Sunday, September 5
In a comedy of errors, the bus system in Bangkok really worked against me today. I woke up early to check out of the Nat II Guest House and vamoose on out of town two hours South to Damnoen Saduak, home of the picturesque floating markets that are one of the main icons of Thailand. But, I just couldn't make it to the Southern bus terminal, even though it's just a couple of miles West of Banglamphu. I hiked about a half mile to one bus stop, where I waited for 20 or 30 minutes with my heavy backpack under the scorching midday sun, to catch a bus 15, but none ever arrived.
I walked to another stop and three bus 15s passed by without stopping, even though I tried to flag them down. The sign was full of a bunch of bus numbers, some of which were peeled off but still kind of visible, so it was unclear if it really was still a bus 15 stop. I got so pissed, I hiked half way around the walled Wat Phra Kaeo complex, which is huge, looking for a definite bus 15 stop. I couldn't find one, so I hopped on bus 48, hoping to get back to the street I was on, but it hung a quick right and headed in a different direction.
After a few blocks, I climbed off, consulted a map and schlepped back up to Banglamphu, where I originally started out! I just made a huge, totally unnecessary and exhausting loop in the unforgiving sun and with a 35-pound backpack weighing heavy on my frame. Finally, I made my way onto an air-conditioned bus 511 to the Southern bus terminal. The only problem was it was jam-packed, so I had to stand with my pack strapped on. At one point, I got really tired of standing, so I took my pack off, put it on the floor and sat in the rear stairwell. Then I almost got mangled by the hydraulic door. I had a mini-meltdown and cursed that dang thing!
A little bit later, a bunch of people disembarked, so I got to sit down, which was a relief. After a while, it felt like we had gone much further than a couple of miles, so I asked the ticket lady when we would arrive at the terminal. She didn't speak much English, so I just had to wait it out. Finally, after 20 or 30 minutes, we pulled into a big depot. In true Southeast Asia fashion, it was more of a shopping mall than a bus station. I schlepped all over the place and up three floors looking for the ticket windows. The only one I could find serving Damnoen Saduak was empty, so a clerk in the next window had a random lady guide me down to the bus.
Even with her help, we got the run-around, as three or four different employees sent us ping-ponging back and forth around the terminal. Finally, she found the bus for me, and I bought a ticket right after I climbed on. After sitting for a little while with only one other passenger, no one else boarded, so we got transferred with two Japanese tourists to a nice mini-van that already contained a few Thai people. From there on out, everything was pretty much kosher. With the air conditioner blasting, the driver rocketed South at 80 mph like a bat out of Carlsbad Caverns. We passed through some really picturesque towns dominated by insanely ornate Buddhist temples, finally arriving in Damnoen Saduak around 5:00 p.m.
I checked into the biggest room of my whole trip at the spacious and odd yet clean Little Bird Hotel. It was at least twice as big as any other room I've rented, plus a huge bathroom, too. As soon as I laid down, I instantly fell asleep for two hours under the big comfort propeller. That was surprising, considering the mattress felt exactly like a big slab of granite. When I awoke, I was astonished at how quiet the place was. I guess the dead end street location helps in that regard. I couldn't find any restaurants down on the main drag, so I settled for a couple of small roti egg pancakes from a street cart. I only saw one other tourist walking around. I'm sure most people just hop on an early-morning bus from Bangkok.