It’s been so long since I’ve taken a “real” trip that I’m a bit amazed at how easily everything has been coming together.
Take the bus ticket for the first leg, Phuket to Bangkok, for example.
I’d planned today to simply visit the bus station and determine if the 501-baht fare I’d found mentioned online was still valid. I ended up purchasing a ticket for a bit more, but it wasn’t much more. I’ll come to that in a minute.
First, a bit of an explanation about Phuket’s bus stations. There are now more than one. The old long-distance station on Th. Phuket is a short walk from my home. When I had to take trips to Hat Yai every couple of weeks, I used to walk over in the morning to buy the ticket (securing a good seat as the bus company had once told me you could only purchase tickets on the day of travel) and then walk over in the evening a few minutes before the last bus was due to depart.
But the “new” bus station finally opened last year somewhat north of Phuket Town. It had been completed two or three years prior to that but sat empty as the local mayor lived across the street from the station and didn’t want the noise that the buses would bring! Don’t get me started on local Phuket politics…
The previous long-haul station now only handles the “nearby” routes such as to Phang Nga, Kao Lak, Takuapa, Trang, Krabi, and a few others. During the daytime hours, songteaws and other local buses depart for many parts of Phuket including Patong and the Th. Rasada market where one can catch local buses for all of the western beaches as well as many other points throughout the island.
Getting between the two bus stations is extremely easy. There are, of course, the numerous ranks of motorbike taxi drivers but the least expensive option are the pink buses (called pothong in the local dialect) operated by the Phuket Municipality (Or Bor Jor). A bus or two will park in one of the bus station bays and depart every 15 minutes or so during the day. The fare is only 10 baht which is much better than the 100 to 200 the mafia (I mean, taxi) drivers will charge you. They are much safer as well!
Upon my arrival at the bus station, I made my way to the ticket counters near the front entrance. I hadn’t planned to purchase my ticket on this particular day as I’d been used to they day-of-travel system on other routes. Or, perhaps, they have “upgraded” since my last trip.
As I was taking a photo to the sign listing departure/arrival times and prices the clerk as when I wanted to travel. I gave her the date and she asked what time. Without thinking, I told her 6:30 which is the first bus of the day. Before I knew it she had punched up a diagram of the bus on the computer monitor, assigned me a seat (in the front but on the right side – hot once the sun rises), and asked me for 529 baht. Very quick and efficient. Too quick because if I would have thought about it a bit longer I would have chosen the 10:00 bus (I doubt the pink buses run before 7:00 or so in the morning and I don’t think even the motorbike taxi guys are there at 5:30 or so).
At any rate, purchasing my ticket finally locked me into the trip. No turning back now…
A few words about the new bus station: It still looks brand new, a bit bare and it certainly didn’t seem very crowded while I was there despite plenty of people waiting. However, the prices of snacks and drinks is quite high. A bottle of EST soda, for example, costs 20 baht versus 13 in 7-Eleven. There is also a distinct absence of ATM’s within the terminal itself. If you need cash while there, a Bank of Ayudha (the “yellow bank”) ATM in the strip of shops to the just to the south of the terminal (your right as you face the rear of the station).
Now that I have my Phuket to Bangkok bus ticket, the next most important pre-trip task is to exchange some Thai baht into U.S. dollars. “What?” you ask. “I thought you were going to Cambodia.” Well, the Cambodian real is sort of like the Lao kip – you need a suitcase to haul around your cash as it’s worth so little. Nobody uses it in Cambodia and prices everywhere are quoted in dollars. This makes the trip doubly advantageous at this time as the exchange rate is very favorable right now, only 29.54 baht to the dollar (compared with 41 or 42 when I moved here). Thus, if I purchase something in Siem Reap for $20 I will only be spending 590.80 baht compared to 840 baht if the 42/1 exchange rate still existed. I plan to visit the bank later today.
Finally, on Thursday, I need to visit Phuket Immigration to pay for a Re-Entry Permit. I’ll describe this process in a later post.
Only a week to go and I will be Angkor-bound, baby!