Disappearing in Thailand

The first thing you need to know about Bangkok is how the heat can make you do crazy things in April.

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A comfort room in a curious mall called Terminal 21 (Bangkok)

One morning, after the usual breakfast of croissant, eggs(?), fresh orange juice, coffee, and banana at a backpackers’ hostel in Siam, I searched for beaches near Thailand’s capital and found some islands a few hours away. Instead of going to airconditioned museums or malls, which was my usual fare in humid Bangkok, I took an MRT ride to the bus station (Bangkok Eastern Bus Terminal). And that’s when my misadventure began.

I can’t read Thai, I don’t understand and speak Thai. I asked for directions in basic touristy English where I can buy tickets going to this specific port at Rayong. I was led to a window where I bought roundtrip bus and boat tickets. The lady said I can still catch the last boat that night if I leave before 4 pm. The last bus leaves at four.

Looking at my ticket gave me a sense of uneasiness in that unplanned travel to the rural side of Thailand.

At 4pm, I wasn’t sure where my bus is, so I showed my ticket to a woman in uniform who’s calling out for passengers. She told me to board the bus in front of her.

I was directed to my assigned seat and was given free cupcake and cold water in a sealed plastic cup. Cool, I thought – but I was scared when the bus started to move. I was alone in a foreign country whose language I don’t speak, and I was moving away from safe Bangkok to the outskirts full of Godknowswhat. Nobody knew where I was (didn’t leave a message to my Korean roommates, didn’t post a Facebook status, didn’t email anyone).

Bangkok slipped away. Urbanity out, Asian poverty in.

I was told that the travel would take three hours. For the most part, I enjoyed sitting relaxed looking at the countryside scenes, thinking how well used Thai resources are. Thailand had just faced the worst floods in decades, but they got back to their feet in no time, planting seeds of hope in different industries.

Three hours had passed and I was the only passenger left in the bus; I went to the driver and his assistant. I showed my ticket to ask if we’re there yet, and they told me the port is just around the corner.

At 9pm, the doors opened, the driver looked over his shoulder to tell me something. He pointed to a dark corner in the street. “Port,” he said. There was no light, no people around.

I walked slowly across a vast parking lot with already closed bazaar stalls. Some dogs were lazily scratching body parts, and I imagined them coming after me in packs. That didn’t happen.

At the far end of that place that looked perfect for a torture scene in an action movie or a haunted warehouse in a horror story, I spotted a dimly lit ticket office. Outside was a table full of Thai men drinking beer. I stopped, I wished I hadn’t gone in the first place, but I’m good at hiding emotions and the last bus going back to Bangkok has already left, so if it was my time to go, I was ready. I imagined the men standing up while I approach them, laughing sinisterly, circling me like hungry dogs, teasing me to give them a kiss. That didn’t happen.

One of them stood, asking me in broken English how they can help me. I said I want to go to Koh Samet beach. He said, I was at the right place, but there’s one problem. The boat won’t leave until there’s enough passengers. In a mix of “sign language,” Thai tone, and English words, he explained to me that I need to wait for at least 5 more people before I can take the boat ride. He said I should wait for an hour or two.

We had a quick, small talk, and they were delighted to know that I’m from the Philippines, as if that was the nicest thing they heard in years.

That was the longest two hours of my life. While the men were drinking and talking, I was sitting in a corner watching a Thai family move around their makeshift house over planks of wood on top of the water. Their house is the ticket office and their baby was sleeping inside. Far out in the sea, I could make out somebody moving inside a boat. A man fixing his makeshift bed perhaps before sailing off for the big catch come dawn. The stars were ever distant. The Philippines seemed to be so far away, almost inexistent.

At 11:30, two and a half hours past the time I arrived, some of the guys came to me looking worried, looking sorry about my long, boring wait. They attempted to offer me some stories but I just couldn’t comprehend their English. One of them who presented himself as a writer for a newspaper can speak little English but he served as my interpreter. I told him to tell them, I couldn’t wait anymore and I was already famished, so perhaps there’s a nearby hotel or inn and restaurant where I can have a fill and some rest. They said, that’s a good idea, since there are no boats and buses to take me anywhere anymore.

I imagined one of them would take me to a distant place and do unspeakable things to me, but that didn’t happen.

After returning my boat fare, they called the ticket girl – sadly I’ve forgotten her name – to take me to the nearest eatery and inn. She was given a motorcycle key and off we went to the other side of the road. That was fun for a while, being a motorcycle passenger of a Thai girl who sat with me over dinner, watching me eat a steaming bowl of chicken soup for the tired soul.

She asked me where I’m staying in Bangkok, and I said Siam thrice before she understood me. I asked her if she has been to the Philippines, and she laughed as if I was cracking a joke, then she said something like she doesn’t have money to travel outside her country, but that she would like to. I prayed to the universe that night that she travel other worlds someday.

She then accompanied me to a nearby inn, where I was so scared I didn’t sleep at all. It was the kind of roadside inn you see in movies where horror tales happen. I’m pretty sure nobody else has checked in that night. The whole town seemed to be deserted except for the women serving noodles and that Thai girl with a monosyllable name. Thankfully, I didn’t see any Thai ghosts in the inn.

Did I take the boat to the beach the next day? No. I had work to do that morning and I was afraid to lose my job, so I took the first bus back to the city at 5 or 6 am and promised myself I’ll never do that again. Maybe I”l ask someone to come with me next time.

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