My train was cancelled. I was told it was broken but there should be two the next day.
Now I’m stranded in the erotic but Islamic border town. I have no way of contacting the disco quartet so I’m at a bit of a loss of what to do. I guess I’ll just spend the day exploring Sungai-Kolok with my stomach.
I only made it to the foyer of my hotel when I was joyously invited to join a seven year old’s lunch by a Thai nanna. She was roughly pumpkin shaped and had a milky-way of freckles strewn across her smile-weathered face. She laughed like a retired witch and hollered at the other hotel guests like their mother. She had made her grandson a spicy watercress soup and sweet, sun-dried pork jerky with sticky rice. He couldn’t finish it so she invited me to.
I loved her, she was like the old lady from Howl’s moving castle – hoarse and haggard but youthful and constantly laughing. She held me by the elbows, gave me free food and tried to teach me some basic Thai. She was everything I want from a non-English speaking friend. It was so joyous talking and eating with her I made it my mission to spend the afternoon finding a delicious snack to bring back for her. I decided on some double-fried ayam goreng with a side of freshly ground som tam.
It didn’t have the desired effect, she looked more inquisitive than pleased. Her and another bubbly hotel attendant judiciously inspected the food and then tried as small a mouthful as they could manage. They chatted about it for a bit in Thai and asked me how much it was and whether it was ‘tasty’ (a word I had taught her with some difficulty). I thought it was awesome and told them with a big smile and thumbs up. They laughed. Now I have no idea whether I was ripped off or got a great deal.
I spent the rest of the afternoon conversing with the two ladies (it was probably more us just talking to ourselves and laughing at each other but it felt like a conversation). It all quietened down when their boss came in but when he left they made funny impressions of him and helped me steal some mineral water from his fridge.
Something has seriously gone wrong with the Thai-railways, maybe there was a crash, maybe some trains have been recommissioned to serve as giant fighting robots against the uprising or maybe all the trains are driven by one super-genius in his basement and that one essential figure was murdered by someone he intellectually bullied at train school and now everyone is ferreting around to find the next supreme train commander – obviously I have no idea but from all the reports I’ve read the trains are supposed to be pretty reliable – not this week.
I had already been stranded on the border because the two trains out of S.K. simply didn’t arrive. The next day there was a train scheduled at 11:30 and one at 2:40pm. I bought a ticket for the early train and waited patiently (snacked) for it to arrive, well 11:30am rolled past like a smug tumbleweed when a tall, Thai man with a head like a chestnut told me I had to wait for another two hours. I got on three and half hours later.
I had heard mixed reports of when the train was supposed arrive; in four hours, at nine thirty, at midnight, at one in the morning. My ticket said 9:40pm but that was for a train that departed at 11:30am. By the time it was 9:30pm we were about half way so I decided to sleep . . . but then how am I going to know when I get there? Half of the train station signs are written in the Thai alphabet and the on-board announcements may as well be in ancient Azte. I had to try and sleep while at the same time being ultra-vigilante to whenever the train stopped so I didn’t miss my stop. On top of that, Thai trains don’t make great beds. This is the best way I can think to describe it:
Imagine a water bed resting on some poorly strapped roller skates at the top of a steep hill. It’s covered in plastic bags, al-foil and bird cages with loose fitting doors. You’re sitting on it and someone pushes you down the hill.
The train arrived at Surat Thani at 3:00am. Bleary-eyed and disastrously lost and unprepared, I stated to ride around the city looking for somewhere to sleep. I found one hotel guarded by a half-sleeping man watching soap operas but that one was full. I couldn’t see any others so I hassled some 24/hr supermarket workers for advice. They were two girls, probably in their early twenties, the kind you would imagine are equally comfortable talking to babies and wrinkles but not boys, particularly not foreign ones. It was giggle-mania, for the twenty minutes I waited next to their 7/11 doppelgänger I don’t think they looked at me once, they just laughed, looked at their phones and told me to wait.
Eventually their manager arrived on a motorcycle. She yelled some Thai at them and then at me, everyone giggled and then she disappeared. They started giggling again and told me to wait. I was so exhausted but what choice did I have. I would have liked to crash at the train station but there was no way I could keep my stuff safe while I slept, so I just waited with the chortlers.
Eventually their manager came back, she pointed at one of the girls and then me and said ‘We go now’. She pointed ahead for me to ride and motored on after me. She must have overestimated how fast bicycles are because she suddenly became very impatient. At first she drove fast ahead and me chanted ‘GO, GO, GO, YEAH, YEAH, YEAH’. Next she came up close beside me asked me to grab her hand. At first I thought they were making fun but she actually wanted to pull me along hand to hand. I thought that was a pretty shit idea considering we were on a highway and it was 3:20am. I went up to my highest gear and pumped it hoping wherever we were going was around the corner.
It was about 5km away. I was destroyed when we arrived. It wouldn’t have mattered how much the rooms cost or how much they stank like human shit I would have taken one.
It was a love hotel – a really fucking shit one. The bed itself was about as comfortable as a mossy rock and the pillows were barely better. They were both covered in weird car-seat like leather and the only sheet provided was a queen-sized towel. Even if you were intending to bonk all night your back/knees/chest/whatever would be fucked by morning (no pun intended). Also there was only one paltry condom and the only sexy extra was a mirror that wrapped around the bed.
To my great sadness, I couldn’t get to sleep. I kept turning and changing positions hoping one of my hips would reveal an hitherto unknown fatty lump to protect my bones from bed-bruises.
Then this thought popped into my head – remember the start of Lord of the Rings, that big battle with elves and men on one side and Sauron and the ugly dudes on the other? Isildur, the man-king, fortuitously chops of Suaron’s fingers and obtains the ring. He walks to Mt. Doom with his friend and ally, Elrond, to destroy it, but at the last minute he decides ‘no actually I think I’ll keep it’.
I was thinking about how Elrond felt in this moment, how frustrated and powerless he must have been. He knew if Isildur took the ring it would bring war in the future but if he just pushed the dickhead in the volcano with the ring then there would be war between men and elves. Imagine how infuriating that would be and then being utterly hopeless, what could he do? It worked like an empathetic lullaby and my own concerns drifted away taking my consciousness with it.
All that fucking around with trains and shitty hotels doesn’t matter now because I’m back in paradise.
I’m in Chaiya, a smallish town on the East Coast of Thailand. It has only one hotel, which just happens to be the cheapest and nicest (in appearance rather than amenities) of my whole trip. It’s $5 and although my room isn’t well ventilated it looks like a cabin from the Swiss Alps. There’s a rooftop garden, a communal area downstairs with a small library and a gaggle of couches and it’s all run by a lovely lady who offered to do my laundry.
There is a beautiful river-delta stretching out into one of those endlessly shallow topical beaches.
It’s 7km away and considering my sleep deprivation, cbf riding there, I hitchhiked.
My ride there was from a motorcycle drive madly kitted out in Liverpool fandom. He asked for 100baht when we arrived only for me to realise he was a taxi driver. I had a lovely swim, ate some weird shit and wondered how I could be the only tourist there.
My ride back was with a furiously energetically young man and his family. Their elder daughter and I sat in the backseat, which was actually an industrial sized subwoofer, while Akon was pounded into our ears like an anvil on the end of a cottontip. All the while I wondered how it was that any of them were still alive – I don’t think I’ve ever hitched with a driver that insane. He would regularly speed into on-coming traffic to pass cars that were already going too fast. In the ten minutes I was with them at least three motocylists were almost brutally murdered, all of which recieved a good telling-off for their misdemeanours. Twice while speeding into on-coming traffic he turned his entire head and body around to offer me some food. I just said yes as fast as I could both times – I got a doughnut and a deep fried chicken foot.
I got out early and walked the rest of way, which ended up being a good decision because I’m alive and I made a great discovery – Chaiya, like Jertih, also has a Snack-Town. I’m on my way there right now.