Thailand: Lessons on a Bus (1 of 2)
As the songthaew (basically a pick up truck with benches) stopped at the light all the Thai women and myself smoothed our hair. Good to know woman’s vanity is universal.
Not that smoothing my hair did too much good. At this point, Keith and I were in our 14th hour of transportation from Bangkok to Phuket. We were going to Phuket for a week of relaxation on the beach before continuing our “go go go” exploration of Thailand.
The journey from Bangkok to Phuket started out smoothly. For only 30 baht (75 US cents), we rode the local buses from our guesthouse in Bangkok to the Bangkok Southern bus station. We bought bus tickets to Phuket for 400 Baht per person, as opposed to 4000 Baht for airplane tickets. Keith found the government bus to Phuket by taking our tickets up to every bus that was going to Phuket (we saw at least four). Once he found the right one, we boarded with only our daypacks and were actually given a claim for our big packs. As we boarded, a beautiful Thai woman in a sleek business-like uniform showed us to our seats – a bus stewardess, something I’d never seen before! As we sat, I thought that the seats were quite comfortable. This journey would be a piece of cake.
In the next five minutes the man in front of me reclined his seat. My non-Thai legs (I am 5’10”) were then crunched up to my body. That, combined with the fact that my daypack was in my lap (my non-Thai daypack is apparently larger than the normal Thai carry-on and would not fit in the overhead) made for an uncomfortable seat.
About this time, the driver revved up the bus. The stewardess pulled out a microphone and spoke for ten minutes. I waited for an English translation – there was none. I hoped her introduction did not include all of those safety instructions you get on an airplane. Curiously, she then walked up and down the aisle and passed us each a muffin and bottled water (my only food for the entire ride as somehow our croissants – which did fit in the overhead – were cleaned out by the bus attendant). After this the stewardess went to sit below with the driver and that was the last I saw of her.
During the first 15 minutes of the ride, Keith intently watched the traffic and the driver. Every minute he said to me, “There is no way he can turn with all those vehicles onto that road/highway/expressway.” And every time, the bus driver would honk and push his way in (NYC drivers would be proud.).
Then a video was popped into the TV/VCR at the front of the bus. The credits began to play and I realized the words “directed by” and “produced by” were in English. I thought, “Am I so lucky that they will play an English movie with Thai subtitles?” No. The movie, Keeping the Faith, with Ed Norton and Ben Stiller, started but out of their mouths came Thai. Still, the movie was slapstick so I watched for a while and laughed (I was the only one as everyone else seemed to stare silently at the movie) at the physical comedy parts. When this movie ended, another started – Gladiator. Having seen it a week ago, I realized the video was starting in the middle of the movie. No one else seemed to care. It ended 15 minutes after it began and the VCR was turned off.
By now it was getting dark. Keith and I had armed our daypacks with books, chess and crossword puzzles to keep us busy. We both hit the lights above us so we could read. Nothing happened. We tried again. Nothing. I looked around – no one else had a light on or seemed to care. Everyone was sleeping, eating (sipping soup from straws out of plastic bags) or staring straight ahead. There was no talking or reading. Keith and I realized these were our only options for the next 12 hours.