Immediately following Lori’s last conference sessions, we scarfed down lunch, said good-bye to her colleagues and climbed in a taxi to Ekamai [Eastern] bus terminal.
Truthfully, I was a bit afraid Chinese “investors” had gotten to this one, but was pleasantly surprised at what I found at Ekamai. Here, in one of the world’s largest and most densely populated cities was a dream of a bus terminal that harkened back to the days of hand-stenciled signs and face-to-face ticket window interactions, yet was clean, efficient and relatively uncrowded. Granted, you have to go a fair amount east in Bangkok city to reach Ekamai, though it’s well within the city of Bangkok and not on the outskirts as is the case for more and more bus stations. Best of all, Ekamai is right on a BTS Skytrain line, and if we hadn’t had our Bangkok luggage and portable crib, we definitely would have taken the BTS the handful of stops from Bang Na to Ekamai.
Today, we’re bound for the island of Ko Samet, the closest real beach island to Bangkok. We’ve been told it is a 3-5 hour bus ride from Ekamai to Ban Phe, where we’ll catch a ferry to the island. We’ll be taking the 2pm bus on a Friday afternoon, so there’s a good chance we’ll miss the last public slow boat. We’ve been told that the only option after 6pm to the island are expansive speedboats. As such, we’ve opted for staying the night in a hostel in Ban Phe with plans to catch a public slow ferry in the morning.
Buying the bus tickets at Ekamai terminal was easy and straight forward. I simply walked right up to the window that said “Ban Phe/ Ko Samet [Koh Samed]” on it, bought two one-way tickets for the next bus (they leave almost every hour, on the hour) and found the bus stand (#9) that said Ekamai-BanPhe. At 1:45, they loaded our luggage underneath and we boarded the bus, and promptly at 2pm, we left the station.
There seems to be quite a bit of confusion online regarding this trip, likely because the details change frequently. But for us, it really couldn’t have been easier. Nonetheless, here is a map of our exact route (with waypoints) for those who are planning on doing the same thing.
We found that quite a few people hire a taxi or private minivan to make the trip from Bangkok to Ko Samet, and indeed there are a lot of options to do so. If you don’t want to deal with piecing the trip together yourself, are on an extreme time crunch, and have money to burn, you can easily enquire at your guesthouse in Bangkok or any travel agency and get a point-to-point transfer.
We had a bit of time to spare and generally like to keep costs minimal, so for us, piecing this trip together was a no brainer. Plus, the journey for us is half the fun!
…and, we got to ride atop what, until 2010, was considered by many to be the world’s longest bridge. Bang Na Expressway is a 55km (34-mile) six-lane-wide (and who knows how many stories high) elevated toll highway. Completed in 2000, it took 1,800,000 cubic meters of concrete to build. It was a massive infrastructure undertaking, hovering over an existing (and often highly congested) surface highway. Some lists do not consider the Bang Na expressway a bridge because it crosses land (rather than water) for most of its length. Regardless, it is still an impressive sight.
It took some doing (particularly with the five-year-old girl two seats in front of us intent on playing an endless game of peek-a-boo with Noe) but we eventually got the Mister down. To our amazement, he even slept for over two hours in this position. Maybe there’s still hope for our trans-Pacific flight to the States in July, after all!
The bus dropped us off in Ban Phe right at the Nuanthip Pier where one of the major ferry companies to Ko Samet operate. If you plan on arriving during regular business hours, this is incredibly convenient. For us, it was a short walk from here to our hostel: I Na Seaview.
I Na Seaview was great, though we were a bit creeped out by Ban Phe, in general. We’re not sure if it was due to low season or some secret regional holiday, but Ban Phe felt like a ghost town. There appeared to be some decent eats to be had, but everything was closed. And when I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING.
On a FRIDAY evening (around 7pm) in the primary jumping off point for a major tourist island. The highly-rated restaurant adjacent to our hostel? CLOSED. The TOP TEN dinner spots on TripAdvisor? CLOSED. Local eateries within the general vicinity of the main part of town? CLOSED. And it didn’t help things that we were starving.
Fortunately, the shell trinket shop was open…if you happen to be in the market for shell wind chimes and necklaces at 7pm on a Friday.
Eventually, we did find one little biker bar run by a middle-aged Brit and his Thai wife. At first, it seemed like a godsend, and the Panang Curry, though fiery hot, was delicious. But, sadly, Lori and I both found ourselves feeling quite ill in the early morning hours and can’t help but chalk it up to the curry, given that we hadn’t eaten much else that day. Nothing like getting ready to head off to paradise feeling like you have a massive hangover with a one-year-old in tow. Good times.
Tomorrow, off to the island!