VIP Buses to Surat Thani: Scam or Saver?
Here's the scene: February of last year. Winter holidays. On my way to the Thai island of Koh Samui.
I left Bangkok's Khao San Rd. at 5:30 in the evening, crammed in a discount "VIP bus" full of LARGE Australians (I am not exaggerating, these people were massive). This was to be a prelude to the rest of the trip to Koh Samui, as I was not able to get rid of these large Australians until I actually arrived at my hotel on the island.
The "VIP bus" turned out to be a double-decker bus filled with foreigners. There were Tiki shades with gaudy tassels on the windows and the seats were decorated in unfortunate red floral patterns. It was full of mostly Brits and Aussies and a few French backpackers, all heading down to the southern beach areas of Thailand - some to Phuket, and some to the islands in the gulf, where I was headed.
This was meant to be an overnight sleeper bus, but good luck sleeping!! Just after 10 pm, the driver finally turned off the bad, action flick and the lights and let us all believe we were going to get a good night's rest. We'd just reclined our loudly upholstered seats and drifted happily to sleep when the lights were abruptly turned back on and we were ushered off the bus for dinner at a small garage filled with expensive snack foods and a pay-per-use loo.
At 5 am, the bus finally rolled into Surat Thani, a coastal town in southern Thailand that is used as a transport hub. Here, all the passengers parted ways for their various destinations, and those of us lucky enough to go to Koh Samui were left in a small ticket agency/restaurant to wait for the shuttle bus, which would take us to the pier where we boarded the ferry to Koh Samui.
I've since learned that these so-called "VIP buses" are actually a scam, where foreign tourists unwittingly stow all their belongings under the bus, and then wily guys jump into the cargo hold while you're travelling, rifle through your luggage and steal stuff out of your bags. To be honest, I had no such experience; although, it is possible I had smartly packed all my valuables into my carry-on bags for safekeeping.
There are relatively few transport options to the Thai islands from Bangkok, and many of them are long and uncomfortable. If you're unsure, opt to take the State Railway of Thailand, where you can book private first-class sleeper compartments with lockable doors, semi-comfortable bunk beds and lots of beer. Otherwise, spring for a short-hop flight from Bangkok to your island of choice, most of which are serviced by small airports.
If you want to try out the VIP bus, you can book tickets at many travel agencies in Bangkok, along either Khao San Rd. or Silom Rd. Just make sure to keep all your important stuff with you and leave nothing for potential bag-riflers to nick!