Moving On

No more beach bars. No more fire shows. No more dancing barefoot on the sand in the warm night air with coconut palms in silhouette and longtail boats rocking gently at anchor. No more cold Singha beer at the end of hot days. No more ramshackle restaurants with open sides and red snapper speared with lemongrass sizzling on charcoal grills

But I was ready to move on by then. I had been back in Thailand for the best part of a month, after making my way through Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos and then from Chiang Mai through Bangkok to the Lower Gulf Islands, Samui, Pha Ngan and Tao.

What had once seemed exotic was now just part of the familiar backdrop. The guest houses seemed ever grottier. I had increasingly started to notice the smell of the sewage, and the bing-bong bell on the door of 7-11 was beginning to get on my nerves.

I climbed into the back of a Japanese mini truck with other travellers who were leaving the island and found half a space against the bodywork. There was nothing to hold onto for peace of mind and nothing much to stop me tumbling out, and the driver screamed the engine up and down the hills and round the corners on the way to the pier.

It was the usual drill for Thai transport hubs. Someone slapped a fluorescent dot on my singlet and I went to stand with the throng of travellers with different coloured dots according to destination.

No one seemed to know when the boat might come in. I did not even know where it was going. I assumed Surat Thani, where I had taken the train to get the boat to Samui. But in fact, it was Chumphon. I would find that out when I got there.  

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It was a sedate crossing to the mainland. I sat on the rail with my legs over the side and the wash soaking my feet, sharing sun cream with a girl from California.

The sun was setting by the time we came in.  It backlit the jungle behind the town, cast the mountains into shade. Songthaews, or share taxis, collected those of us were going on by train and ferried us in convoy to the station.

As the train rattled through the night, the guards came through and turned the seats into beds. The bar was closed and the doors between the carriages locked.

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I woke up early and looked out of the window as the train was slowing and recognised Ayutthaya by the sinister long-nosed tuk tuks and the abundance of stray dogs sniffing round in the crepuscular gloom. It was light by the time we pulled into Bangkok.

The local buses had intimidated me once. The destination boards are all in Thai script and conductors are unlikely to speak much English, but I asked at tourist information in the station for the route number and said “Thanon Khao San” to the conductor, who pointed out the stop as we approached.

I went to the quieter end of Soi Rambuttri and into the foyer of a guest house where I had stayed before and put my bag with those of the departing guests and checked my emails on their computer.

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Bangkok has a centripetal pull. Wherever you travel in South East Asia, you always, eventually, find yourself back in Bangkok. It was my fourth time there on this trip. I had seen the temples and the royal palace, browsed the night markets, fingered the amulets, wandered the workaday streets of Banglamphu and ventured beyond into the modern city.

I walked the block for the umpteenth time. Rambuttri, Chakrabongse, Khao San, Tanao and back along the other side of Rambuttri. I picked up lunch on the way from one of the carts which line the streets, better the further you get from Khao San Road.

It occurred to me that the tuk tuk drivers, masseuses, tattooists and street vendors no longer followed me down the road trying to shake me down for a few hundred Bahts, hearing no as not at that price.  No one harassed me at all.

Maybe my tan was deep enough by then that I looked as if I belonged. Or maybe it was because I had adjusted to the Southeast Asian pace. It had taken me a while to stop charging around at London speed, as if constantly late for a meeting. I would shift gear again, though. Geographically, I was heading further East: culturally, I was going back to the West.

In the late afternoon, I picked up my bag and went to find a taxi to take me to the airport for the flight on to Sydney.

© Richard Senior 2020

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