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An open letter to my motivation.

THAILAND | Sunday, 9 December 2007 | Views [3167]

Oh, sweet motivation! How could you abandon me so soon? We're barely out the door and already you have me lounging around the floor of my hostel in the middle of the day. You only return when it's time to eat. Or when you want a new book to read. These are the only things that I can get you out the door for. For anything else I need to bribe you with banana milkshakes.

Nasty, fickle motivation! We're in Thailand and you can't even muster an appearance when we're standing in a street full of temples. Not even for temples? Do you realise that we've been in Thailand for almost three weeks and we haven't even been inside a single temple? You can't use the "oh, we have nothing to wear" excuse forever, motivation. It's lame.

And you can't say "oh, but we went to Sukhothai. Isn't that enough?" because it's not enough. And it's not like you were even present for that either. You dragged your heels all the way through that gorgeous, peaceful, ruined city. You were more excited about the hired bicycle and the turtle we found on the road than the place itself. Seriously, motivation, we could have had those things in New Zealand and saved ourselves several thousand dollars.

We've got problems, motivation. Without you I really can't do anything more than simply exist. I'm currently relying on things that we planned and bookmarked in the past when we were on the same page, but it's not the same as having you here with me.

Dear motivation, I'm sorry if I did something to offend you. I'm sorry I made you walk so much. Please come back. I miss you.


In the last installment of "Aletta is awkward in South East Asia" my motivation and I were planning an escape from tropical island paradise. We managed that without too much drama. There was a half-hour long-tail boat ride, an hour long ferry journey, a five hour layover in Krabi and a fourteen hour bus ride.

The fourteen hour bus ride wasn't intentional. The man at the bus company in Krabi suggested that I break the journey into two by stopping in Hua Hin -- where there is apparently everything you need, and monkeys. He said that the bus would stop there at 11pm, and my admittedly less than bountiful experience in Thailand so far assured me that there would be touts awaiting the bus who would usher me to a bed for the night.

Thus was a plan made.

My bus to Hua Hin was one of these "VIP" deals. That's the class of bus that backpackers get shoved on. They're airconditioned, seat-reclining, DVD-playing jobbies with a blanket. Every conceivable luxury in bus-form. Or that's what you're told.

For me, since I was alighting in Hua Hin, I got shoved in the lower level of the bus. When I walked in it was a little boggling... one giant booth around a table, all plush looking. I thought, sweet, and stretched out on the bench seat. Super comfy! I can sleep here! Then they shoved another eight people in there, and it as slightly less than sweet. Add the fact that they turn out the lights and blast you with movies you'd rather not watch, then make regular one-hour stops in the middle of the night at places you'd rather not eat, then don't actually stop in Hua Hin until 3am... and it all becomes a little revolting.

I was vomited out of the bus on Khao San Rd in Bangkok at 6am. No stop in Hua Hin for me, just a 6am jam, toast and coffee in a nasty pub with the remainder of the previous night's Khao San revellers, still going strong.

I spent another two nights in Bangkok, mostly recovering from the fourteen hour bus trip and whatever tropical malaise or prosaic stomach affliction seemed to have left me weak and liquified. Then I jumped on a third class train for a seven hour journey to Phitsanulok.

What's in Phitsanulok? Apparently a rather aging population, judging by the number of wheelchairs and hospital bed shops. Also a reasonably charming river, a bustling night market and lots of elderly rickshaw drivers (not yet ready for the hospital beds). Phitsanulok is also, according to my Lonely Planet, a more charming base for exploring the old city and birthplace of the Thai nation, Sukhothai. My motivation only came to the party for this one because it didn't want to have to deal with Regret, or with explaining to other people why it didn't want to visit at least one ancient city.

So I rocked into town and checked myself into the local YHA. I'm not sure what happened to the local YHA. My possibly out of date guidebook claimed that it would be full of backpackers, and that the proprietors would be a fountain of knowledge about the area. I arrived to find the place pretty much deserted, the office unmanned, the tables and communal surfaces covered in the detritus of everyday life but devoid of any detritus that suggested "backpackers frequent this place" and a general air of abandon.

There was, however, a family playing cards at the table. These were the proprietors. Only one of them spoke any English, and his fountain of knowledge extended only to the Thai rules for playing Rummy.

My room hadn't been cleaned from the last guests, was missing half a toilet seat and sported a dead cockroach lying on the floor outside the bathroom. The roach stayed there for the two nights of my stay, since I figured it posed no threat in its deceased form. When I slipped over upon exiting the bathroom and planted my bum on the ground about one centimetre from this cockroach corpse I rethought this evaluation.

Accidents happen in the bathroom, folks.

My first night in Phitsanulok was spent wandering the markets full of cheap clothes, perplexing t-shirts, second-hand Chuck Taylors, sunglasses, underwear, boggling foodstuffs and other general market fare. It was the King's birthday, so the streets were swarming with yellow t-shirts (the King's colour) and there was a bit of a party going on. I caught one of the elderly rickshaw drivers and got him to pedal me the 1.5 kilometres back to the hostel. The poor bugger... I felt like telling him to sit down and let me do the pedalling. However I did have a "gosh" moment as I was sitting in the back of my rickshaw, heading home, with fireworks exploding behind me. Yeah, it gets you when you don't expect it.

The reasonably charming river. Snapped whilst waiting for the night market to realise that it's night time and that it should be open for feeding me already.

The next day I took what amounts to a motorcycle powered wheelbarrow to the bus station. I ignored the woman who told me the next bus was in two hours and cost 60 baht and found the bus went in ten minutes and cost 40 baht. One point for me! I'm beginning to understand how this works. I did the same trick when I got to Sukhothai's new city: Ignored the woman who said that the bus to the old city was going to be ages and that the best way to get there was her taxi, and caught the local bus for 20 baht. Yeehah!

My chariot. This may or may not be a typical way of travelling. I'm sure I saw Thai people sitting in the front of these things, but when I was in it I kept getting amused smiles from everyone we passed. Hmm.

Sukhothai's old city is like a giant park dotted with ruined wats (temples) and statues of Buddah in various forms. It's very beautiful. Very peaceful. I took some photos. I sweated. I learned to distinguish between Buddah subduing the forces of evil and Buddah dispelling fear. I tried to imagine people living there. I wondered why it was ever abandoned. As I mentioned before, I found a turtle. Then I caught the bus back to Phitsanulok.

I think everybody gets a photo of this cat, snoozing in the shade inside a ruined wat.

And on the bus I rediscovered a little of my enthusiasm for travel.

I was sitting in my seat, alternately watching a group of farang haggle over the price of the same taxi I refused earlier and deleting photos off my camera. A couple of Italian guys sat down next to me and I was delighted because I was much better able to understand Italian than the French being exchanged by the couple in the seats behind me.

Hey, when you've got nobody to talk to, the best you can hope for is a bit of eavesdropping.

Flipping through my photos, I came across a photo I took of the tomato sauce tomato in a pub in Auckland. It struck me how ridiculous this was. I giggled and showed it to Italian boy next to me. He giggled too. This proved an excellent conversation starter and we spent the next hour and a half blathering like a couple of old chums.

We got off the bus in Phitsanulok and headed to the night market for a feed. What was for me a pretty dull experience the night before became so much more amusing with the injection of company. These guys were two pretty unlikely travelling companions: Matteo was quiet and hesitant, dry and ever so slightly negative, haggling and nitpicking. Apparently one of the compromises made for this journey was that they would only stay in hotels, never guesthouses. Matteo also required a fair portion of their 21 day visit be spent lounging around on beaches in Phuket. This seemed a fair enough bargain for Jan, a singularly open and jolly fellow. Unlike the majority of Italians I've met in the past, Jan had an overwhelming enthusiasm for eating the unknown. Worms, grasshoppers, mystery meat, mystery sweet... "I have to try everything!" On the bus Jann sat next to me and giggled at my photo while Matteo sat next to a man who spent the journey wiping his nose on whatever surface he could, including the curtain.

We ate, we drank, we watched tourist groups take turns at getting up on a platform wearing ridiculous attire in order to catch a frypan full of spinach as it flew through the air. At ten'o'clock I escorted them to the train station. (After spending one day in a town you become an expert at finding the train station.) They were heading south, back down to Bangkok. I was apparently heading north. We took obligatory awkward group shots whilst declining the attention of a ladyboy and then I hotfooted it back to my cockroach lair.


From Phitsanulok the next morning I took another seven hour train journey to Chiang Mai, passing out of the flat and burning countryside and into hilly, foresty lands.

Somewhat inspired by Jan's "I must try everything!" I sampled foods as the hawkers passed up and down the train. Phad Thai wrapped in a banana leaf. Minced pork. Mystery sausage. A mystery fruit that kind of tastes like pear, but wasn't. I dipped this in the salty orange mystery substance that accompanied it, and it was good. (Writing this paragraph it occurs to me how beneficial but ultimately less amusing it would be to find out the real names of these things, instead of prefixing everything with "mystery".)

I emerged in Chiang Mai and was immediately assailed with tuk tuk drivers wanting to escort me places. I was a little torn between going to stay in a hostel which seemed like a friendly place but pretty well removed from the action in Chiang Mai, or finding myself a guesthouse in the tourist quarter. I decided on the latter, took a tuk tuk into the city, walked around for twenty minutes and found no rooms available anywhere. Defeated, I phoned the hostel and got picked up.

Best decision I could have made. Such a friendly place. As soon as I arrived I was invited out for dinner with a bunch of hair flipping, oh-my-godding Canadian chicks and a dry but earnest English fellow. Note to self: Hair flipping, oh-my-godding Canadian chicks are perhaps not up to most stunning conversation topics like "Which part of the colour spectrum do you prefer your vegetables to reside within?" I spent a good five minutes randomly saying things like "Parsnip! In the beige spectrum!" and they gave me polite but pained smiles.

This hostel has all the creature comforts you could want, except for private accommodations. They have many series' of House on DVD. Hot water showers. Free wifi. Free breakfast. The downside of this is that it makes it extremely difficult to leave during the day. Witness me lounging around on the floor writing journal entries instead of visiting the many and varied attractions of Chiang Mai.

Tomorrow I hopefully head up into the hills to hang out with a bunch of permaculture hippies. Let's see if my motivation can come to the party for that.

Tags: on the road



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