When you're a school teacher who works from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during the week but wants to explore the amazing country you're temporarily living in, you need to make the most of your weekends.
This past weekend, I planned a trip to Khao Yai National Park in Pak Chong with a fellow teacher, Hilary. I found an inexpensive hostel that offered a full-day tour of the park and asked one of my Thai students to help me figure out bus transportation northeast to our destination. He was told that the earliest bus we could take to Pak Chong (based on when we get out of school) didn't leave Chonburi until nearly 8:00 p.m., meaning we wouldn't arrive until 1 o'clock or 2 o'clock in the morning . Whatever, we want to see some wild elephants and our travel time is limited.
The trip started with two minor problems: we went to the wrong bus station in Chonburi, then once we took a second taxi to the correct place, we had to wait until 9:00 p.m. for a bus. A nice woman who spoke some English asked a motor bike taxi driver where we should catch a bus to Pak Chong and told him to bring us there. Upon arrival at this mystery bus stop, he ordered our tickets. We found a place to kill time and enjoy some smoothies while we waited for the bus to arrive.
There was a woman on the bus who distributed bottles of water, snacks and helped people load/unload luggage at each stop. She asked where we were going and I promptly answered, "Pak Chong." She looked confused and kept asking me to repeat it. I assumed she was just having trouble understanding my American accent or I was mispronouncing the town name. Eventually, she asked a man who spoke a little English to let us know we would have to take a second bus once we reached the station at 2 a.m.
Several uncomfortable sleeping positions later, the same man told us it was time to get off the bus. We stepped off the double-decker into a hectic parking lot full of buses, vans and ticket windows. Multiple people who didn't speak English attempted to point us in the right direction before one employee informed us that the next bus wasn't until 4 or 5 in the morning.
We were tired and couldn't help but be wary of this advice, considering we were already lost by accident. I wandered around the busy bus station asking people "paa-săa ang-grìt" or "English language?," to which the only replies were shaking heads. I kept looking at the map on my phone and trying to understand how we ended up in Nakhon Ratchasima, two hours east of Pak Chong. Then it hit me... Nakhon sounds an awful lot like Pak Chong when an American says it.
Somewhere between the English-speaking lady at the Chonburi Transport Station, the taxi driver and the ticket man, our desired destination was lost in translation.
We were supposed to be at our first hostel around 2 a.m. for a brief sleep before being picked up for an 11-hour tour and trek through the national park's jungle at 7:30 o'clock in the morning. I called the At Home Hostel around 2:30 a.m., as the latest buses department and the station emptied, to find out the best course of action and miraculously, someone answered. A sleepy woman aptly named Nice looked up train times for me and explained how to get there. Once we hung up, she texted me phrases that would help us get to our desired destination without any more hang-ups including "Where can I catch a bus to Pak Chong?"
Eventually, the lights in the station came back on and people started gathering to board the first buses. The 4:50 a.m. van to Pak Chong filled up before we could get tickets so we had to wait until 5:20 a.m. This would get us to our hostel around 7 o'clock... 30 minutes before our adventure tour began.
After another in-transport nap, we walked into the At Home Hostel. Cho, the other owner, offered us bathrooms so we could freshen up and a quick breakfast. A half hour later, our taxi to the second hostel and tour starting point pulled in and we climbed in the back of her songthaew running on just a few hours of disjointed bus/van sleep. From then on, the trip was smooth and amazing.
More on our adventure through Khao Yai National Park soon... I have sleep to catch up on.