Booking travel between cities using a travel agent you can get good bargains if you look into van travel. The cost is relatively cheap and will open up new areas and destinations apart from the mainstream travel areas. The booking is easy as the travel agents know the time tables and pick up areas. They will answer any basic questions about the journey.
However, the actual trip is usually a bit lengthier than you might expect. For a trip from Krabi to Hat yai the advertised departure time was 10:00 to arrive at 14:00. The hotel pickup was schedule for 10:00-10:30. For our trip, an older, banged up minibus picked us up at our hotel exactly at 10:00. The driver came into the lobby area and called out our destination. He opened the back door so we could throw our backpacks in before letting us climb into the van.
We then went to two more hotels and picked up other passengers before heading towards the minibus office. We all got out of the minibus and were told to wait for another van. There was a small restaurant where you could buy quick dishes, snacks and there were restrooms available. At 11:00 two more vans arrived and dropped off their passengers.
Finally at 11:20, a new van drove up, dropped off a few passengers, picked us up and left the minibus office. We were finally on our way, or so we thought. We ended up stopping at several locations, picking up and dropping off passengers. Finally the van was filled (mostly Thai passengers now) and we left Krabi Town at around 12:00. The four hour journey was broken up by one restroom and lunch stop at 13:30. We kept an eye on the driver to make sure the van didn’t leave without us. The break was short and everyone was back on the van in less than 30 minutes.
We continued on towards Hat yai and some passengers got off at towns along the way. The van was half full by the time we reached the bus terminal in Hat yai. All but one passenger disembarked at the bus terminal. The remaining passenger was being dropped off at a nearby location. I asked the driver if we could get dropped off in town, but he informed me that his van was not permitted in the city.We were weary-eyed and exhausted from the ride, but we arrived safely and without any major mishaps.
Lesson learned: When traveling by minibus, expect it too take longer than you initially thought.