It Is something like 3am here, and we are somewhere between Bangkok and the Thailand/Laos border – on our way at this point to Vientiane and, further still, Luang Prabhang. After all of the hustle and activity of Bangkok, what I am told Laos will be like sounds like a refreshingly slower pace for a change but we will have to see when we get there as to whether tales of a slow-paced tourist nirvana are in fact a fair reflection of where we are heading – or just one of those romantic myths.
Bangkok itself has been a loverly 24 hour experience before we jumped on this plane, and one that I intend to reflect on at length later in this piece, but it would be remiss not to start the story at the beginning and try to create an approximate sense of what we have had to go through so far before arriving at this point. A few notes and observations therefore follow.
Unless you are a backpacker, I would seriously advise the frequent traveller to steer clear of Ethiopian – while the complimentary free lunch at the airport set a great tone for the flight, it became apparent later that this high point was needed in order to mitigate much of the suffering subsequently afflicted. Flying coach on a 737 (think the size of plane usually reserved to hurl you to Cape Town) to Addis Abbaba with only the worse of the family-appropriate BBC movie archives playing on the in flight TV was hardly the greatest definition of a rapturous flight experience. This was then compounded later by fairly hostile cabin crew service and Geri’s luggage at Suvharnabumi being taken by some other backpacker who, in a terribly coincidence, happened to have the same bag as Geri. As I write this, neither this confused soul, nor Geri’s luggage has returned to the airport and she has started her Bangkok adventure with, quite literally, the clothes on her back, her purse and a toothbrush.
This experience has convinced my that, on some level at least, there must exist a god of backpacker travel Karma, and that said god seems to target people for whom the effect of his disasters would be most keenly felt. It was Geri’s first serious adventure trip overseas – nay, her first serious adventure outside of Johannesburg, and if she can survive such a character building experience this early on, then I feel that she deserves at least some sort of minor recompense from that great backpacker in the sky.
Ladies in toilets
A further observation, on arrival in Bangkok, was how people here feel absolutely nothing for having a matronly woman on guard in the mens loos, waiting for – erm – mess to clean. Now, while I have no opposition to the goal of clean public toilets – in fact I would consider myself and intitutional supporter of them – having a large, serious looking lady scanning me while I am trying to make use of the facilities has been an interesting new cultural adjustment. Notwithstanding the whole eastern-toilet,bum hose thing, but that really will require a picture to explain, as seeing the odd layout and refreshing cleaner pipe would do more to express the technical and balancing challenges of the setup far better than I would ever manage to wittily do here without being somewhat gross.
At only 40 Baht for a quart and an alcohol value of 6.7%, this stuff should really be an institution amongst the budget travelling crowd. Joe, Dave, Alex and Zweli discovered the stuff in a thatch roofed restaurant-cum-shack at the end of the road just outside our backpackers and then proceeded toi devour bottles of the stuff after the first quart had largely done its job and they began to drunkenly try to apply themselves to the eating of delicious local delicacies. Much fun was had by them (if the slurring, smiley faces were anything to go by) and us, who arrived later to join them in drunkely missing our food and sipping the equivalent of three and a half shots of vodka through a straw.
Are demons. How these little three wheeled cars manage to a) not get wiped out and b) not fall over, still defies the physics I was taught in the west. Cramming up to three of us in the back of an overpowered tricycle and proceeding tho zoom around the city at a ridiculous speed, it because difficult to take photos of the scenery as we passed it, as the constant high speed cornering and subsequent need to lean left or right to avoid tipping became an overiding priority fot eh passengers at the back. Moreover, our iniital tuk tuk to the zoo and surrounding attractions (10 Baht, later free) turned out to in fact be a sort of maketing quid-pro-quo, as the drivers would drop us outside a variety of exquisite gemstone shops (insert Burmese gemstone buying quip here) where we, who have budgeted for little more than food, could stare at three million baht necklaces as the sales ladies pressed us to try on the equivalent of my last ten years earnings in jewellery and presume I was about to walk straight to the till. Still, it was interesting to see some of the more exotic stones, an provided we stayed interested and browing in each of the stores for more than 15min, so that our drivers could earn a commission for delivering us – all was good. At the least, it resulted in them giving us the lift to the zoo for free, in exchange of our services as their shopper guinea pigs.
While not an adventure in itself, the ability to constantly sweat every single day, and all night, has proven an interesting sideshow to whatever else is in fact happening at the moment. This has led to a fairly dirty and greasy party of sleepers on this train tonight, as well as an increasing desire to see indoor, preferably air conditioned attractions for a while. I have also discovered, that as bad as the humidity may get, it is always possible to compound the feeling with some of the excellent green curries served here, which are not only fantastically delicious and good value (about 120 baht) , but make your head,particularly, feel as if it is an ice cream melting on a hot day. This feeling is often est remedied with a large glass of Chang which, while not ealleviating the primary burning sensation, at least causes you to be mildly drunk – thereby distracting you from the heat and curry-based burning. The fact that most everyone else we have seen so far is not permanently drunk suggests that further coping strategies may be available. This requires further investigation
And with that short list of some of the interesting and entertaining observations so far (there are so many, many more than I could ever write, and I feel dishonest in leaving them out, but there just isn’t space!), let me bid you adieu and climb back into my warm little second class sleeper thingy on the train and I will do my best to see if or when I can post another update to what has been a magical trip for the first 48 hours so far.