You can always tell when you enter Thailand. Something in the air, in the light..? No, for me it’s the smell of roasted garlic and washing powder and the pickups on the streets. It’s like a little piece of USA in the middle of South East Asia.
No more sweet clove smell of Malaysian kretek (local cigarettes) or the not too alien sound of Bhasa Malaysia. here we go back to that part of Asia that to me is very hard to penetrate. Despite its tourist friendly approach, Thailand is still an enigmatic country: it is very hard to get to know the locals and the language is a strong barrier here, no matter what the touristic brochures say.
The queue at the border was massive, as a lot of people travel between the 2 countries in this moment of the year. School holidays and good shopping opportunities get the custom officers pretty busy. I’ve got my 15 days visa stamp in bit and i went back to my bus.
It’s just 7:30 in the morning but Hat Yai it’s already scorching hot and busy. The bus stops far from the station so i need to ignore all the touts and tuk tuk driver, that shamelessly assume i’m bound to Phuket, and i start walking without a proper direction. I always do like this: the most important thing is to disappear from their radar within a couple of minutes, then they will forget about you and you will be free to look for your own thing. I ask for directions to a guy working in a car park, and his english is almost worse than my Thai (at least i know 4 words..!). I hire a moto driver that takes me to the bus station where i hope there will be a bus service to the capital.
The only drawback of travelling long distance journeys in a totally independent way, is that it is very hard to get any sort of connection between transports. The busk from Kuala Lumpur gets to Hat Yai at 8AM, and the only daytime bus from Hat Yai to Bangkok leaves at 7AM ! I take a minute to think about the next move and i decide that after a night on a bus, i need the comfort of a train journey: so i ask another moto driver to give me a ride to the railway station. This one is a funny guy: he’s singing all the way to the station and he wants to see the picture i’m taking while driving his moto. For 50TB, wich seems to be the only and one fare around here, he drops me to the station. I pay with an 100TB note and he goes to get some change: when he comes back he’s got a drink and he offers me some…i politely decline…long day ahead !
The sky is blue and the colors of the railway station would make a Frenchman proud: the clock is quite late and, for a change, a giant picture of His Majesty is decorating the building. I get to the counter and manage to get one of the last seats available for the day: it’s 1500TB for a 1000 Km journey in 1st class. I’ve never traveled in such a posh manner but apparently it’s the only way, and it’s just 500TB more than a 16 hours bus journey.
Train departure is scheduled for 6:45 PM, so it’s definitely a long way to go. I decide to chill out sitting on one of the benches, and mingle with the locals, trying to disappear. The Thais are very relaxed people: despite the massive presence of the army, (the south of Thailand is the only unsafe part of the country, due to frequent social and political unrest and occasionaly bombings), the pace of life is very “Southern Italian”: it’s hot and sunny, they eat spicy food pretty much all the time and a lot of people just walk around sipping coffee and reading newspapers.
After a bit, i decide to get my acoustic guitar out and strum some tunes. An old man sits near me with a newspaper, a skinny dog keeps sleeping under the bench and a Chinese man looks at me quite bored. Then, this nice little girl with her dad, start looking at me. She looks quite curious, but quite reserved at the same time, in a perfect Thai way. I smile, play a jazzy tune and do a bit of mouth trumpet: she seems to like it..! Her father talks no english and i manage to understand that he’s not going anywhere, he’s just walking around with the little daughter and they like to stay at the station so the little one can see the trains.
Time is slowly passing: i have a walk on the city, grab lunch and a coffee and visit a local market. Once i get back to the station i take a shower (only 10TB) and i feel very restored. The heat is less aggressive now and the light is getting sweeter, as sunset time is closer. I sit on the marble floor of the main hall, probably the coolest place, and practise my Malay.
When the train arrives, i’m so looking forward to lay down and sleep that i nearly can’t believe it’s true. The nice surprise is that no one booked the other berth in my compartement, so i will travelling alone in all that comfort. Air con, basin, drinking water, lots of leg room and..night lights !!
Of course, beside me a very loud local family is being entertained by daddy, that proudly tries out all the ringtones of his new IPhone…a big bottle of Chang at the restaurant will put me to bed anyway…good night !!