Another day, another mode of transport – this time a taxi to the border where we would cross over from Malaysia to Southern Thailand. Our taxi driver that morning was a diminutive balding man with spidery limbs and a sour smile, his dashboard adorned with the usual assortment of offerings, strings of beads, flowers and religious trinkets. An air conditioned car all to ourselves felt like luxury after the past few days cramped onto trains and buses, and we spread out in the back seat to relax for the forty minute drive to the border crossing.
It became quickly apparent, however, that this particular man was quite possibly the worst driver in Malaysia – quite a feat in a country where crossing the road constitutes a high-adrenaline sport. With no seat belts in the back, we clung nervously to the pleather seats as he swerved wildly around corners, drove alongside other cars in single lane traffic and followed scratched bonnet to dented bumper with the car in front.
As our guy sped up to overtake (straight into oncoming traffic – naturally) the line of cars came to an abrupt halt and we were jolted forwards as our taxi bumped the car in front and the one behind, driven in a similarly kamikaze fashion, went into us. Pulling around the nearest corner, the three drivers got out to assess the damage, gesturing at each other indignantly. Thankfully the dispute was settled quickly, amongst much head waggling and finger-prodding, and we were on our swerving, speeding, brake-pad-bashing way again.
After a straightforward border crossing and a short moto ride to the station, we heaved our backpacks up the steep iron steps at the end of the carriage and found our seats on the train to Hat Yai. The journey passed in a blur of rice-paddy green; I alternately dozed and read, occasionally lowering my book to see villages lining the railway track, skinny legged children running down dirt tracks, sleepy butter coloured cows and scratching chickens, and women washing clothes in the murky rivers. At some point there was a storm, heavy rain lashing through the open window and lightning splitting the bruised sky with a crack of thunder, and I hung out of the window to let the rain wet my face.
The sun had broken through again by the time we reached Hat Yai, bright shafts of it illuminating the platform which bustled with life; re-united families, shouting food vendors and groups of people squatting on the broken floor tiles amongst piles of belongings in bags and baskets and ancient suitcases. We fought our way off the train as people on the platform began throwing luggage through the carriage windows, scrambling for their seats, and were immediately accosted by an enthusiastic ticket seller who hoisted my backpack onto his shoulder and set off into the throng with us trailing meekly in his wake.
At that moment, a sudden stillness descended over the packed station. As though a switch had been flipped, the noise and rushing activity ceased and every person stopped in their tracks, eyes cast reverentially to the floor as the Thai national anthem blared over the loud speakers. It lasted maybe a minute, then as suddenly as it had started it was over and the bustle continued apace as though nothing had paused it.
The final stage of our journey; a night bus through to Krabi. This arrived, as long distance buses in Thailand do, in a fanfare of lime green neon and gold paint, light fixtures swinging and velvet window dressings pulled back to reveal crochet seat covers and a flat screen TV. We crawled into our plushy reclining seats and settled in to watch a film before falling asleep. Unfortunately, the driver of this bus had other plans, as a Thai dubbed action movie blasted at full volume from the flat-screens. This continued for the next three hours, whereupon it was replaced by a full length live recording of a Thai rock concert delivered at similar ear raping decibels. Which is just what you need on a sleeper bus at midnight after 14 hours of continuous travel.
Eventually the bus dropped us onto a dark pavement, wet with soapy water from a nearby restaurant, and we fended off the horde of hungry eyed tuk-tuk drivers who descended immediately like they could sense the arrival of disorientated, bleary eyed backpackers. The smell of the coast was unmistakeable, salty and fishy, and after so many days inland it felt good to be in such proximity to the sea, and in Thailand – ready to start a new adventure.