Time to leave Patong and head north to Bangkok. Fearing that the sleeper compartments would be sold out, we paid an early visit to the Songserm travel agent to see whether we could book in advance. We were too late, as the tickets have to be sent through to Patong. All we could do then, was to make sure we caught the 3.30pm bus from Phuket Town to Surat Thani (to meet the Bangkok train), and take our chances. We had a little time to kill and, as we didn’t want to have to wait in the Phuket bus terminal, we settled down with the papers in the hotel lobby.
When, at last, it was time to leave, we caught a ‘sawngthaew’ (a slightly larger, and more powerful, ‘tuc tuc’) into Phuket Town.
The tickets to Surat Thani cost us Baht 160 each (about £2.60) for the four-hour trip. Our air-conditioned coach had reclining seats, pink satin curtains (neatly pinned into rosettes at each window, ready for use) with a swagged pelmet, and a small Buddhist shrine on the dashboard.
It was (in common with all other Thai transport) spotlessly clean, inside and out.
We picked seats about midway back. The bus was quite empty, so to sit right at the back would have seemed unfriendly. On the other hand, sitting right at the front, with a clear view of the road ahead, would have been too much of a test of nerves. Thai roads have three lanes, the two that are marked, and an invisible third lane in the middle (used for overtaking around blind bends and approaching the crest of a hill). On-coming vehicles simply use the shoulder! (The guiding principle of the Thai ‘highway code’ is that the larger vehicle has right of way.) Our bus driver obligingly dropped us off at Phun Pin, Surat’s railway station, some 14km outside the town.
For Baht 2280 (£38), John bought two first class sleeper tickets for the 23:45 service to Bangkok, and all we had to do was find somewhere to sit for 2 ½ hours, and something to eat.
Thai railway stations have communities all of their own. At each end of the platform, food vendors sat with simmering vats of curry, sizzling satay, and other tasty snacks.
Each time a train arrived, they would fill a tray with portions of hot food, coffee, juice, little cakes, crisps, and other goodies, and parade up and down under the open windows of the train. Passengers simply reached down and helped themselves to whatever they wanted, and put the cash on the tray. Brigid bought a couple of searing hot chicken curries, which made our eyes water!
Our sleeping compartment was immaculately clean, with crisp linen and free bottled drinking water. The berths were comfortable enough, but we didn’t sleep much as the train rattled through the night at a fair lick.