…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– From The Road Less Taken by Robert Frost
There are a lot of twisting, turning roads in Phuket, Thailand with quite a few choices for how to travel down them. We could rent a car, rent a motorbike (apparently the most popular), take a taxi, take a bus (actually a pick up truck with seating in the back), or walk.
Since a taxi costs 500 baht to go the same distance as 80 baht to ride the bus, we decide to take the bus to Phuket City. It takes us two days to figure the system out. The bus “station” nearest us at Nai Harn beach is a couple of buses on the side of the road with some men sitting around checking their phones and trying to stay cool, it’s next to the taxi stand. Although their English is better than our Thai, communication is a bit difficult.
By day two we understand that the bus comes every half hour. There is an one hour lunch break. Service stops at 4 pm to the city and 5:30 pm from the city. The bus moves very slowly because people can wave it down along it’s route and just jump on. It moves quicker on the way back from the city. If you want the bus to stop anywhere along the way, push the button and the driver will pull over. The bus station in the city is pretty much like the one in Nai Harn, but with more buses going to places we don’t want to go. And most importantly, watch your head climbing in, it’ll really hurt if you bump it.
The driver of our bus pointed us in the direction of the Old Town, since we have no particular agenda we head off in that direction. The pinks, blues, and yellows of the early 19th century buildings remind me of pictures I’ve seen of Havana. Tourists with cameras in hand migrate from souvenir shop to souvenir shop. There is a young couple in formal dress getting their wedding pictures taken. We wander among them, staying on the shady side of the streets. It’s hot and we are already a little red. We find respite in the rare appearance of an air conditioned cafe, finally we get a chance for breakfast, oogle the people with sunbrellas, before going back out to see if we can find a Chinese Temple.
I am sticking to my diet. I ordered toast and milk for breakfast.
On the bumpy ride back, the sun has turned my stomach sour. We drop off the Russian girl traveling on her own, the man who struggled to get his bike in the roof rack, the Muslim woman who’s hijab head scarf I was jealously wanting to keep the sun off my head and shoulders. The local man we picked up along the route gets off when we press the button. He heads to a job site while we walk up the road to our hotel.
There are no sidewalks and we follow one behind the other past businesses, condos, huts and hotels, palm trees, brush, litter, dogs (some with four legs, some with three), cats lazing about, loaded motorbikes, white vans taxing tourists. As we walk we talk of this and that. Would it have been better to have spent the money on a taxi? Should we have chosen a hotel closer to the beach? Might a different beach have had more things to do, like boating? Should we have gone to Chang Rai instead of Phuket?
Early the next morning we climb into a bicycle laden van and join an enthusiastic guide and three other tourists with half open eyelids. We make our way to the other side of the island where we’ll hop into a Long boat along with the locals and sail across the blue waters of the Andaman Sea to Ko Yao Noi, a small island of only 200 families. It’s beautiful out on the water dotted with islands. We pass by where the James Bond film Man with a Golden Gun was shot. We could’ve toured there, but it’s a tourist hotspot. Our guide tells us that the islanders on Ko Yao Noi like to do three things: relax, relax, relax. That’s more our speed today.
As soon as the boat ties up on dock we don our helmets and start peddaling. We ride through a rubber plantation, a rice field, a fishing village, and a small town. I like mountain biking, it reminds me of how I use to run off trail. It’s an adventure. We stop at a local’s house for a refreshing sip of coconut milk. The only electricity they have is hand cranked, so they can listen to the radio and charge their cellphone. They said they didn’t need anything else, and it seemed that way.
After what our guide called a couple of “gentle” hills, so “gentle” most of us had to get off and push our bikes up the hills. We are relieved to rest at a restaurant serving Thai food, but not quite as spicy. On the way back to the pier we ride along the coast, pausing to take pictures of the gorgeous views. We eat a sticky rice and coconut snack to gain some energy for the last leg. We are worn out by the time we get back on the boat, but it was a good day, a very good day.
Different roads, different outcomes. Both have things to show us, things for us to learn. There’ll be another road, and another. Sometimes it’ll be hard to decide which to take, but whatever way we chose it’ll have things to show us and things for us to learn. And then,there will be another road, and another.
On our final day in Thailand we fly to Bangkok. Transportation is easy here. We take the train from the airport, then the sky rail, a boat, then our very own feet. The most impressive part of this journey was seeing the Reclining Golden Buddha at Way Pho. At over 150 feet long, he is an imposing figure. His temple and the surrounding complex are elaborately tiled. Keeping watch over the grounds are the temple cats, who act as though they are the ones being worshipped here.
Our next road will lead us to Norway as we go in search of the Northern Lights.