Vientiane to Bangkok, Riding with the Goats

The bus arrives in Vientiane at 8:30 AM, almost exactly a 12 hour trip. After getting off, I skip past all the annoying Tuk Tuk drivers that swarm the bus. Then, all the other falang  (foreigners) from the bus file onto the Tuk Tuk and I get as far away as I can, so I don’t get sucked in to the same trap.

I walk toward the front of the station toward the street and I ask two guys which way to the morning market bus station. They point the way and then I tell them I’ll walk and catch the city bus on the way. I’ve found that’s the cheapest and most convenient way to get around Vientiane. They tell me that I have to go back to the station I just came from to catch that bus and they can see disappointment on my face. Stubbornly, I keep pushing the idea of catching the bus on the route to town. I know there’s got to be a more convenient local way to do things, so I’m going to find out how I can join. After some more back-and-forth, he says to get in his truck and he’ll take me there. Apparently he’s going to the same place. I guess being annoyingly persistent can pay off some times.

I think I really get these kinds of lucky rewards because not only am I a foreigner, but I’m clearly not just a tourist, as I prove when we speak  Lao with each other. That niche between being a local and a foreign tourist is the one where people treat me most like a human and want to have those real interactions that I’m looking for on these adventures. There’s no doubt it’s my favorite way to travel and I’m addicted to it.

After I get to the morning market and buy a bus ticket, I go to a local coffee shop to get a snack, coffee, and a nicer bathroom to brush my teeth before continuing the journey. I know of a place that has private bathrooms. It would be a little strange to do that in a public one. I’m not sure I’m ready for that kind of guerrilla travel living yet. 

Then, I catch a bus from Vientiane to a big city in Thailand called Udon Thani. I get in to Udon at about 1 and then go immediately to check the train schedule. There are basically three trains that leave at night and each are a different class level. Class 1 is upscale and class 3 is where they keep the goats.

I want to get to Bangkok early, to see the hustle and bustle of the morning, so I decide to go for the earliest train, which will get in at 5 AM. Also, mostly for the adventure, I’ll be in the billy section … Sorry, that was a bad one.

Now I have about 6 hours until the train leaves, so I go to mall I passed on the way to walk around. 

It’s huge! I try to explore an entire  floor, but they have this continuity to them that makes it too daunting, plus all of the stores look exactly the same. 

Each new story I scale, the more it seems to keep going up and up! As I’m just about to give up on sumiting, I get to the top and there is full movie theater, bowling alley, and ice skating rink. This is by far the largest mall I’ve ever seen and I’m not even in Bangkok yet. I go back down and walk around little more before my feet hurt too bad to continue. I think my shoes were on too tight because it wore down one specific spot.

I go back and wait at the station for a few hours. There’s a crazy guy near me who keeps talking to himself. For some reason, I keep forgetting he’s crazy so I turn when it sounds like it’s directed at me. I hope he doesn’t see that as an invitation to chat.

I get up to walk around an open mall area next to the station to keep making my legs tired so I will avoid all possibility of them being jumpy on the train. I didn’t get to brush my teeth last night before the Laos bus, but I can’t do that two nights in a row, so I go into the public bathroom at the mall and decide to do it there at the sink. I feel really awkward, like everyone who sees me is judging me. I probably just shouldn’t care, but this one is something I’ll have to try a few more times before it feels okay. 

I head back to the station to wait for the rest of the time. The train is 40 minutes late, so I’m a little worried about my plan to get there as the sun and locals start their day. 

Finally on the bus, I find my seat, which consists of two hard bench seats pointed toward each other. This is intended to seat 4 people. The room between isn’t enough for two Thai people, let along my awkward gangly legs. 

I try to get sleep, but no luck, as you’d probably imagine. The guy diagonally across from my bench spot is out like a light and spilling over into all three of our spaces. I’m not sure if I’m more frustrated with him being rude or because that asshole is already asleep. Okay, maybe I just answered that. Either way, the added tension is making it literally impossible to sleep. 

Then, every 20 minutes, there’s a guy that will walk down the middle aisle yelling for the same people to buy the same damn products. He’s relentless, but so are we. I want to do some kind of rally cry to boycot this guy until he leaves. My revolutionaries fail me when he brings a big thermos of boiling water and the portable cups of instant noodles. TouchĂ© guy, his rally worked much better as people jump all over it, perpetuating his cries to buy his things. Maybe I’ll take some of his stuff and try to sell things as well, that’ll show him. 

As if that isn’t enough to battle the possibility of my sleep, we stop frequently at each station to pick people up and drop some off. That part isn’t too bad, but then a ticket guy from the front comes down the aisle making a loud metal clinking sound with his whole puncher. The worst part about that is that it reminds me of the guys who would walk around town making the same noise with their nail clippers in Ghana. 

I’m far from done with the rediculous distractions. One stop, we are ambushed as 100s of people flush on and pillage the aisles trying to sell there various goods. This is so abrupt and so random that now I’m just laughing. This psychological warfare is brilliant! They can see my anger beginning to get so consistent that it starts to lead to a yawn and then BAM!

After the dust settles, I notice a man lying on the ground at the front of the car. He’s either been trampled by the stampede of sellers or maybe he’s in a salt coma from the noodles. Either way, I’m jealous that he managed to escape consciousness. He has no idea what my restlessly jumpy legs and mind are going through. 

There’s an open bench next to him and I consider going for it a few times, but decide I need to tough it out and gather some lessons in how I react to discomfort. After all, if I just give in and don’t reflect, there will have been no purpose to this adventure. 

Eventually, one of the train staffs pokes at him and then once he’s confirmed alive, he’s told to take the open bench I was eyeing. I immediately regret my decision and realize that maybe the biggest lesson of all is that I’m an idiot.

Well, there’s no chance of sleep now, so I start to reflect and realize that I can’t sleep because of my own mental resistance and nothing to do with my physical surroundings… Okay, maybe slightly from the surroundings. That’s proven because plenty of people around are able to sleep. I also notice I’m frustrated with things I shouldn’t be, just because of this situation. For instance I’ve been plotting on the best way to “accidentally” kick that guy, across from my bench, who’s now been asleep for 100% of the time. Definitely something to keep on my radar as I’m on my journey through China. 

The guy directly next to me leaves around 1am and then I move my bag down on the seat, lie my head down and immediately pass out.

From there my sleep stays deep and steady, but I remember waking up once when all these people around me were up and making some kind of commotion. I just remembering wondering why everything was so loud and then I went back under. I can normally sleep through a lot, but I think I just leveled this ability up. I got the few lessons and adventures I was looking for. 

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