Friday, September 22, 2006

Trip: Thailand
Date: September 21, 2006
Place: Sukhothai - Nong Kai

Today was an interesting day. When I got up to have breakfast this morning, Malcom, the guy who runs the Mountain View Guest House told me that he read on the news this morning that they had closed all of the land borders with Laos, but that you could still fly in. He also said that the military was starting to relax some of the sanctions - for example the TV is back on - so hopefully things will go back to normal soon.

I decided to press my luck and head off to Nong Kai (on the Laos border) as I had originally planned and then hope that they let me cross the Friendship Bridge into Laos!

I took a tuk tuk to the Sukhothai train station. It was pouring rain (as it had the entire day before when I took a particularly soaking trip to Si Santchanalai) and the passenger cab was in the front of the tuk tuk so me (and my luggage) were soaked when we arrived at the bus! Unfortunately, my passport also got wet. The new versions of the passport are made with much thinner paper than the old ones, so the binding is kind of coming apart. Fortunately, my visas are still in tact, so I am hoping that after it dries out everything will be OK. (Switching to a cheaper passport binding was not a particularly brilliant move on the part of the US Governement, however...)

There was not a bus that went directly from Sukhothai to Nong Kai, so I had to take a 9am bus from Sukhothai to Khon Kaen and then transfer there to a bus to Sukhothai. I got on the bus, and I was the only white person on board. This didn't both me at all, but I was consequently the main form of entertainment for the Thai on the bus! Sadly, a very smelly guy got on the bus (eau de cigarettes) and sat next to me. He and his friends kept trying to talk to me in Thai. Unfortunately, I only know how to say two things in Thai, and "hello" and "thank you" weren't getting us very far in the conversation! Unfortunately, when the smelly guy talked to me, he kept leaning in close (I could hardly breath!) as if my hearing him were the communication problem! They were very cute though, and everyone was so excited to have an American on board.

At several of the bus stops, local people selling food will come onto the bus. The people I was sitting at were just delighted that I bought some Thai food! All eyes were on me apprehensively until I took my first bite and when I smiled, they all started to laugh! It was very funny! I bought another one of those coconut pancake things. (I took a picture this time and will post it here when my other blog is up.) I also bought these things that were wrapped in a cone shape in banana leaves. I didn't know what they were, but it has been my experience that anything wrapped in banana leaves is YUMMY! It ended up being a very glutinous banana thing with coconut on top. It was very good, but sadly I only ate one and then accidentally dropped the rest when I went out to use the bathroom...

At Phitsanulok, I saw my first tanks and armed guards. Aside from that though, it has all been business as usual here...

When I got off at Khon Kaen to transfer to Nong Kai (about 7.5 hour trip), all of my new Thai friends helped me with my bag. There was also a porter (?) there who spoke English who met me as the bus pulled in. He took me to the right ticket line, helped me purchase my ticket, and then put my bags on the bus for me all just to be nice! I have found that the Thai people are so amazingly friendly - especially outside of Bangkok. They are genuinely interested in meeting foreigners and have been extremely helpful.

About an hour away from Nong Kai, the new bus that I was on stops. A guy at the front starts yelling in Thai and pointing at me. What I understand is that I am supposed to follow him. He gets off of the bus, grabs one of my bags, and then starts rcing across the bus terminal. I grabbed the other bag and started running after him. He took me to another bus, paid a ticket guy some money, and then put me on another bus. He kept yelling "Nong Kai" so I really hoped that is where the other bus was going to take me! Thankfully, I did safely arrive in Nong Kai and I hired a tuk tuk to take me to Mutmee Guesthouse which is where I am staying. (A very charming little place right off of the Mekong!)

The entire trip took about 12 hours, including a half an hour layover at Khon Kaen. The bus went very slowly up through the mountains, but he tried to make up time (much to my horror) by racing down the very winding hills! I did arrive safe and sound, however, and my injuries from the past few days are now starting to heal...

It was pouring rain this morning, so I did some work on my photo album. I turned the first section (on Bangkok) over to my uncle this afternoon, so hopefully something will be up on my website shortly!

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