‘Hat Yai! Hat Yai!’ A Thai woman called repeatedly, walking up and down the carriage. I started; dozing every 20 or so minutes had become a habit on the 15 hour journey.
Other people were in the carriage too; men. And they called out, ‘Hat Yai, Hat Yai!’ until it rang a rhythm to my panic. I gathered my things in a fever, afraid that I would miss the stop, forgetting that the train terminated here, in Hat Yai City; Big City living in southern Thailand.
My head was ringing as I stumbled, shoe laces still untied, from the train carriage, balking at the canyon between the train and the platform, wincing in advance of the pain I would feel in my ankle.
Old sofas, stuffing-guts spilling out, made for benches. Women stood at stands offering food as the flies crashed above through an overwhelming smell of fish.
And then it began, ‘where’re you going?’ Local men surrounded me; persistent. I was money. I was sweaty money. I began to walk. Again and again and again they asked me. I to them I knew where I was going (first time I have ever said that with much conviction).
If there is ever pessimism in the Lonely Planet, then I would say there were undertones in the section on Hat Yai. In its brevity and it’s ‘stay if you want’ attitude. I didn’t want, but having changed my plans to suit my wretched foot, I had no choice.
Hat Yai City, population 157,000 approx is a transition town; a place which travellers pass through and historically where Malaysian men make weekend pilgrimage to find their hookers. Along with this you might find good shopping and good food.
Between the Internet and The Lonely Planet, I was confused. The Lonely Planet advised that mist interprovincial buses and south-bound minivans left from the bus terminal south of the city centre. The Internet (I generalise here) advised not to travel direct to the bus terminal but that tickets must be booked from one of the many travel agencies scattered all over the city.
My instinct was that I wanted to buy the tickets direct from the station, if I could. Call me tight but I didn’t fancy paying commission to an agent for something that a degree of hobbling could achieve; I think it’s my duty as a traveller to adopt this attitude.
My first life line turned out to be the TAT, the Thai tourist authority. Located 100 yards from Sripoovanart Road on Niphat Uthit 3 Soi 2, they furnished me with a full timetable. So I set off to the bus station to try to book my way out of Hat Yai.
I passed by the international Golden Arches of McDonalds, an amazing feat considering my hunger, before I tailed onto the backstreets where people on mopeds shout ‘hey lady!’, greasy dogs watch their patch of concrete and men piss into the canal. There are also many many food stalls and I berated myself for being too meek to try at least one. Instead I fixed my face and just kept walking. And walking.
But I couldn’t buy a ticket to Ranong, when I got there, as I had planned. No, the ticket booth was shut until six. I slumped down on a bench to gather my thoughts.
‘Where’re you goin’?’ This time it was a New Zealander, pre-occupied with his onward journey to Padang Besar (border town and dead ringer for The Phantom Zone of Superman literature) and a seemingly insatiable itch in his scrotal area.
I’You wanna’ go to Phuket, Ranong bus is gonna’ go there anyway.’ I nodded, made the right noises and tried not to notice the itching.
‘Loads of buses go to Phuket.’
I assured him I would keep it as a back-up plan, then continued to give him my interested face as he told me of his frustrations.
The next time I saw the bus station I rode there, on the back of a motorcycle taxi, my 15kg rucksack wedged in front of the driver. The 50 baht ride might have been the first time I have genuinely smiled since arriving. Whether that was because of the feeling of the warm wind through my clothes or the anticipation of leaving, I don’t know; probably both.
In the end I got a ticket to Phuket – international beach resort – looking for some certainty. Although a little voice resounded, is that what travelling is? Certainty?
On my return to the hotel, through those back streets, I’d asked myself what travelling was all about. Because right then I felt scared, alien and impotent. And of course I got no answer but my instincts told me I might find both my feet and some temporary peace in Phuket.
Now the useful stuff:
The bus terminal is just off Sripoovanart Road on Chotwittayakul 1 Road…
Hat Yai Bus Terminal can be contacted on 0 7423 2404
Buses offers are VIP, two levels of air-con and non-air-con.
Here are a few of the locations the terminal services:
This list is not exhaustive and for all locations there are multiple departures daily.