March 24th 1984

posted in: The way back | 0

We were late arriving at Ban Dou, which may or may not have meant that we had missed the first train up to Bangkok.  We weren’t too worried, however, as our information ws that there were plenty of trains all day.  Getting out to the station looked to be a bit of a problem however – the guy with a truck wanted B20 each, double what we had paid on the way in.  I walked off sown the dock to look for his competition, + again language was a problem, tho’ maybe I was getting somewhere.  It didn’t matter – the truck came along, beeping its horn, with Val + 2 fellow passengers in the back – she’d negotiated B15 each.  Payment was demanded when we stopped for petrol – I tried to withhold B15 until we arrived, but they weren’t having that, so I paid up in full – I didn’t see that I had any choice.  Another interruption along the way, to change a faulty spark-plug, but we got there in the end.  Unloaded the bags, + the truck pushed off swiftly.  It’s hardly surprising – when we enquired at the ticket office, it seemed we had indeed missed the early train, + there wasn’t another till 4 in the afternoon.  The guys on the truck must have known that, but still they’d brought us all the way out here.  After some thought, first our companions, 2 Germans, + then ourselves, decided it would be foolish to wait for the train, so would go by bus instead.  The problem was the bus left from Ban Don, where we had just come from, + so meant another bus ride back.  Infuriating, even if it did mean an ordinary bus, hence the proper fare. 

We were fortunate to get the last 2 seats on the bus up to Bangkok.  They were reserved seats, tho’ we weren’t too sure of that when we got on – fortunately a public-spirited gentleman checked our tickets for us, + told us the seats we should have (+ hence, who we would be dispossessing.)  It was  not a good journey; on the other hand, considering it took 11 hours, it could have been worse.  There were 2 food stops, at which we were able to stretch our legs + have a bite to eat.  And for a good deal of the time, we were buried in our books.  (That reminds me – I knew there was something I had forgotten about yesterday morning.  We had spent a couple of hours chatting with a Canadian couple, + tho’ it was in no way a marriage of minds, we did discover a couple of things in common.  They too were distressed by the isolation that attends travelling as a couple… even more than travelling alone, I’d say… when one speaks to almost no-one except one’s partner.  They too aren’t enthralled by every new country – we sometimes wonder whether we’re too picky, or are others completely undiscriminating?  Or are they lying?  And we were delighted to discover they didn’t think too much of Indonesia.  Best of all, they had books to swap – good ones too.  We got “Deadeye Dick”, Vonnegut’s latest, + “Dead Souls” by Gogol, which I know nothing about, but it’s high time I read some more Russian literature.  Which is what reminded me about them.)

I was reading the Vonnegut, unsurprisingly.  Another of his Midland City novels, the usual light read with barbs.  I didn’t find it as powerful or funny as his other stuff, however.  Is he going off?  Or is my 10 year love affair with KV Jr finally coming to an end.  What else about the journey?  The landscape wasn’t remarkable, except that there were, from time to time, huge cliffs rising up out of otherwise flat plains.  I only know 2 types of rock, + they weren’t granite, so maybe they were limestone – left behind after the oceans receded?  Buddhist temples became more noticeable as we went along, + there was a huge agricultural development quite close to Bangkok, with mile after mile of flooded fields, with canvas-sailed, 6-pointed windmills to pump the water from one to another.  I suppose rice is the most likely crop, but it was very different from rice we’ve seen growing in Java + elsewhere.  If it is rice, it hasn’t yet been planted. 

We both slept a little too – a very little, because of the insane driving.  We were lucky to be at the back so unable to see much, but he drove impossibly fast.  On one notable occasion, he drove at full speed over a level crossing, throwing us all high into the air.  Nothing if not exhilarating.

Arrived in Bangkok about 5, + seemed to spend ages driving round + round town.  Bur since we had no idea as to the best place to get off, we sat tight until the bus station.  Even then we weren’t much better off.  We had discovered during the day that we had somehow lost our copy of the Yellow Guide – not a good time to do so, just before arriving in a big city, where they don’t speak English, or even use our alphabet.  The 2 Germans were just about equally helpless, so the 4 of us, brushing aside the touts, clustered around the only other European on the bus.  He was better equipped to cope than we were, having been in Bangkok before, + possessing a bus map.  The only problem was, he didn’t know where we were right now, + couldn’t find anyone to tell him.  So we all set off, him an unlikely Pied Piper marching out in front, we 4 straggling behind.  The Germans soon went off on their own, + we too were separated from him when he got onto a bus.  He was, to be fair, waiting for us, but Val had temporarily disappeared, so I waved him on.  Not without a sinking heart, I’ll confess – we were now left entirely to our own resources.

We tried a bus that we had been recommended, but then discovered that, since the conductor didn’t speak any English, + we couldn’t read the street names, we wouldn’t know where we were even when we got there.  So we got off again, no wiser than before.  Next try was a garage over the road, (mainly so that Val could use the toilet), + here we had some luck, since both a girl working there + a male customer spoke fair English.  We did have the name of a street with some cheap hotels, + I’d gleaned from our short-lived PP another landmark, so with these 2 for reference, they were able to work out where to go, + how we could get there.  I asked them to write down the name of the place in Thai script, which they did – a lucky thought this, as we were able to show it to the conductor and to another passenger.  When they both told us we’d arrived we got off, + from there, following the little map the man at the garage had drawn, it was just around the corner to Kaosan Road.  Phew.

We were walking down the street when we were approached by a man who ran a guest-house, so, since he seemed nice enough + the price he was asking was in line with what we’d been told, we agreed to take a look.  The room was at the top of 4 flights of stairs, which was the bad part, but it had its own little garden + was clean enough.  So we took it.

We wound down in the room for a while – they had some old copies of Time, so I was happy – but I was surprised when Val announced herself ready for bed.  I went out for a walk on my own, + had a bite to eat, before returning to tackle another couple of Times.

The usual sort of travel problems – is it the same now, I wonder, with the internet facilitating things. In our case, it did seem to be compounded by some chicanery on the part of the truck driver, but no real harm done. It was when we got to Bangkom that the real fun began. I imagine that nowadays there is rather more use and acceptance of English, but then we came to our first encounter with the sort of helplessness one feels when not only did very few seem to speak English, even the language, with its own alphabet, was totally incomprehensible. But all was well in the end, finding ourselves in a welcoming and friendly guesthouse.

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