On leaving Koh Tao (a tale of two Butterworths)

Upon re-re-re-re-redeciding to leave Koh Tao, I reached for my wallet and briskly walked down to the nearest travel center on Koh Tao to purchase my transportation to Malaysia before I re-undecided or un-redecided my plans again. The ticket would only get me to the border of Thailand and Malaysia, but that would be as good a start as any journey really needed.

After spending roughly three weeks on Koh Tao and meeting a number of great people, it was inevitable that my last night on the island would descend into the dark and debaucherous type of evening I previously wrote about.  While the night did follow some of the typical script, one event I didn’t count on was a two-hour long thunderstorm.  As we ran from bar to bar and along the beach, the music and lights from the various establishments were frequently going out and coming back to life.  The night ended around 4:30 AM when we decided to finally leave ‘the pool’ and upset a pair of local working girls who were disappointed that we didn’t want to pay for “Boom Boom.”  A few hours later I was in the bed of a truck (read: taxi) on my way to the pier to catch the first leg of my transportation out of Thailand.

At this point a few things should be noted:

  • I have no idea where I’m going.  I’ve been told that the train ticket to “Butterworth” that I’ve purchased will only take me to the border of Thailand and Malaysia to a city called…Butterworth.  (I looked at a map in the travel agency and it’s definitely there…)  Ironically there is another city called Butterworth in Malaysia, but the woman working at the travel agency swears that it isn’t the same place that I’m going.
  • After looking online – I’m 50/50 about either going to Langkawi (a chain of islands) or Georgetown (a UNESCO heritage site off the west coast of Malaysia).  Either destination, the plan is to check out my options at the border and  then purchase whichever ticket makes the most logistical sense (based on things like waiting time and cost).

The taxi dropped me off at the pier and I waited for roughly 40 minutes for the ferry.  The sky was beginning to get dark and the winds were picking up quite aggressively.  This is not ferry weather.  In fact, while loading the boat the wind and rain began to pick up and I was able to get into the passenger cabin of the boat about 30 seconds before the rain became a complete downpour.  Unfortunately things weren’t getting better below.  The wind and choppy waves awoke in my body a hangover that I didn’t know I had.  I’ve never been seasick in my life, but apparently there really is a first time for everything.

I sat in the back of the boat.  I sat in the front of the boat.  I stood.  I held the railing.  Eventually I laid down on the cold wooden floor and put music on.  Nothing helped at all.  Eventually I did fall asleep for about 90 minutes of peace.  The only real positive here is that I didn’t need to use any of the plastic bags that were handed out as we got situated in our seats.

Eventually we arrive in Chumphon.  It’s still raining and everyone going to the train station is herded to a large covered truck that seats 20 – although we’ve managed to fit 30 people inside.  Upon arriving to the train station I discover that the four hour wait for my train is now a five hour wait due to a delay.  This isn’t much of a problem as I find a fantastic rasta-bar just across the street with blazing fast internet and the best chicken spring rolls I’ve had during my entire time in Thailand.  The bar also doubles (triples?) as a Muy-Thai gym and pool hall.

Hours later I’m on the train.  It’s a sleeper train and this time I’m on the top berth.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with the top sleeper of the train, my specific sleeping pattern for the night consisted of waking up every two hours for various unknown reasons.

Around 8:30AM (and while I’m in the bathroom) we arrive at the Thai/Malay border and I can see the word “Immigration” outside the bathroom window.  Knowing that there was no way a train could be an hour late and arrive four hours ahead of schedule – I start to realize that my train ticket goes much further than the border of Thailand.  My suspicions are confirmed when I get back onto the train (after a fairly painless emigration/immigration process) and discover that the random Italian person who has decided to take my seat is going to a city named Alor Setar. Ironically this is the city that I WANTED to go to (but was told I couldn’t since the train would only go to the border) because it’s the best place to catch a ferry to Langkawi.  It was at this point that I discovered that the Butterworth on my ticket is the Butterworth in the midsection of Malaysia.

(The bathroom and I spent a bit of time together.  Thank god there was actually TP)


Around 12:30PM the train comes into the Butterworth station and I hurriedly grab my bags and get off the train.  Fortunately while killing 4.5 hours at the rasta-bar I spent some time looking into this city – specifically Georgetown – in case I decided to come here.  I knew the name of a (supposedly) great hostel, emailed myself directions to the hostel, and even looked at a map and got a feel for how the city and roads were built.  Georgetown happens to be an island – although instead of a tropical beach bar type island, it’s a previous colonial trading post type island.

At this point I am fully immersed in a game of “Amazing Race.”  I have no local money (Ringits), no idea where exactly I am (the train station), and no idea where the ferry leaves from (“the jetty” as it’s called here).  Unfortunately I found the jetty first after walking around for about 10 minutes.  Unable to purchase a ticket, I asked around for an ATM and someone eventually pointed me in the direction of the bus station.  I found the ATM …it was out of order.  Another 20 minutes of walking around and I found a working ATM.  An equally long hike back in the direction I came from (and only minimal harassment from people asking where I want to go with the backpack strapped to by back) and I was back to the jetty and on my way over to Georgetown.  Somehow using nothing but the name of a street and an image of a map in my mind, I was able to find my hostel after 30 minutes of walking around.

It’s officially nap time.


2 thoughts on “On leaving Koh Tao (a tale of two Butterworths)

  1. Now doesn’t this adventure beat hanging around all day at an amazing beach? Now you are in your element. Have fun and be safe. Love, Mama………

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