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Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Ko Tao to Ko Lipe

7th – 8th February

The journey from Ko Tao (off the East coast) to Ko Lipe (off the West) was never going to be easy - none of the tourist agencies we’d spoken to had even heard of the island we wanted to go to. Everything had to run like clockwork to keep the journey time within a bearable 24 hours and avoid wasting an unnecessary night in some dead-end town on the mainland.

After a painless connection from our resort (in the back of a van!) we caught the night boat from Ko Tao to the mainland port of Surat Thani. Berths (by which I mean mats on the floor) of little more than half a meter wide and not an inch between them all made for a sleepless night. We arrived at around 5am and found the port deserted, normally a blessing but we were really counting on an agency tout to advise us on the first bus out to Trang. En route to the one tourist office we’d heard of (Pantip Tours) we were picked up by a guy who claimed to be from a competitor around the corner and could arrange a transfer at 7 o’clock for us. All very well and good but he couldn’t commit to how long the journey would take (we’d heard anything from 2 to 4 hours) and we had to meet a connection at 11am in Trang to make it to the port for the last ferry of the day.

We decided not to stick around (well, not before using his “facilities”) and set out again to search for signs of life. Our host didn’t seem in the least bit bothered and we were now fairly certain that the said transfer didn’t even exist. Time was ticking and desperation set in. The Pantip office was still closed and the local bus station couldn’t shed much light on direct transfers to Trang. They did however suggest we hop on the next bus south, bound for Had Yai. We didn’t need telling twice and jumped aboard, relieved just to be moving somewhere!

Relief turned into frustration as it took 3 hours to travel less than 100 km, and we were still only halfway to Trang! By now it was 9.30 am and we knew our chances of making our connection were slim. We left the bus at Thung Song where it headed directly south and we were bound south-west. Out of Lonely Planet territory we didn’t really know what our options were. The bus station in Surat Thani seemed to think we could catch a direct mini-van from here, but we were in the middle of nowhere! Two moto riders came to our aid and loaded our bags onto their bikes as we jumped on the back, yelling over the din our request for the mini-van station to Trang!

They took us just a short way to what was certainly a bus station, so we thanked and paid them. There was a bus due to leave within the hour, but yet again the officials couldn’t tell us how long it would take – I think one to two hours was the response. They suggested we took a private mini-van, but from the other side of town as only public buses were stationed here. At this point we probably started to lose the plot – that’s where we thought we’d been brought, yet it seemed that we’d have to take yet another moto to do this!

After cooling down we were directed to the taxi rank a few streets away. So much for the budget but we were past caring! There were a few taxis waiting and our immediate relief turned to one of delight when we were quoted just 70 Baht per person to Trang. “Great” we said, loading our bags in – “can we go right now, we’re in a real hurry…”

After a few bewildered looks we clicked on and immediately felt really stupid – this wasn’t a private taxi stand but one for share taxis, where the taxi driver waits to fill up all seats (and a few spaces that aren’t really seats at all) with more people. It was still early on a Sunday morning and few people were milling around – this could take forever! We ended up commandeering the whole taxi for ourselves for 400 baht, not a bad price if it guaranteed a night by the beach and not in a soulless mini-hotel. With no fellow passengers to consider we also had the pleasure of telling the driver to “get a move on” as we settled in for a hair-raising journey in this 1970’s rust-bucket. The Toyota Corolla (just like Adys dad used to have in the 80’s) didn’t fail us and managed to cover 88km in just under 45 minutes, ok, so not fast… but after the bus it was like a rocket!

We’d also called ahead to Tiger Line in Trang to let them know we were on our way and to hold the connection in case we were a few minutes late – they tried to give us directions directly to the pier at Pak Bara but our driver was having none of it unless we paid double the fee! After a heated debate over the phone between the driver and Tiger Line we were taken directly to the office, with time enough to spare for a quick trip to Seven-Eleven and a few luxuries for our stay on Lipe.

The remainder of the journey was slow but uneventful. After our transfer from Trang to the pier, we eventually settled ourselves on the open top sun deck of the Tiger Line boat and caught up on some sunbathing, admiring the view as we entered the stunning Tarauntao National Park.

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