I was still tired from my motorbike tour when I needed to pack my bags and make my way to Thailand. Packing my four bags into three was a daunting task, but I couldn’t imagine dragging all those bags around. I stuffed my camping backpack into the bottom of my large suitcase and rearranged my smaller red one. I got rid of all my paperwork and books I wouldn’t read. I kept my bible, fantasy novels and novel notes, but tossed my travel scrabble because I simply didn’t have anyone to play with. I would nap after a half hour brain-wracking moments of figuring out the packing puzzle. As I packed, Mr. Hung was arranging my Laos visa and bus tickets. I was hooked up with a deal through Tam and Tien. The day was long but time was short.
In between naps and packing I went through Dave’s ESL Café looking for jobs in Thailand, Korea and still Vietnam. I tried to find any November or December starts. I was really feeling anxious because of my own proposed timeline for being abroad. I needed to keep K in mind because she had her own move to organize. The jobs posted for Vietnam we either in the north in Haiphong, but really the companies said those positions were full, but if I wanted to go to China, they had positions. Forget that. No China for me.
I walked through the Hai Chau Distri one last time buying my favorite bahn mi, and eating great pho. I sat and drank coffee with Tam and Tien at Tam’s uncle’s shop that also functioned as a hardware store. I watched the people constantly on the move. They felt very lucky meeting me, since I made their weblog. There has been traffic through it every day. They felt I was unlucky meeting them sine they couldn’t help me find a job. I felt very lucky meeting them. They were able to make my move through Asia a bit easier. They lessened my alienation. They also educated me about their country, which holds a special place in my heart.
I finished packing my bags Friday night. They were torn apart, property was pared down, and my spirits hovered right above borderline. Tien had taken me out for a “dry chicken” lunch. Rotisserie chicken. We picked up my passport that was shiny, new and stamped appropriately, or so I thought, had a quiet lunch and I returned to my hotel room. I watched my third showing of Jaws on HBO and surfed the internet for a few more hours. I looked for work, sorted pictures and played some scrabble. That evening I would meet up with Tam and Tien for some beers and have a send-off. Sigh, I couldn’t believe I was leaving. Nothing had gone any way expected.
Dinner was actually with Tam, Tien and Tua, Tam’s brother in-law. We sat in the open doorway of a restaurant close to the Dai A Hotel. We ate bbq pork ribs, squid sushi style, grapefruit with chili and salt and a plate of banana flowers with shrimp and beef and peanuts. It all was quite fantastic. I wish I had eaten this way my whole time in Vietnam, but it is quite expensive to eat that way. All of the clientele there were businessmen. To celebrate we didn’t drink our usual local beer selection of La Rue, but Heineken. It was a quiet occasion with a bit of political talk. We talked of American politics, but I didn’t give much of my true opinions. Earlier in the week Tien explained to me how rich kid in his country would get out of trouble because of their parents payoffs. I told him that the same thing happened in our country and he didn’t believe me. I didn’t tell them of Occupy Wall Street, nor about the high rate of unemployment or even the fact that teachers in our country do not get the respect that they deserve. I was surprised to hear that they really liked Bill Clinton. It took me about 10 minutes to figure out that they were asking me about Condaleeza Rice. We went through the list of U.S. Presidents since the American War and talked about how Kennedy was killed by the mafia. I did let them know I felt Obama could have done better, but it’s all politricks anyway. We left the conversation on the note that Obama was so-so.
It was an early night for us. We made our way to get bahn mi for a late night snack, as the cart closes earlier than one would think. It is a popular cart and I wanted to impress Tam and Tien with my ordering skills. We said good night to each other and promised to meet at 0530 for coffee the next morning. Mr. Hung would pick me up from my hotel at 0600. The last night in my hotel room was quiet. Jaws II was showing that night and I watched it anyway because my DVDs away already packed away. I finalized which belongings would go where and laid back to wait for the morning to come. The streets below were becoming wet with its nightly rain and people continued to move about, as if I had never been in their country. I would miss it here. I would miss the people I met. I would even miss the little baby in the lobby that would shy away from me every time I walked through.
I brought down one of my heavy bags from the room and woke the young man to unlock the front double doors so I coud leave for coffee. I had hoped he would help me with my other bag when I returned. I stood outside for a few minutes waiting for Tien and one of the regular motorbike drivers that hung around the hotel doors, held up his phone saying he was calling Tien at the time. I watched as two young men jogged by, but noticed they were in full run in plastic flip flops instead of running shoes. The morning was kind of wet, but there wasn’t a full rain. A few old men made their rounds swing their arms in wide circles in their early morning exercise. The street was amazingly quiet, but I knew that it would soon be loud as people made their way to different cafes before heading into work. Unlike American culture, people do not run in for a cup of coffee and jump in their cars going to work. Vietnamese people wake early just so they can sit and luxuriate on their one up of thick strong coffee.
I hopped on the back of Tien’s motorbike like so many times before. The café was a three minute walk from the hotel, but we rode anyway. I greeted everyone as if I had been drinking coffee with them for years. We sat inside instead of on the sidewalk. Early morning coffee was quiet. Tam didn’t have one smile the whole time. Soft music played as people gathered around the small plastic tables and we sipped hot tea as our café sua da was being constructed by Tam’s uncle. He’s a funny man, always joking around.Tam calls him a dead chicken and his uncle refutes this claim by saying he has many girlfriends. Tien and Tam spoke about more changes they wanted to have made to the weblog. Tien bought a few lucky papers, otherwise known as lottery tickets. Others read the paper as the day opened up. Time ticked away as we waited for Mr. Hung to call when he arrived at the hotel.
Once the call came through we donned our helmets and rode back to Phu My. I took one last picture of the café. Mr. Hung sat on his bike as I brought my other bags down. Soon Tam had my huge suitcase strapped to the back of his bike. Tien took my red bag with my computer in it and balanced it on his motorbike with no straps. My heart beat fast worrying about it the whole way as I watched him weave through traffic from the back of Mr. Hung’s motorcycle. There are no bus stations in Vietnam that I know of. As many buses as I have taken they tend to stay right outside the city center and wait on the street side. Motorbikes drive up one by one dropping off people who would be traveling. We stood around for a minute. I asked Mr. Hung for my bus ticket and he said it was all arranged I didn’t need a ticket. I even inquired about once I got to Laos. He said he didn’t arrange my trip further than Vien Chan. The deal was to get me all the way to Bangkok. “It’s easy. There are many travel offices in the city of Vien Chan.” That’s not what we agreed upon. I thought he would get me all the way to Bangkok.
I took a deep breath. The bus ride was to be 24 hours, so I should be okay getting another ticket. It was 0700 at the time and bus still wasn’t ready to leave. That just meant the I would get to Vien Chan a little later. I was more concerned with dealing with my bags once departing the bus and I had no clue as to how long I might have to wait for the connecting bus. Well, I was on my way. I waited and spoke with Tam for a bit. He asked me about my trip and I told him what Mr. Hung said. He didn’t seem too happy about the situation and for that I appreciate Tam. I knew he was concerned about me. He asked me if I had any dong for when I got to the border and I told him I had a little. Really it was only 20 dong. The rest of the cash I had was American dollars which Tien helped me exchange the day before. I stood by myself for a moment and then decided to pick my berth. I wanted to get something comfortable as I had been on sleeping buses before and I didn’t want to sit for 24 hours with my knees in my chest for 24 hours. I also wanted to be by the window and watch Vietnam turn into Laos.
The temperature was already on the rise. I squatted on the sidewalk and watched as others tossed in their luggage next to mine. I let the Vietnamese language soak in a little, but there was no way for me to decipher what was being said. Tien came from the other side of the bus with two bahn mi in hand for my trip. I thanked him and gave him a quick hug. I shook hands with Tam and they said they had to go. They wished me luck and rode off into the building traffic of the city. It was one of the saddest goodbyes I had ever made with friends. I am tearing up as I write this and remember the nights of beer and food. I was already missing their jokes and jeering. I reflected on watching football (soccer) and learning the little bit of Vietnamese I had already forgotten because of not using it. My brothers rode off to continue building their lives are tour guides as I waited for my bus to take me into another unknown. I continually have them in my thoughts.
Well, the bus didn’t finish loading up for another two hours. I ate both bahn mi before I even got on the bus. As the bus loaded with products other than luggage people drank coffee across the street, but soon enough we were off. The later we left then the later we would get to Vien Chan and the better it would be for me to navigate my next bus ticket and such. I loaded into my berth as others climbed up around me and before I knew it I was being moved. I was reluctant, because I didn’t want to be shoved into anything smaller than I was already in, but I was told to go to the back of the bus to the upper platform. It was definitely much roomier, but I was sequestered from everyone else. The seat also didn’t raise enough for me to be fully seated making it hard to read. My window access, even though I was by the window was tiny. I had to lay fully relined before I could fully see out the window. I did have access to extra blankets and pillows, so I made do with the situation. I made myself as comfortable as I could get.
The bus rumbled through the edge of the city, swaying from side to side. It honked and jerked around other cars and motorbikes. They drivers in Vietnam are amongst the worst in the world. I said a prayer as the city disappeared behind me and the green became more lush and the roads shrunk. The sway and jerks lulled me into my first sleep of the day. I had made an attempt to read, but there was not enough light in my opinion. The bus rose into some hills and into mountain like curves.
We were in Vietnam still when we got to lunch. At least I think we were. It was the typical roadside stop that was open air, but the toilets in the rear were actually western. I washed my hands and followed directions to a table of seven. As I sat down an older man left his seat not wanting to sit next to me. Everyone kind of gave him dirty looks for doing it. I imagine they felt he was making an ass of himself. I personally didn’t mind. I stayed quiet as the food made its way to the table. It wasn’t the most attractive meal, but it was included in the bus ticket. There was boiled pork, some fish in a claypot, rice and some green vegetables. It was good enough. Someone at the table ordered rice wine and asked me to partake, which I did. It was good for my head.
A few hours later we were at the border. We got off the bus and were handed slippers to wear instead of our own. We lined up in the immigration office to get our exit stamp. I was ready. I had my spanking new passport with the appropriate visas and I wanted to get across the border. I took my money, credit cards and passport out of my backpack and put them in my pocket. I donned my slippers with the confidence that this was going to be easy. In the back of my head I remember Tam asking me if I had money in dong. We all lined up in front of the two available windows and one by one people were stamped and allowed to leave. As I approached the window a new busload of people tried to make a new line. Most were women holding very small babies and looking wet and sad. It, of course, was raining buckets outside and I noticed our bus had moved from the covered area.
Well, there was no way I was going to let anyone cut in. I stood my ground and placed my blue and gold passport atop the battered green ones that he been pushed forward from the back of the line. Then it was my turn. The gentleman in uniform took my passport and ran the chip through the credit card slide contraption. Then everything came to a halt. Why?!!! He kept looking at it, flipping its pages. He looks at me. He looks at it again and at this point I can feel everyone getting a bit anxious, but not as anxious as me. Eventually he calls someone over to look at it. Damn! The first man gets up and then motions for me to get out of line. My heart dropped. What could be possibly wrong now? I had gone through a gazillion steps in order to get my passport in order and I just wanted to leave this country. It had to be the blue passport. So I get out of line and follow the man who came out of his glass office and followed him a few feet from the line.
“There is no entrance stamp.” “I know. I lost my original passport and had to get a new one.” “Where did you get your passport?” “I got my new passport in Hanoi and then my visa in Danang.” “Where did you lose your passport?” “In Danang.” “Well, you have no entry stamp.” “I know. I can’t have an entry stamp because my first passport was lost. This is a new passport and it wouldn’t have an entry stamp.” “How long have you been in Vietnam?” “Since September 1.” “Will you be coming back to Vietnam?” “No.” Especially given all the trouble I have had with this damn passport. “Wait here for a few minutes.”
I waited a few minutes. I watched as the rest of my bus was processed through the exit. I waited some more and watched as the next bus load was processed through. I went back to the window and tried to explain that I needed to get on my bus. “Please wait a few minutes. I talked to my supervisor.” Where is this supervisor? I shuffled along in those damn plastic slippers around the floor and sat for a minute and shuffled some more. The rain really began to come down and soon I was the only one left in the hallway. I went back to the window and just gave him a pleading look. Other immigration officers were processing stacks of passports for travel agents and pouring them into bags. I could make out one other blue passport and thought it was mine. I stood watching at the window as the man who sat to the first one I talked to came out of the glass office to speak to me. His supervisor had been there the whole time?! OMG! He came out of the office with a young woman to translate for him.
She asked me the same questions as the first man. She tried to explain to me that my personal information on the front page didn’t match the computer. Ten minutes previous to this meeting I again played Tam’s voice in my head about money and had taken out 100 bucks from my stash and placed in my front pocket. I fingered the money as we spoke wondering when would be a good time to offer him the bribe, but I really didn’t want to let go of the little cash I had. He kept turning the pages of the passport and finally allowed me to show him the page that states that it was a replacement passport. The young lady finally told me it was fine and I expected to be on my way. They both went back into the office and still I had to wait. I waited at the window and watched him, waiting for that final stamp. I watched him flip through the pages again and again. He continued to look at the front page as if was going to change. It’s not going to change, man! Just stamp it!!! The rain was falling. I am sure the bus had left me at this point, but I tried to not think about it.
He probably looked at the passport for another three minutes before finally stamping it. I said, “Cam on neiu, ahn,” Thank you very much. and made my way out the door and walked a quarter of a mile to the Laos border, in the rain, in plastic flip flops, with only my credit cards and passport, splashing mud onto the back of my shorts. I reached the immigration office in Laos, drenched and filled out my entrance application. I didn’t see the bus anywhere. There were no buses anywhere. It left me.
I thought maybe it was around the bend. I walked in the rain, sad. Everything I owned was on that bus. I was drenched. I wanted to burn that damn passport, but there was no way I could even start a fire in this rain. I left the immigration office dejected. My cell phone was on the bus. I couldn’t call Tien. I couldn’t call K. I started to cry. I couldn’t believe my situation. I was wearing plastic slippers, not even my own shoes. I think I was more distraught about those plastic slippers. Everything, I mean everything that meant anything to me was on that bus and it had left me. I started to cry, and hard. I softly wailed. I just didn’t know what to do. I forced myself to keep standing even though I just wanted to collapse right there. I mean I was glad to have what I did have. I knew I could eventually make it somewhere, but I didn’t know where to start so I just started to walk.
I walked another quarter mile past a truck weigh station splashing more mud on myself. Then I turned back and shuffled to the weigh station where no one spoke English. I stopped at the unidentifiable office and found a woman in uniform who spoke English and asked her when the next bus would be coming through. She told me 2000 and it was barely 1430. She told me I needed to wait at the immigration office. I thought maybe I could find a ride, even by motorbike, to Vien Chan. I had no idea where I was. All my research was for travel through Cambodia, which in hind sight I should have stuck to no matter how long it would have taken to get to Bangkok. I at east had friends of friends there. Man, I need to use my instincts better. I sloshed back toward the immigration building and asked some men in uniform if they knew how I could get a ride to Vien Chan and they of course had very limited English. Then all I wanted was a cigarette and a dry place to sit. I was soaking wet and feeling oh so pitiful. I am sure I looked it too. Argh, Vietnam, why you gotta treat me so bad?
I continued to walk toward immigration when someone who was riding my bus came running from the office. He asked me if I lost my passport. I told him that they just took a long time letting me through. He told me the bus was down the road and we were going to it. A motorbike with some long haired cat driving stopped within feet of us and he got on. I got on the very behind them. So the three of us squeezed onto the motorbike and made our way down the road in the rain through massive puddles. I was hanging on for dear life and praying that I didn’t lose those damn plastic slippers on the way. Rain in my face and a prayer on my lips, we drove about half a mile and around a curve to see the bus parked on the side of the rode where everyone had been drinking coffee waiting for me. They gave me a towel as I boarded the bus and I crawled back onto my platform. I am so grateful to have thought about packing another shirt. And I totally love my cargo shorts by Union Bay because they tend to dry really fast.
Those were my darkest moments in Asia for sure. I don’t know to this day what I would have done if I was left at the border. I’m glad I didn’t have to bribe any officials in order to leave Vietnam. That blue passport has been the bane of my existence. I had changed my shirt and directed the air conditioner onto my legs in order to dry my shorts as we made our way through Laos. I laid my shirt out and laid back for another nap. I felt like I was on an alien planet. Feeling abandoned almost equated to an out of body experience. I was far from centered. I was all the way to the right looking left. What else could possibly happen? I was almost not allowed to leave the country that told me to leave. What if I had paid a bribe? Could I have been sent to prison? I couldn’t figure out at what time I could have set the course of things differently. Okay, I was set for Thailand. I just needed to make the next bus.
The bus stopped again somewhere in Laos for dinner. The meal was unrecognizable and smelled rank. I got up from the metal stool I had sat on and moved to the porch. A few of the riders asked me to sit at their table but I rubbed my belly and shook my head. The young guy who I met up with at the immigration office asked me to move to a table and I asked him for a beer. He said no problem and got me a Beer Laos. I sipped on it for a minute and was invited to sit in a hammock on the porch near two young Vietnamese men. They spoke little to no English. One had a bandage on his arm and a bag of bandages and antibiotics. I tried to ask him what happened, but he only said he was fine. More than likely a motorbike accident. I was brought another beer and the dinner ended soon after. Everyone in their plastic sandals made it onto the bus as a second bus parked almost on the porch. We sloshed through the mud, took our places and I laid back to sleep again.
Instead of sleeping immediately I watched the Vietnamese comedies that played on the TV screens. I didn’t know what they were saying, but it was easy to follow the story. The show I remember most was set in a fashionable café. A young man was being quite nasty toward a few girls and across the room another man threw a can at his head. The one that threw the can was with four other guys, but the guy hassling the girls had his gang spread throughout the café. Then it was kind of like Michael Jackson’s BAD video. The fight was uneven, but the smaller group showed to be formidable. The leader of the small group won the girl. I wish I could describe the gang fight because it was quite hilarious.
The rocking bus, with its braking and acceleration lulled me back to sleep. I was soon joined on the platform by two other Vietnamese. We got cozy, almost spooning and slept through to the next spot. I woke to shouting and watched the people file off the bus. I had no idea where we had stopped. It was three in the morning and I wanted to just stay on the bus until we started up again. The next thing I knew one of the crew told me to get off the bus. Once I made it to the front they said you get off here. I couldn’t believe we were in Vien Chan. We weren’t supposed to get there until about 8 am. “Are you sure,” I asked. “Yeah, taxi take you to city center.” A man popped up in front of me saying he was the taxi and another was loading my luggage into the back of a mini-van. Holy shitsnacks! What am I going to do now?! There were few lights shining in what looked like a bus depot. There were a few trucks and a line of tuk-tuks. I ran back into the bus to grab my belongings and hastily packed my backpack with my pillow, wet t-shirt and grabbed my flip flops.
I made my way off the bus still waking up. My eyes were dry and I needed to put eye drops in them. My body was tight and I needed to stretch. Discombobulated, I stepped off the bus and walked to the mini-van. I didn’t see my red bag that held my vacuum pack clothes that cushioned my laptop. No way! I put both strap of my back pack over my shoulders and ran after the bus as it began to drive away. I was yelling, “My bag!” Some of the crew pointed to the mini-van and I said, “No! One more bag!” I was pointing to the red of my backpack as I forgot the word for red in Vietnamese. The bus stopped and they pulled it from under the carriage. Tuk-tuk drivers tried to take my bag from me saying the taxi wouldn’t take me to the city center. In the dead of night, there was no way I was going to take a tuk-tuk anywhere. That’s a daytime trip for fun. I walked back to my taxi that was filling with people. I sat in the very back bag grasping my backpack. The driver tried to take it from me to put in the back, but I wouldn’t let it go. I was my security until I made it somewhere.
The taxi drove to another part of the bus depot where another bus was unloading all types of goods. These good were being strapped to the roof of the mini-van. Loads of goods like cigarettes, motorbike parts, diapers…It took about 45 minutes for them to fully load up and everyone else took a seat. The van drove down dark roads and when there were street lamps I noticed that everything was in Laos script. Now I am screwed. I can’t read a thing. How will I find where I am supposed to go? I tried to keep it cool. I didn’t have a specific place to go. Mr. Hung said that there were many travel offices in the city, but I knew that none would be open at 0400 in the moring. I watched as everyone was dropped off at their destinations. Eventually I was the last person sitting in the back of the mini-van holding my backpack.
“You go hotel?” I pointed to the word travel in my pocket dictionary and he said, “Okay.” He walked to the other side of the van and then said, “We go café first.” ”Okay, sure.” What else was I going to do? It was barely 5 am and I had no idea of what to do or where to go. I wanted to freak out a little and began to hate Mr. Hung for saying it was going to be so easy. The last store we stopped at the driver grabbed me an ice tea to sip on as he had more rounds to make. We went back to the bus depot and picked up a load of lemons. It was nice to have the familiar smell around me. We drove through a market that was setting up for the day and dropped them off. Not knowing what to do and feeling like I just wanted to sleep and then regroup. I tapped the driver on the shoulder and asked if he knew of a hostel I could stay at. “You know hostel?” The driver said, don’t worry and he drove on. Oh my God…
I sat with my tea and backpack. My luggage had been moved to the back seat next to me. We wound through dark streets. I tried to get some kind of marker I might recognize later when the day actually started. Man oh man. The driver pulled up to a house that had the bottom level open. It was an opening café. It was his opening café. A thick tall man was setting out little metal tables and little plastic chairs. It was close to 530 at this point and I had a long wait ahead of me. I jumped out of the van and asked where the toilet was. After squatting to relieve myself I felt halfway normal. He asked me if I wanted to shower, but I couldn’t imagine digging through my luggage to find clothing and soap. I refused, but ordered a café sua da as the broth for pho was being skimmed over a newly started fire.
Sipping on some hot tea, waiting for the coffee I noticed that there was a travel agency directly across the street. I pointed to the office and then to my watch. My way of asking when it might open. He told me 8am. That was still another 2 and half hours away. Our coffees came and we sat smiling at each other for about half an hour. I tried to ask him if he was married, to no avail. We finally were able to exchange names as the sky became blue from deep violet. I watched a line of monks make their way collecting food for charity. More and more tuk-tuks took to the road, mainly carrying produce. The motorbike engines were loud, but there was no honking of horns. I continued to sip my coffee as the day opened up to everyone and wondered if I should and could fly the rest of the way to Bangkok.
Soon Tuan explained that he and his brother were actually from Danang. I asked if he knew Tam or Tien by showing him their business cards. No. He left the table once his younger brother came out of the bathroom and took his turn to shower. I finished sipping my coffee and just watched their day unfold. The tall think one did some calisthenics; the young one drank tea, but soon joined Tuan, after he showered in working on the mini-van. I watched them clean it, and change a bulb in the headlight. I grabbed my backpack so I could get a notebook and record what was happening to me. I was lost in Laos and did not know my next move. I guessed could have hung out at the café until the travel agency opened up. After I closed my notebook they asked me if I wanted soup. I ordered pho and sat with Tuan and his brother to eat. We share the herbs and ate in silence.
Tuan pulled out his phone, dialed a number and then handed the phone to me. A man was on the other end asked me where I was trying to go in fairly good English. I told him I needed to get to Bangkok. He told me I needed to get to the Thai/Laos border. First, he mentioned I needed to take a bus to the border and then get another bus to Bangkok. I tried to ask him about fights to Bangkok and he ontinued to talk about getting a bus and how much it would cost me and then the phone died. There goes my flight idea. I gave the phone back to Tuan who called the man again. After a few interrupted calls he figured his phone was out of minutes and got another phone. He handed the phone back to me and the man told me that the driver, Tuan, would take me to the border for 30 bucks. I agreed and then we got back into the mini-van to go to the border. It was seven in the morning at this point and I was more than ready to finish my trip. I also wished I had taken Tuan up on his offer of a shower.
We rode for about fifteen minutes before we hit the border. It was full daytime now. There were more motorbikes on the road. Stores were open, but traffic was light. In the back of my mind I thought that I was totally taken advantage of being charged 30 dollars for the ride, but I didn’t care. I was on my way. At the border the driver and his brother asked for 40. I still didn’t care. I would have paid fifty. I was nervous about the border crossing. Considering what I had been through at this point I expected the worst. I made it through the exit and tried to walk out. As I waited in line I watched as everyone in front gave the female guard crumbled denominations of Laos money. I only had American dollars. I was sent back to the exit fee booth and paid my buck fifty to leave Laos.
I made it fifteen feet before someone offered me a taxi. I hadn’t exchanged anything to baht at this point and the middle man wanted to charge me fifteen bucks to get to the bus station in Thailand. I told him ten and I was on my way. He stopped at the Thai immigration office of entry and told me he would meet me on the other side after I got my passport stamped. Those holding U.S. passports can be in country 30 days without a visa. Not having a visa and only planning to stay two weeks I got my stamp and ended up at the bus station. Maybe it was how I looked, but I was immediately shuttled to a bus going to Bangkok. I told them I needed to get to Pattaya, that’s where my friend Ken lives, and they told me I needed to transfer. Fine with me, Bangkok would be out of the way and meant a lot more time on a bus. My bags were loaded, I made it to an ATM to get bahts and waited for my bus to get on its way.
The bus ride was long. It made many stops and at every bus station I made sure I went to the restroom. Which were the nastiest in the world. Vendors climbed onto the buses at every stop, but they were selling unrecognizable things. I sipped on my water and ate on sugar crackers believing that I would eventually get to where I was going and eat something I recognized. Again I slept, lulled by the rocking of the bus. I did notice that there were no sudden stops or big sways as the bus passed cars too slow for it. The bus drivers are much safer in Thailand. That’s not saying much. The roads are definitely in better condition in Thailand. There wasn’t much countryside to be seen, at least while I was awake. There is just a lot of development along the highway.
My ass again began to scream, but I shifted from cheek to cheek to muffle the cries. I looked out the window whenever I could and I wasn’t impressed with what I saw. A TV played the news through the snowy background. We reached my transfer at 445 in the afternoon. The bus station was more subdued than the recent others. One side was for arrivals and the other side departures. I must have walked around the station 4 times with my two rolling suitcases and backpack before I found someone who led me to the correct ticket office. I bought my ticket to Pattaya and checked in my bags. I had 30 minutes to spare. I made another bathroom stop and hit the mini-mart. I recognized pork rinds and grabbed a sprite.
Waiting for the bus I tried to procure a SIM card for my phone so I could let Ken know when I might be in Pattaya. No luck with that, I waited and hoped I would be able to make change for the pay phone. I tried to call three times on a payphone and I just didn’t know how to use it. Yes, it has picture directions, but I couldn’t figure it out. With my bags checked I walked around to stretch my legs before folding up into another bus seat. It began to rain a little bit, but that was nothing new during my travels at this point. I knew there was flooding in the country, but I had no idea where that was happening. The bus pulled up to its berth and was ready to load. It was the most posh bus I had been on in Asia. There were two levels. The seats were real nice and there were LCD TV screens. The bus was over booked and I was glad to have purchased a ticket when I did. People had to sit on stools in the aisle with no back support.
Once we were on the road a Thai horror/suspense movie began to play and I cracked open the pork rinds. I put my iPod on and watched the movie with Aretha Franklin soundtrack. There was a bit of traffic. There was a lot of rain. The reading lights didn’t work so I was forced to sit in darkness. . Again, I was lulled to sleep, but preferred to have read. I was woken suddenly in front of a 7-11 and told I was in Pattaya. I don’t know why I wasn’t at a bus station. Groggy from my sleep I grasped my bags and pulled them into the 7-11 so I could finally buy another SIM card and finally call Ken. SIM card bought and installed I called and woke up Ken. I couldn’t describe where I was and I didn’t understand where he was. I handed my phone over to one of the 7-11 employees and Ken figured out where I was. I was very happy to see him in his new red car. Bags loaded and hugs given we made our way to his modern condo and crashed out to sleep. He had to work in the morning and I was exhausted even though I slept most of the way from Danang to Pattaya. It was definitely a joy to finally be where I needed to be and see a familiar handsome face. I am very grateful he opened his home up to me to stay for a short bit. But of course the story continues.