Sunday, April 3, 2011

How we got to where we were going...

I guesss it's time to share a bit more about our trip. THe beginning seems to be a great place to start.

Wally and I left our home around 3pm in the afternoon on the Friday before our flight. We decided since no one was knocking down our door with offers to take us to the airport we'd go early, sty at a hotel for the night, leave the car parked for the 2 weeks and get shuttled to the airport, giving us a few extra and needed hours of sleep.

We were very nervous about the shuttle being on time and everything working out, but it did and we were glad to be on the plane and off to Hong Kong.

Our first flight start to finish was apporx. 16 hrs. We actually did well on it. Other than feeling the normal grossness of long travel it was good. However I have to express how not so great it was to be flying with a serious sinus cold. Yikes!!! That was sooooooo incredibly painful upon descent - in fact I don't think I've ever eperienced such pain in my head before. Fortunately that was the worst of it and I didn't experience anything as bad as our first flight.

Our layover was only an hour and a bit after going through another security check and such then we were on our shorter 3 hr flight (which I must add felt like nothing in comparison).

Wally and I were comparing going to THailand as opposed to coming home and we agreed that there must be an adrenaline rush or something on your way somewhere beause the way home seemed torturously long and that was after we broke it us a lot mure!

Anyways, we must have been feeling pretty good because once we got off of the plane in Bangkok we knew the 'fun' would begin. We would then be completely responsible for getting from point A to point B with a language barrier between us.

We took a few moments to get ourselves figured out in the airport and discussed if we'd go with the original plan of staying at a guesthouse there in Bangkok for the night and fly out to Mae Sot in the morning or just suck it up and take the night bus and do the 8 hr trek through the night.

Shockingly we both agreed to take the night bus experience and get our travels all over in one shot.

So we threw our plan to the wind (I honestly can't believe we agreed together to do this!)and decided to get a cab to the Mo Chit bus station (pronounced Mo Shit - nice).

Unfortunately at the time of throwing plans to the wind we learned later that we threw a couple of notes of advice while using taxi services to the wind too.

We were directed by our friends to go to the lady at the counter to ensure a trustworthy ride.

We missed that. Oops.

But we were superexcited to find a cab so quickly- I mean they came right up to us, how great is that?! (Clearly we were virgin International travellers).

A lightbulb should've went off when along with our driver was his spindly, charming, conversation attempting side kick who learned all of our dirt on travelling. He made us feel so cared for. He was good. We were stupid.

We hop into the car and feel confident the driver knows where he's going.

Ok confident might be a strech. We hoped beyond all hopes he knew where he was going. We were startled by the traffic, the speed, tha lack of seat belts in the car and by the very broken English Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb had.

They conversed in I'm guessing Thai - who knows. This made me nervous. Were they plotting our abduction? Were they planning our death? Did they know where they were going? Or were they figuring out how to take us for all we were worth?

We would soon learn that the last one was their goal. What can I say, we were easy targets.

Our friends had prepared us with the cost of what the cab would be. Around 350 Baht. Not a bad price. They warned us about toll fees and all of that business. We felt good knowing what to expect. I had made sure to ask for a metered cab and was confident I'd passed the test, except for one thing .... I noticed that the meter wasn't changing. Hmmmmm does it usually change in front of us? How should I know, I have been in 2 cabs ever and they were in Quebec and I was with someone who knew what they were doing. Maybe this was different. I had a sinking feeling though and wished this one time I hadnt' kept my mouth shut.

After 20 - 30 minutes driving down the highway and a few toll booths. They finally reached what appeared to be my favourite bus station. Appeared to be. THere were people, there were buses, why should I wonder?

They parked to the side of a very busy street and said we were here. Then they asked for 2500 Baht. For those of you who don't know 350 B is around $12 Canadian, 2500 B is somewhere around $80 Canadian. Ummmmmm .... a wee bit of a difference.

I immediately said no. I told them that was ridiculously high and we knew how much we should have paid. They had our taxi virginity and knew we were foreign and unstable in our confidence. I continued to argue and bartar with them only moving down to 2000 B. Wally inerjected and tried his best to be the stern voice of reason but they had us. It was two charging taxi types against two people who hadn't the foresight to remember their instructions. We were getting nowhere in our arguments but heated and I have to say it was beginning to make me nervous (even though I continued insisting they were crazy!).

AFter a few minutes we gave them the 2000 B (NEVER would I do that again!!) if for nothign else to get our luggage back. They popped the truck and shooed us away. They didn't get out of the car to help or anything - I'd later learn that was a clear sign they were dirty dealers 9among a thousand other signs).

We barely missed getting hit by several speeding forms of transportation, seeing as we were litterally dropped off on the side of a highway.

We stumbled into the bus station relieved to be done with cabs for a while and at least where we needed to be. That is until I went up to the counter ...

I asked for 2 tickets to Mae Sot.

To which the well dressed counter lady looked at me with confusion and said 'Mo Chit - 2 kilometers'.


I don't know which station we were at but it clearly wasn't Mo Chit.

Wally and I were tired and frustrated and terrified to get into another cab but we definitely couldn't stay at this tiny little station for the night that was nearly entirely outside with people everywhere.

We took a deep breath and went over to the cab overseer and said Mo Chit (as properly as we could). I made sure to find out ahead this time how much. 100 B, deal. I felt a wee bit better but still suspiscious of our driver. He was young, calm and not a talker. He did seem rather gentle though and just there to do his job. And he clearly was.

After a good 15-20 minute slow drive through snail moving traffic we understood why the other guy didn't want to waste his time on us. Once we got there I noticed the meter was only at 51 B. I didn't care one bit, it was the best 100 B we'd ever spent because the drived hopped out of hte cab, got our bags and was beyond courteous (ok maybe he was just doing his job but all those qualities jumped out at me since we had yet to see them in a cabby).

AFter having to stop for directions to the right counter we found it and I once again asked for '2 tickets to Mae Sot on the night bus'. The lady said 11:30pm which was actually a couple hrs past what we were told. After already not following the rules given for our protection I was a little hesitant but it was that or stay the night at the station or another cab ride to a guest house. We took a risk on the bus.

We purchased the last 2 tickets there were for the last bus going and finally felt like we may be getting somewhere. We made a trip to Thailand's favourite variety store, 7/11, and sat with our 3 shared chocolate bars to snack on (their chocolate bars are a third of the size of ours, we needed to compensate, no need to experience anymore culture shock).

Tehn it was time to use the bathroom ....

Wally was the first daring participant. AFter a minute or so he came back and said 'I need some money'.

I looked at him appauled. 'Why on earth do you need money to go to the bathroom?'

'It costs 3 B' he declares.

After an inappropriate conversation with myself over the issue in my head we found 3 B and off he went.

Then it was my turn. I took 3 B from Wally's famous money belt and off I went.

I paid my toll, went through the little thingamajig that you sometimes go through at a grocery store or the fair to let you in ... don't know if it has a name, and I went past the money ladies (who incidentally have their money set up on a little card table in front so there's no sneeking in).

I got into the toilet and realized there was no toilet paper. Geez.

Luckily I noticed before going because after that many hours of travel one needs all the help they can get in feeling clean and drip drying was not an option for me. I left the stall and asked someone about toilet paper and the lady sweetly smiled and pointed to the money ladies 'You buy' she said with pride over helping a completely lost foreigner.

I left to tell Wally and then realized he bought me a bunch of Kleenex for my very full sinus cavity and snuck back into the bathroom without the ladies noticing I'd escaped.

That crisis was averted.

We got comfortalbe on the cement floor of the indoor/outdoor bus station, joined by hundreds of others, mostly families on their way back to nowhere, where they lived.

We watched a cute little girl learning to walk with squeky shoes, two stray dogs meandering around the indoor part of the station and a little Thai Much Music.

As time went by we moved into the waiting area and watched the buses like hawks. Wally eased my fears everytime we saw our possible bus and asked to be sure if this was ours. After 2 we hadn't hit the jackpot. Finally third time was a charm. Even though the bud clearly stated it was going somewhere that wasn't Mae Sot and it was parked one terminal off from where it should have been it apparently was ours.

It was good Wally asked because it was nearly full and about to leave. When we took up our luggage there was no more room in the luggage compartment, which was interesting since no one had luggage only shopping purchases. For a few moments it seemed as though they may not take us due to our two suitcases. We were willing to do anything to get on that bus so when the driver ssaid we'd have to put the bags where our feet would go we didn't blink an eye.

We crawled up the double decker VIP bus which meant it was air conditioned and had large seats and under normal circumstances would have been comfortable. Not so much when your knees are resting behind your ears.

We didn't really care though because we were on a bus that would hopefully take us to where we were heading. We wouldn't be convinced until we arrived.

We both were able to get a couple of hours of sleep during the 8 hour voyage. I only had a couple of fits of coughing and a few nose blowing issues.

As we ventured through there was one stop when the driver got out, one military stop that ended in the family of three beside us being taken off (apparently they were Burmese and would be taken in and possibly sent back to Burma - not good).

We weaved through the mountains again and again, that's when it really hit me that we were indeed across the world from home. I momentarily wondered what the heck we were doing and if I was crazy.

I decided yes I was but that it would be ok.

When we finally arrived at the bus station in Mae Sot we got off and were by a wall of hot humid air.

We immediately decided to use the washroom. Wally first then me. I was proud we knew the system by now and had our 3 B ready (and my Kleenex).

What I wasn't ready for was what would later be described to me as a 'Squatty Pttty'. I was never warned about this.

As I looked at the unfamiliar invention I surveyed the possible procedure. Hmmmm ... did I have to got badly enough? I had already paid. I looked again all about it and noticed the ladel and water.

I couldn't do it. Not without a lengthy mental build up. I closed the door on the possiblitiy altogether and prayed to God that we'd find a way to where ever we were headed soon.

Just to refresh, at this point it's 7:15am and we are now at a point of not knowing what to do. We realize we have no idea how to use the phone and since we'd decided last minute to take the night bus we had no firmed up a pick up time with our hosts. I had spent $58 (I learned later) on an international call to my dad asking him to facebook my friend in Thailand who I hoped would be able to message our hostess in hopes that she would be there at some point ot meet us.

Not exactly a trustworthy, solid plan but we hoped.

I decided to try the phone. THe first try failed. THe second time I got through but got cut off because I should've added money every inute or something. The third try I spit out the remainder of 'we're here, pleasepick us up!' and was cut off again but I prayed she had enough info to go on.

Luckily I heard her say 'I'll be there in a half ....' so I had all the hope I needed to believe we'd be rescued. And around 8 am we met Steph our Compasio staff. (Whom we almost missed but didn't!).

Nothing can explain in words how glad we were to be found by someone we knew (even though we didn't really).

She took us over to a tuk tuk and began speaking what to me sounded like fluent Thai and explained where we needed to go and we hopped into our fourth new form of trasportation in several hours finally enjoying another new experience.

Ahhhhhh... Steph took us to our temporary home that we got to live in for the week and toured us around. She let me use her phone to call my friend A-bag to tell him we were there finally. I enjoyed the shocked sound of his voice and we then made a lunch date (that Wally and I woudl later sleep through).

We were sooooooo glad to be in Thailand with people we knew.

We showered, loving every second and laid down for unconscious sleep for 2 1/2 hrs.

It was divine.

And so ends the beginning of our journeys to Thai Thai.

After a hellish previous week and an interesting and very long journey there we had arrived.

Nothing could've felt better. Nothing.