Phuket to Hat Yai by Bus

After three days and nights in the town of Patong Beach (Phuket, Thailand), I was ready to get out of town. I’m glad I saw it, and it was nice to be there during their Pride celebrations, but unless you’re into baking on a beach in 40C weather, in dire need of new fridge magnets, or enjoy paying North American prices to eat in North-American style ‘Thai’ restaurants, then three days is quite enough.

I walked into a travel agency on my second day and bought a bus ticket to Hat Yai. The agent assured me that a “coach” would pick me up at my guesthouse at 7:00 a.m. and we would arrive in Hat Yai at 3:30, leaving me “plenty of time” to catch the 4:00 train to Kuala Lumpur. I wasn’t buying that as I know that buses break down, make unexpected stops, and rarely arrive on time. But whatever, I thought, there’s a train to KL every day and I don’t mind spending one day in a place like Hat Yai. In fact Hat Yai is probably everything that Phuket is not and that’s okay by me.

The agent had dropped the words “coach” and “washroom” and “snack service.” I thought she was referring to my bus but perhaps I misunderstood.   In reality I was picked up at my guesthouse by a guy in a beaten up 25-year-old Toyota van. We made half a dozen stops at other hostels and hotels before we made it to the main bus depot. The other passengers were catching buses to various beaches and the driver personally directed them to the appropriate ticket counters or lineups. I followed along like a lost puppy until the driver pointed at me and said, “back in the van.”  I felt like I was six and on my first class trip to the Bowmanville zoo.

Once all of the other passengers were pointed in the right direction, I accompanied the driver to his office.  Something was said about “30 minutes” and I assumed that it was how long I’d wait until the “real” bus came along.  The driver pointed to a 7-11 store down the street and suggested that I get some water and snacks for the long ride ahead.  When I was about 30 feet down the sidewalk, heading for 7-11, the driver yelled out, “Maybe see go poo now, too.”  Forget six, I felt like I was three!

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We sat under a shady awning in front of the agent’s office for another two hours.  I scarfed down my snacks and two bottles of water and had nothing left for the bus.  If there even is a bus, I thought.  Every 20 minutes or so I would ask if he was confident that a bus was coming.  Every time he would reply “any minute.” I admired his optimism but I had zero confidence that I’d make it to Hat Yai in time to catch the train to Kuala Lumpur.

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At precisely 11:00 a.m. a newish-looking van pulled up in the side lot.  The driver got out, consulted a clipboard, and yelled out “Mike Hampton.” The van didn’t look too bad. The seats were large and had arm rests and seat belts.  The windows were tinted and the air conditioning was blowing full blast. There was even a cooler full of ice and bottled water on the passenger seat. Screw the big bus, I said, this looks even better.

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The ride to Hat Yai was fairly uneventful.  We eventually had a full van, and some people were picked up and dropped off along the way, but we made good time.  Around 1:00 p.m. we stopped at what I think was a bus station. The driver (orange shirt in above photo) suggested that we buy lunch to eat on the way.  Some people bought several pieces of mystery meat wrapped in brown paper.  They ate it directly from the paper, sort of like a burrito.  I didn’t think I could do that without wearing most of it or having to retrieve errant pieces of meat from under the seats, so I settled for a can of Pringles and a Diet Coke.  Horrible nutrition, I know, but it was a lot easier to eat (and stomach).

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We were about an hour outside of Hat Yai when we came upon a discount gas station.  We initially drove right by but about a mile down the road the driver must have realized that he was running short and he pulled a U-turn.  It took about five minutes to get the pump working but we eventually rang up a sale of 837 Baht ($31.69 Cdn).  That was a good stroke of business for the gas station as most customers were on motorcycles and they just picked up a cheap “to go” bottle.  (40 Baht = $1.61 Cdn)

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We arrived in Hat Yai at 5:36 – or about two hours behind schedule. I knew the train was long gone so rather than take a cab out to the train station, where I could at least have bought a ticket for the next day’s train, I decided to get a room in town and see if Hat Yai warranted one or two days.

(More on Hat Yai in my next post.)

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