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Meditations around the world My 8-month Trip to Southeast Asia.

Jan 9-14: Heading North To Laos

THAILAND | Friday, 12 January 2007 | Views [1921]

January 9-12, 2007

From Buriram we boarded the train for a quick uncrowded, bench-seated ride to the city of Khorat. We had planned to stay overnight in this city, walking from the train station an hour to our selected hotel. Arriving finally in front of the hotel on our urban trek, we both had the feeling that we would rather continue on to the little town of Phimai rather than dwell in big city life. We walked past the hotel, looked at our guidebook's simple map, and walked the wrong way to the bus stop.

Four blocks later, we were getting the feeling that we had gone the wrong way. We checked the map again. I had looked at it wrong. I flashed a guilty smile and we backtracked to the correct road. We inquired of a few locals and were pointed down the correct street to the bus terminal. We had been carrying our luggage now for several hot hours and were getting a bit worn. We walked with great relief past all the parked busses and to the ticket window.

"Two tickets to Phimai, please."

"Where you go?" English did not come easily from the attendant.

"Phimai" I spoke a little louder so she could understand me.

"Oh, no. No heeah." She shook her head.

I almost repeated myself even louder, but then realized she heard fine, just the bus wasn't here.

"The bus isn't here?" I tried to understand.

"No. Phimai bus, Bus station two." She waved with her hand, the kind of wave one gives when you are talking about something far away.

We made sure that we understood the woman correctly, got directions, consulted the map and began walking again. Eventually we came to eight lane traffic and had to cross. We walked boldly without slowing as we had learned in Cambodia. Eventually we came to a bus stop and the bus we wanted happened to be there so we hopped aboard, taking a seat at the back of the bus. We were glad to finally rid ourselves of our packs and rest our legs.

The ride on the local bus was nice and easy. As usual during stops, vendors selling foods or drinks came through the bus. I noticed one Thai man was selling fat Thai sausage on a stick. I cringed, remembering a bad experience with a raw one quite a few months back. In front of us, an older anglo gentleman perked up and told the vendor he would like ten of them. I was impressed at his appetite for such a thin man and at the same time wondered how long this ride really was. We soon struck up a conversation with this man who, it turns out, was Swedish but living in Thailand. I remarked that he must really like the Thai sausage and laughed at his reply.

"Oh, no, no, no, I can't stand them!" he said with a surprising amount of disgust and passion.

"No?" My puzzled look kept him going.

"Oh no, I get these for my dogs! Oh they smell so horrible, I can't stand them." He squinched his nose and looked away.

As we found out, our new friend had ten dogs he was lovingly looking after. He then began telling us of his sick dog who he did not think would be alive when he got back. He had a point when he told us that he had given the dog to his gardener to 'euthanize' due to its chronic suffering. There were no veterinarians within a distance he could take the dog. He then speculated that the dog would be euthanzed with a shovel or something. Before he finished his story he was openly crying about his poor pet. We consoled him with empathy of loosing our own pets and felt compassion for this caring soul. His stop was halfway to Phimai and, though we felt for him, the mood was much lighter after he got off.

We reached Phimai and hefted our bags once more, looked at our map, picked a guesthouse and headed, once again, the wrong way. A few block down a nice woman stopped her bike and, speaking fluent English, asked us where we were going. We told her the name of the guesthouse and she set us in the right direction.

The only way we could discern that our accommodation was indeed a guesthouse was the sign and a desk among the clutter. Other than this, it just looked like a junky house. We found a woman to show us a room up some steep and narrow steps and hesitantly booked it. We had carried our bags far enough that day and this would do. That was, until we realized that our room, uninsulated boards, baked in the hot afternoon sun and that we were sharing a room with countless mosquitoes and a noisy bat. We moved to a nice hotel the next day.

Phimai is a town built around a cultural and historical park. Inside this park lie the partially reconstructed ruins of one of the Angkor era temples just as we had seen in Cambodia. The grounds were well kept and manicured. I found this detracted from the feel of antiquity of this thousand year-old ruin. We paraded through nonetheless, snapping photos as is we didn't already have thousands just like them from Cambodia.

The rest of our time in Phimai was spent at the small unimpressive night market and at a laundry mat. Overwhelmed with excitement, we figured it was time to move on.

January 12-14, 2007: Buses and Trains North

We got the bus back to Khorat and then had a long hot wait at the station for the next train north to the city on Kong Kaen. The train was packed with Friday commuters and we were stood in a huddle for several hours before some seats opened up. We met a Thai woman who had married a G.I. during the Vietnam war. He was killed during the war but she still received benefits. She had moved back to Thailand from the US because dental work was too expensive in the states and her military benefits had been cut.

Eventually the sun set as the train slowly emptied and we moved to other seats near our bags. We then had the misfortune of being joined by a frantic mother and an endlessly screaming baby. The mother's other child was sitting in boredom while the baby wailed. We cheered him up with some chocolate covered pretzels. Soon an elderly Thai woman came over and said something in Thai and was handed the baby. I couldn't understand the Thai but figured it was something like, "I've had twelve of these. Let me show you how its done."

We got to Kong Kaen around nine and hired a tuk tuk to take us to our selected guesthouse. He delivered us directly to the wrong place and took off before we had time to realize it. We hefted our bags and marched wearily to the correct guesthouse. We got a room, went for sidewalk food, swatted mosquitoes for late night sport and tucked ourselves into bed. In the morning, uninspired by this city, we packed, went for breakfast, and hoisted our bags again for the walk to the bus station.

Our bus turned out to be very nice, air conditioned and roomy. We headed out, showing off our mozzy swatter by ridding the bus of stowaway pestilence and relaxed in comfort. Soon the bus, not being fully booked, pulled to the side of the road and we were told to get on another bus, crowded and humid. We were sitting right in front of a line of orange-robed monks and I was suddenly self-conscious of my desire to search and destroy any mozzy life forms. We sweated the rest of the way to Nong Khai, border city to Laos.

Or should I say we almost made it to Nong Khai. We were dropped off on the side of the road three kilometers from town where several tuk tuks lined the shoulder. We found that it is common practice to put bus stops and drop off points far away from destinations so as to benefit the tuk tuks and to extort money from stranded farang. We spoke with the drivers, defended our right not to pay anymore to get to our destination and walked off up the highway the three klicks to our guesthouse. Of course, this guesthouse was full so we continued our journey to find one that was acceptable.

Nong Khai wasn't a bad town. We found some cheap places to eat and a huge indoor market that stretched about a mile along the banks of the Mekong. As we were eating lunch one day I noticed that across the street there were huskies walking around. We went over to investigate and found a Siberian mother in a cage nursing four tiny puppies. There was one other husky tied up and we started speaking to the owner, though he spoke no English. He showed us a magazine picture of a prize-winning Siberian Husky male and then disappeared for a minute to return with two of the cutest balls of fluffy puppy ever seen, the show dog was the sire. They were so big we thought they must be Malamutes, but he insisted they were Siberian. They were gorgeous. They were for sale each for $700US. Leslie went nut over them. I felt bad for them being in this climate, but then realized I had gotten both my snow dogs in Southern California and had no place to judge. We thanked the man for showing us the dogs and walked on our way. After a couple of nights in Nong Khai, it was time to leave Thailand again and head into the unknown lands of Laos.

Tags: On the Road

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