Dec 30th, 2014
I got out of the border control hall and was immediately overwhelmed by the still hot air, so hot that I wanted to go back, back to the hall where and the air-conditioner and the bribery-seeking officer were , back to China where it was right then snowing in Beijing, back to the Netherlands where everybody was hiding indoor waiting in the New Year’s joy.
It was early afternoon and the sunshine was unreasonably spicy, penetratingly spicy! If the sun was a man with whom one could talk, I was sure that he must be the most unreasonable despot in the whole universe. It’s almost hot enough to evaporate me. To avoid that I hided myself in a Seven-Eleven store, just to cool myself down. Minutes later I got out. It’s time to face the hot road.
Thailand looked much more developed than Laos. The road was without any holes in view, was much wider and had several lanes and railings. There were cars on it but they were all heading for the border. I had a picnic just outside a police station, which was by the road side, where one could see the portraits of the reverend king and queen of Thailand. I sat on the dry grass and looked around to check if there were any cow shits or other disturbing objects. Nope! “Impossible to find them anymore! They were all left behind the border! Yeah!” I thought with a relieved smile, like a prisoner who just escaped from a prisoner and was finally sure that he was beyond the hunt of the police. When my meal was half devoured, I noticed, just 3 meter away, a big yellowish dark pile of ….. cow shit!! …… well camouflaged among the grass. I wrapped up the rest of the meal and went away…… Would not be able to eat for the next 5 hours……
One car just turned onto the big road from a small path and was driving slowly. I asked if they were going to Ubon Ratchathani. Nope! but they were friendly and smiling — a good sign! “It’s gonna work out fine in this country!” I thought. I stood on the roadside for about 10 minutes and a pick-up truck stopped. The driver, a smiling young guy signed me to get into the trailer, which I did. Then off we went! Inside the trailer there were already 4 people, two older women, presumably local peasants and two young fellows, seemingly students. One of the young fellows spoke some words of English. However, the communication was painfully hard as the truck was driving fast on this high quality road and thus the wind was unbelievably strong. WUWUWU!! The wind on a pick-up truck in Laos would never be that strong simply because of the bad road. I was excited! “My first ride in Thailand!!” However, the other two young fellows were suffering and one of them had to cover his ear against the wind with one hand while the other hand grabbing his bag so the cover of it would not flap like a crazy hummingbird. How about the peasant women? They were expressionless most of the time, just waiting for the journey to finish, I thought. I was smiling, appreaciating everything of this new country and trying to take some photos while my hair was blown up into all kinds of strange shapes! “The delight of the road!” I wanted to shout!
When we entered Ubon, immediately after a turn to another direction, the driver stopped and told me that I had arrived. I thanked him and shook his hand, but somehow it seemed that he was not used to that. Later I learned that Thai people do not usually shake hands. They just do the Buddhist gesture of putting two hands together (Namaskara Mudra), palm to palm.
It’s busy. Although the city was not big, it was about five o’clock in the afternoon. When I finally figured out the route and which cities I would pass after several rounds of asking, the sun was already on its way to bed, with red slanting rays lying softly on the silver tops of lining cars. I started walking out of the city. It’s a long walk and at a certain point I got tired and wanted to check Facebook, so I stopped at a cafe where there were many tables outside, with people eating and drinking under a big piece of shed. That’s where I met two Thai guys, colleagues working in a bank. They invited me to sit down with them and we talked despite of their broken English. I am sure I do not need to tell you how curious they were about the thing I was doing — hitchhiking. I asked them to write a sign for me in Thai. Since I got the first ride pretty easily, I got confident enough to hitchhike overnight to Bangkok. They offered me food and drinks, to which I can never say no. When everything was sorted out and we exchanged contacts, it was half dark already. I went on with the fresh excitement of entering a new country. The long lines of thronging cars were crowding the streets and the yellow lights of road lamps looked so impatient. The mixture of exhaust, dust and honking was everywhere. I was holding my sign “Sir! Please I want to go to Bangkok!” in front of the long snakes of cars at the traffic light. I walked towards the cars, showing my sign to the car windows. It’s totally dark now. I was not nervous or in panic but no cars stopped. I walked further and further to find a better spot. I only got more and more attention, but no ride, no ride.
When I was just quietly and patiently waiting in a corner of the roadside, half shadowed by the fast darkness, a scooter came up and stopped. The woman driving it was about 50 years old, I estimated. One eye of her was obviously not well. She said something very fast and agitatedly in Thai, which I did not understand at all. I just smiled helplessly and pointed to my sign and said:”It’s ok!” to assure her in case she just got worried since I could see the great concern from her worried face, quickly waving hands and serious voice. I asked her:”Are you going further down the road?” She hesitated but soon nodded helplessly and signed me to get on the scooter. So she drove me further and further. We passed a gas station. I wanted to let her drop me there but a second thought told me that she might have something else, perhaps something even better in her mind, so I just went with the flow. When we passed a big sprightly lit up shopping mall, there were some urban youths in front it, with their weird hair style and tattoos, playing cool and shouting by the road side. She pointed them to me and said something fast, in an excited and sympathizing voice. Now I finally understood what she meant — she was afraid that if I stayed on the road side at night, those gangster youths might make trouble for me. The kindness of total strangers! The thing that touches me the most on the road. She was not beautiful at all, but I saw a beautiful heart inside her worn clothes and nothing but a beautiful mind in her chapped face. Then where were we heading for? I wondered again. I was rather assured that something would come up, I simply let it go, letting my face be stroked by the cool evening air and the sweet wind. There was no smell of cow shits anymore, at least.
We were all the time on the main road leading to Bangkok, where I saw cars and trucks moving like busy bees, honking, flashing, surpassing. I presumed that she would carry me out of the city, to a better spot for htchhiking, maybe a gas station. No, suddenly she said something quickly to me and turned to a small road, where the view totally changed! It’s quiet, dark in some places and there were some topless men roaming around. Soon a part of it looked like a slum. Oh NO! I suddenly had a bad feeling. Fear crept into my mind and my spine — I picutred that suddenly a bunch of her partners would come out with big knife and axes and rob me of everything. Soon I dismissed the thought and just stayed calm. If that was to happen, it was already late to escape anyway. No, we did not arrive in any small dark corner. Instead we arrived in the train station, the view of which suddenly made me realize that I was now in a country with a railway system!
“Oh NO!” I said to myself. “No trains! I wanna hitchhike……” Before I finished my sentence to myself, I was dragged by the concerned woman to the ticket window, where she talked with the stuff in the same agitated, deeply concerned tone and showed them my sign. I was just smiling all the time, letting her sort out everything for me. Also I could not do a damn thing either since they did not speak English at all. The stuff pointed to another window. We went there. It’s written “Tourist Help Desk” on the window! in English! 🙂 Through the window I saw chairs, desks and a bed in the back. On the bed there was a man, casually cross-legged, half sitting half leaning there, playing with his phone. Soon a girl came in and spoke in English:”How can I help you, sir?” Before I could answer her, the concerned good woman talked with the girl in her worried fashion. The girl turned very serious and consulted her colleagues at the same time. My only contribution to this conversation was an embarassed “I don’t have money.” Upon this sentence, the man sitting on the bed stood up and headed for the ticket office. He was wearing a casual T-shirt, shorts and sandals. I was not sure if he also worked for the railway but it turned out that he was the boss of that station and he went to fetch a free ticket for me. He handed me the ticket like it’s not a big deal at all and pointed me my seat number and the departure time — in 30 minutes. Soon a policeman came and was immediately surrounded by the concerned woman, the girl at Tourist Help Desk, the boss of the railway station and other stuff members of the station. The police talked to me briefly in body language and signed me:”Food? Do you want to eat?” I was hungry and inside the train there might be no chance of getting a meal, so “Yes, please! I am starving!” He led me to a stall just outside the railway station. Before I went with him, the concerned good woman was about to leave, I gave her a big hug for her help! She was glad, stretched out her hand to my shoulder and patted. Only then did I realize how small she actually was. The police paid for some fried rice with vegetables for me and led me back to the train immdiately, so I could eat inside the wagon and not miss the departure. Police paying for my meal had never happened to me before. In Europe I could never even imagine this to happen. Moreover, the policeman even gave me 100 butt, about 3 dollar. I got a great feeling about this country. He asked me if I needed water. “No sir! I have sufficient!” I assured him and showed him my bottles. He left.
That train was perhaps the most shabby one I had ever taken, but it was the most spacy one also since I was the only passenger in my wagon …… Tomorrow mornng I would arrive in Bangkok. I was eating, looking around and ruminating what just happened. “I am gonna spend New Year in Bangkok!” I told myself, with unsupressable smile at the corner of my mouth.
The train left the station, like a snail. It was less than 400 km but it took 12 hours. It was not fast, at all. The cold air of the dark evening crept in. I closed the window, rummaged in my backpack, found my sleeping bag, unzipped it and covered myself with it. The lights of passing streets flashed in from time to time. The train was unbelievably shaky. I noticed soon that the doors of all the wagons were open all the time! even when the train was running at full speed! There were people running late and they would simply jump on the train at these doors while the train already started running. What a scene!
Later came in more people in the wagon, mostly local Thai people, families with kids and crying babies. People selling snacks and fruits were passing again and again and the conductor was checking tickets with polite smiles. At a certain stop, two African-looking young people, a guy and a girl came in and sat not far from me. I was trying to make out what language they were speaking to guess where they were from. However, their conversation was dampened by the noise of the engine and the rapping of the train parts. I went up to them, with fresh excitement. They were friendly people and the girl even worked in China before. I asked them where they were heading for. They said that they were Christians and were on their way to pray for the New Year in Bangkok.
–“How about you? Where are YOU going?” They asked me.
–“2015!” I said with a wicked smile.
Dec 30th, 2014