We packed up in the Mountain View Resort on Koh Lipee and got a lift in a tractor and trailer to the boat launch that morning and got the speedboat ferry back to Pakbara which on the mainland. The weather was better than when we had arrived and the trip back on the spead boat was much less of a white knuckle ride for all concerned, it took about an hour and a half. Once back in Pakbara we negociated a rate with a taxi company to get us to to Hat Yai for 1600 baht including tip where we could catch a train to the border town of Golka. The journey to Hat Yai took us about two hours. Hat Yai was distinctly different from any of the other towns in Thailand we had been in. A lot more women and girls were wearing headscarfs. This part of the country is predominently muslim and has been the scene of some trouble recently with a minor insurgency against the ruling Thai government. I am not sure what the rebels are after, some sort of autonomy or independence I’m sure.
The only train south is a commuter train that stops at numerous stations along the way, we wern’t complaining, our tickets cost us about two euro fifty for all three of us, Elka free. We waited about two hours for the train to arrive and enjoyed the same craziness we had in stations all over India and China. Axel and Elka the stars of the show, lights camera action, everybody wanted photos of them. I have to admit we are getting used to these situations where we are the centre of attention, and enjoy being the only whiteys in town.
Our train eventually arrived and it has to have been the worst bit of rolling stock we have travelled in on our entire trip, but to be honest it didn’t matter to us, we were on the move again which was something myself and Lisa were glad about. The carriage had bench seats on boths sides with big open windows and travelled with all of its doors open, much needed natural air con.
The trip started off pretty unevenfully with people getting on and off, schoolchildren travelling home, people heading home for the muslim weekend which starts on a thursday night. Then the train was boarded by paramilitary police, who went through the carriages picking individuals at random and asking to search their bags. These guys were armed to the teeth, with M16’s and small arms. They seemed quite polite but I couldn’t help thinking about how the people felt about them being on the train, were they local or foreigners, northern Thai and what were they doing there. As the train continued south I noticed the stations being more heavily guarded all of them getting shiny new 8ft high fences with sandbagged outposts on either end. I started to see more roadblocks and more heavily armed soldiers at stations. Lisa was getting a little worried now, I told here it would be considered an own goal to hit a train heading south containing 600 muslims and three whiteys, I wasn’ t so sure myself.
Pulling out of one station we heard a loud crack and Lisa looked out the window and saw a puff of dust rising up out of the dry ground, she looked at me an asked what was that, I said a car backfiring or a fire cracker, even less sure than before.
‘Should we move away from the windows’ she asked. The next minute the paramilitary police who had previously searched a few people in our compartment came back in with another heavily armed guy, I recognised the rebel as a fellow passenger who was sitting in the carriage with us previously in plain clothes. He now looked like an extra from Rambo, maybe Thambo, he even had the headscarf like Sly Stallone which was reassuring. They went to the switchboard in the carriage and turned out all the lights. I was now a little worried, we were travelling in the far south of Thailand in a known trouble spot in a blacked out train.
Nobody else on the train seemed that worried, I think it was because they were probably used to such things happening on their way home from work, school, whatever. I also think they were probably thinking more about food than anything else seeing as it was ramadan and they hadn’t eaten anything since 5 am that morning and it was fast approaching sunset when they could eat again. It was only when I realised this that I felt a bit embarressed as we had been snacking on the train for the whole journey, and offering bits and pieces to people every so often, they must have thought we had been sent to torment them.
We had been travelling for about 3 hours by now and the mood on the train suddenly brightened up when we pulled into another station and we heard the call of the mosque, everyone else on the train did too, probably before us as I am sure they were listening for it more intently than we were. Smile broke out all around the carriage and everyone on board made a beeline for their bags pulling out packages of food and snacks and descending on them like they hadn’t eaten in over twelve hours, which they hadn’t, and everyone shared what they had, even with their tormentors.
We eventually arrived into the border town of Golka and didn’t hang around, there was only one taxi there , a typical public Thai style taxi which is a low pickup with a soft roof and bench seating on each side with a few bells to indicate where you want to get off. If it was your first time in thailand you would find it difficult to spot but was had learned already that taxis outside of bangkok come like this so there is no point looking for anything else unless you hire a private driver through a travel agency or if you are travelling light and can make the 10 minute walk yourself .
We of course without options were ripped off on our two minute drive to the border and paid 200 baht . We cleared the Thai border and walked across to the Malaysian side doing a relay with the bags which was no proplem. After a long day we finally arrived into Malaysia where we met Mohommad our new taxi driver , father of 5 and driving a cool battered 30 year old merc with “DAD 229 “ on his licience plate . He brought us the one and a half hour drive to Kota Bahru , the journey was off meter and we paid him 100 Ringit . We had not booked any accomadation but had the Lonely Planet with a list of hotels . We asked him if he knew any clean , cheap hotels in Kota Bahru and he brought us to one called the Rose Garden which was basic but adequate for our 2 nighs there and it was a steal at 70 Ringit for a double room with extra bed , bathroom and balcony right in the center of everything .
After dumping our bags and freshening up we headed off to a resturaunt and stuffed our faces on fried rice , seafood , tom yun goon washed down with freshly blended juices all for under €5.00 for the four of us . It was a long day but I think we are going to like it here .