got our stamps and it was plain sailing down the Malaysian motorway. When we finally got on the big bus, it was luxuary. Extra wide, reclining seats and all brand new. I even got a bit of sleep!
A surprisingly good, motorway side, buffet meal later, one more sleep on the bus and 26 hours of travel saw us cruising into the bright lights of Kuala Lumpur. In desperate need of a shower, we finally disembarked, got our bearings with the help of McDonalds free WiFi and a local university student and caught the monorail to Sentral Station to begin our Malaysian adventure.