Updates from South East Asia!
Yesterday was eventful. We left our guesthouse at 6:45am, got a taxi for 3 hours over the worst roads in the history of the world, ever with a maniacal driver with a death wish. He was clearly harbouring an unfulfilled childhood aspiration to become a rally car driver and had eventually settled on the next best thing-terrorising tourists at high speeds on severely potholed "roads". He overtook anything and everything, thumping his horn for all he was worth (most vehicles don't have mirrors here so to warn other vehicles they're being overtaken drivers honk their horns incessantly and just generally for the entirity of the journey), swerving dangerously close to every other vehicle on the road, nearly sandwiching us between two huge trucks at least 20 times (no, really) and averaging a damn near head-on every 5 mins or so. Within 10 minutes I was reduced almost to tears and within 20 minutes I was begging him to slow down. To his credit, he attacked the road with marginally less vigour and didn't honk his horn nearly so exuberantly for a good 10 minutes but then went straight back to his old habits, bouncing over ginormous potholes, brakes screeching as he spotted particularly large ones at the last minute. I quickly learned to shut my eyes and brace myself every time he slowed down a fraction as it meant it was going to be a big one... He also had a disconcerting habit of removing both hands from the wheel to stretch or scratch his head at frequent intervals (at which point I would shut my eyes and silently beg: "Oh God, hands on the wheel please, hands on the wheel"). What's Thai for "Look mate, if you wanna gamble, that's fair enough, but not with our lives yeah?" He also kept chatting on his mobile and I remember thinking to myself: "oh yes, brilliant, lets halve his attention on the road, that ought to improve his driving." He stubbornly avoided every recently laid (i.e. smooth) detour, presumably he thought that these were for the less hardcore, and instead, drove straight over dilapidated "bridges" (few planks of rotted wood) at 45 degree angles which creaked ominously as we passed over them and ignoring such trifling obstacles such as cows in the road (which he charged straight into) and the "no fuel" light blinking dangerously on the dash. They don't have petrol stations on this deserted stretch of road only the insane undertake but they do have little roadside stalls with old drinks bottles filled with petrol on little stands (invariably with a bonfire worryingly and inexplicably burning nearby). We eventually stopped for a bottle of petrol after an hour or so running on empty at which point I sank back in my seat in relief with the knowledge I was safe from crippling mortal fear for at least five minutes. Dave got out for a cigarette but soon returned after he could endure no more of the blatant pointing and laughing from the locals at his funny white face and ginger hair. Three very long hours later we arrived at the border-this time I had come prepared with a bag of food and drink to give to the begging kids, no guilt for me today- and walked for around 10 minutes in the scorching heat to find a restaurant. We eventually found one (well, somewhere to eat at least. "Restaurant" would be a gross exaggeration in this instance) and sat down to munch. I ordered a water first which they didn't appear to understand and brought me a Pepsi. "Water?" I suggested hopefully to several people to no avail. "How the hell do you mime water?" I asked Dave desperately. They brought a range of drinks out and eventually a water was produced, to my relief. I then ordered a dish described as: tofu, beansprouts, vegetables, rice noodles and peanuts and specified "NO shrimps". They nodded in apparent comprehension and returned with beansprouts, noodles, cabbage and egg. Um..."NO egg, can't eat egg, Jai?" I ventured hopefully. After referring me to several other Thai's with varying degrees of pretty limited English, they took the plate away to return five minutes later with no egg but shrimps all over it. I sighed (I hate sending things back, I always feel like a spoiled brat stomping my feet and shouting "it's not good enough, do it again!") and tried again "NO egg, NO shrimp", whilst pointing to the words on the menu and shaking my head violently and waggling my finger. Eventually one of them understood what the heck I was on about and brought back some rice noodles with beansprouts and cabbage..third time lucky eh. Although Dave helpfully suggested they had probably just picked out the prawns. Yeah, thanks Dave. To make matters worse we were the only customers and there seemed to be around 15 staff all sat around on tables and chairs next to us grinning broadly as if they knew something we didn't (very reassuring) and watching us eat. One of the waitresses pointed at me and announced "Plexy". I thought this sounded suspiciously like "sexy" so sensing imminent embarassment, I feigned incomprehension and turned back to determinedly engage Dave in conversation whilst the waitress conferred with her Thai colleagues. "Beautiful!" she finally declared loudly and triumphantly pointing at me, while her collegues grinned still more widely. Um.. "Khawp khun ka" I muttered, embarassed and turned to make more determined conversation with Dave, who was helpfully sniggering into his plate of sweet and sour. Everytime With each meal the waitress said "Here, beautiful!" with a huge grin and then sat with the others to watch us as we ate, their smiling eyes boring into us as we pretended not to notice. We swallowed as much of the meal as we could, hurriedly paid up and left to grab a tuktuk to the train station to wait for the departing train. We were 3 hours ahead of schedule due to the death defying taxi ride so we killed time sat at the station, reading and watching chickens, dogs and cows casually strolling around or laid on the platform and the tracks. Oh, and the odd motorbike riding down the platform. We were easily the only westerners on the train (most tourists are sensible enough to fly or else they get the tourist buses) highlighted by the constant pointing and staring. Ah, well. The train left after a mere 40 minute delay (cows on the tracks) -and after a great deal of seemingly unnecessary fanfare of clanging bells and blowing whistles and horns - which I was very surprised by as the scheduled departure times of public transport here are at best a rough estimate and more accurately a half-hearted suggestion. The six hours on the train passed slowly but uneventfully, people walking through the carriages with baskets selling fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, drinks and God knows what else- I bought some fruit that smelled slightly reminiscent of mangoes but was far bigger and crunchy and really not very tasty. Once we arrived we got a tuktuk back to Khao San and headed straight back to good old Sawasdee Banglumpoo. Dave went clubbing-the nutter- while I crashed out. Today I've located a severely hungover Dave and now we're off to shop in earnest before our departure to Sri Lanka tomorrow. See you soon guys Jx