A majority of travelers in Thailand will no doubt, at one point, embark on a long-haul overland journey by bus. From the get-go, it sounds like a terrible punishment: nine or more hours in a cramped bus seat with freezing air conditioning blasting relentlessly all night with reckless drivers careen down winding highways at dangerous speeds.
Truth be told, long bus journeys can be a scary experience, but it’s also part of the fun and adventure of travel. It’s practically a right of passage among Southeast Asian travelers.
I was planning on traveling from Chiang Mai to the island in south Thailand of Koh Chang – no easy feat considering it would take an overnight bus to Bangkok, a car to minivan to a larger tourist bus for a total of seven hours of driving before finally boarding a 30-minute ferry to the island. Whew! You still with me there? Confusing, right?
With Indra Tours bus company, along with the help of Cool Asia Travel. (who were able to book and confirm everything for me in less than a day’s time), I experienced what could have been a harrowing journey into one that was quite comfortable and pleasant.
Private tour bus companies in Thailand can sometimes be small operations and the bus station for Indra Tours in Chiang Mai was no different. In fact, it reminded me of some of the dingy, rundown bus stations in India. The staff were helpful and friendly, even happy to let me leave my bags in their office while I killed some time strolling around Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar, which was just a few blocks away.
When the bus arrived, I was pleasantly surprised that it was a newer model and had very comfortable seats, reclining a fair way back and with plenty of legroom. Thankfully, the air conditioning wasn’t blowing full blast, though the complimentary blankets were useful later in the night.
Before we set off promptly at 9pm, we were given a packet of snacks and a yogurt drink. Strangely enough, the lights turned off at 9:30pm, and not even the reading lights were available. I was sat next to another traveler so we had a bit of a chat before the darkness and motion of the bus lulled us off to sleep.
We were awakened at 1:40 in the morning by the abrupt lights that had been turned on. It was time for our “dinner,” which came with the price of the bus ticket. I was too deep in sleep to want to eat, but it did give me the opportunity to use the restroom and stretch my legs.
Our arrival into Bangkok at 5am was filled with the common confusion that comes with traveling to a new place, being woken up at an ungodly hour, not knowing where exactly you had been dropped off, and the ever present language barriers. I bid my travel friend goodbye and followed a staff member to their Bangkok office where I would wait for the next leg of my journey.
I was taken by a private car to pick up another passenger in Bangkok before we were dropped off with a minivan with more passengers. We drove in the minivan for roughly three hours before a lunch break and boarding tourist bus that would take us the rest of the way to the ferry.
Arriving at the Koh Chang ferry port on time at 3:30 in the afternoon, we soon boarded the ship and took the short boat ride across to Koh Chang.
In total, the journey from Chiang Mai to Koh Chang took a total of 18 and a half hours. It was a long and insane journey, no doubt, but with the smoothness of how everything went and the punctuality of all the different transportation systems, I was thoroughly impressed with Indra Tours and Cool Asia Travel for putting it all together for me.
It just goes to show that while fun and adventure is a right of passage for travelers everywhere, it doesn’t have to be a terrible experience, especially if you’ve booked with the right company.
*Disclaimer: My journey to Koh Chang was sponsored by Indra Tours and Cool Asia Travel, but all opinions are an accurate and honest view on my experience.