I am half asleep.. Slowly waking up… I peer outside the window..only clouds… My eyelids droop again.
Next blink.. We have started descending..partially below the clouds… I tell myself, ‘only some more time left for you to sleep..don’t lose it.’
I wake up more the next time.. I see the sea below.. I am waiting to see some land as we seem to be very close to the landing now. But we keep descending and descending and the land can be seen ahead, but we are still not there. For a minute, I think I should remind myself of where the life jacket is and of other safety instruction.
My brain knows that we are not in trouble or not going to land in water even for fun, because the captain hasn’t announced anything about that. And now it’s too late to announce. And right then, when I am looking at the window with wide eyes and wide mouth, half-mindedly expecting to be afloat with a smooth little splash any second, we cross the coastal border for a second or two and then land – on land.
The landing in Phuket has already made my day! I can take any disappointments for at least half a day now.
A bit back in time, I was eagerly waiting for my much hyped Thailand trip. Only a month left. At the same time, ice balls had started moving in my stomach.
Firstly, it had been eight months since I dived last. Not a single dive after my first four during the open water course. To reduce my nervousness, I reviewed all the course videos and all the theory I had learnt. My friend made fun of me saying I was trying to be a first-bencher, but I ignored him. I practised swimming a bit. But huh, diving is diving.
Secondly, it was my first time travelling alone in another country.
My third worry was that if, even by a remote possibility they deny me a visa on arrival, all the money I spent would go down the drain! (Though this one would wipe out the first two)
Genuine reasons to be nervous, right?
Fifteen days left, the ice balls started growing with the growing excitement.
One more week left.
Two days, one day and it’s the day. I gathered all my courage and boarded on.
Contrary to my angst, the visa, immigration processes at Phuket airport were extremely efficient and it didn’t take me even half an hour to get to the luggage belt.
Contrary to my anticipation, my luggage hadn’t arrived. I came to know this after I waited for my bag for almost an hour until no one but me was left at the belt. They would deliver my bag at my hostel, so then I had my hands free and I could explore public transport.
Contrary to my hope, Phuket’s public transport (buses) sucks. I arrived to my hostel by 4pm after a one hour wait, Phuket darshan for another hour or so and a nap in the bus, though my flight had landed before 11 am. Before I finished checking in, my luggage arrived too.
I had reserved this evening to explore Patong and the renowned Bangla Road. The last bus to Patong was at 5pm, they had told me at the bus stand. So I dropped my luggage and ran to the bus stand. (Of course, I didn’t want to spend too much on a cab – which are indeed expensive due to tariff and distance, both – on the very first day and then be out of cash later).
I reached almost exactly at 5 pm. The bus arrived in another 5 minutes. It was actually a big van, a 10 seater maybe. I guess I must have slept for 30-40 minutes and when I woke up, I found the bus to be still at Phuket town bus stand. It finally left well after 6pm. Another encounter with the sorry state of public transport in Phuket.
By the time I reached Patong, it was quite dark and I had very less time to cover the town on foot. I did my best though.
My dive trip started next day. This time, I had the diving school cab picking me up. Mine being the first pick up, I again had a Phuket darshan trip. On our way I realised how green this country was. Right since we left Phuket town until we reached Patong, we had a lot of green patches. This could be probably discounted saying the road crosses a hill and having trees on the way is natural. But as we left Phuket airport, i.e. as we left Phuket province, there were a number of plantations of tall trees (don’t know which) and patches of jungles along the road. One could discount this too saying the road went through a couple of national parks, so what’s so special!
What is special and commendable is that they have reserved so many national parks and forests instead of cutting them down and converting them into concrete jungles; that they haven’t shaved and torn apart their hills to mine stuff out of them.
It started raining on the way. Quite heavy shower. I thought the dive trip was gonna go for a toss. But that didn’t happen.
The dive trip was amazing. Read about it in my scuba story continued.
While completing the primary paperwork and other formalities before boarding the boat, I realised that among all 22 divers on the boat, 21 were Chinese speaking. I was the 22nd. A big pit in my stomach. Moreover, no solo traveller like me. That means they are always gonna want to speak in Chinese and hang out among their groups (path of least resistance) and I am gonna end up with no one to talk to except the instructor. Later when I found out that a number of instructors and divemasters (English speaking) would accompany us, the pit grew smaller.
The very first briefing about the trip – started and ended in Chinese. I was used to hearing English briefing first and then non-English speaking people requesting for a translation. Now I was the one to ask for an English translation. I felt alone. But this also got everyone’s attention to me and I became special (the exotic animal).
There were only a few divers among the Chinese and Taiwanese group, who could speak English.. Or rather spoke English confidently. Others understood, but never tried speaking. So these few ended up being my only friends among the divers and also the interpreters between me and others. Thankfully one of my roomies also spoke English. Jammie said talking to me was good practice for improving her English! By the end of the dive-trip, my fear that I would have no one to talk to was debunked. I had friends talking to me in English, super-broken English and Chinese combined with sign language.
Sometimes due to some words with contextual meaning created funny confusions. I had told someone that I worked in Operations management. The news spread and almost entire boat started believing that I was a doctor (performing operations).
On my way back to the hostel after the four-day dive trip, I realised that my hostel in Phuket town was always going to be the first pick up and the last drop. And I hoped this wouldn’t be the case the next day, when I was to go on a boat tour to James Bond Island. But next day even worst. I was picked up at 6:45 am and took a 2.5 hour tour to reach the pier only 22 km from the hostel.
By now I had spent close to sixteen hours in my two and a half day on land only in transit. So in the evening, I corrected my mistake by finally booking a private taxi.
I had chosen this James Bond Island because I wanted to visit a national park. And I had neither been able to figure out public transport between the other national parks and Phuket town nor had I realised the importance or private transport in this country.
The islands are beautiful. The tall rocky hills standing in the ocean rooting much below the surface. Now generally one would expect small shrubs and grass and creeper on such rocks. But these had numerous kinds of trees, much taller ones than I expected considering they were growing on the nooks and corners and narrow ridges of the rock.
The part of these rocks near the water surface had developed strange structures with eerie shapes.. A ghostly umbrella around the island. Some of these rocks were pretty close to each other and some were connected.. Canoeing through the waterway between these islands and under the rocky umbrellas and through the caves and gullies formed there totally felt like moving through a pirate bay!
The only problem was – tooooo many people. People, many of whom didn’t give a crap about the national park, knowing why it is a national park. People who took these people on the tour also didn’t give a crap about telling about the national park, how the rock structures were formed, how old they are, what are they called, which species grow there – plants animals both – what they eat, how they live, how the whole ecosystem is being preserved and such.
It was a typical tourist spot. Kind of opposite to what I saw on land.
On my way back from the pier, the cabbie showed me a walking street near my hostel. Private transport zindabad.. I finally had a whole evening for some shopping, trying my hand (or tongue) on Thai food and for my long pending massage! By now I was tired enough for not feeling guilty having someone message me.
I booked my appointment and headed straight to the street market. It was a merry fest with hundred kinds of food, drinks, clothes, crafts, music and dance.
Outcomes? Some cute crafts in my bag, realisation that I still have a lot of scope to develop a taste for Thai food and spicy food too.
After a dinner sitting on the footpath outside a closed shop (almost everyone who wasn’t standing was doing the same), I still had time to go to my hostel, pack for my travel back to India the next day, come back for a drink with a newly made friend from hostel and then end the trip with a tight and solid Thai massage.
With plans of coming back to this country again, Saw-atdee!