Category Archives: Thailand

The Rich-Mike HitchHike Insight: Hitchhiking in Malasia, Thailand & Laos

We raced through Malaysia in only two days, in half the time we’d planned for. Apart from a two hour wait near Pinang, it was rare to have to linger around anywhere. The fact that many people spoke great English also added to the richness of our journeys in terms of conversation.

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Thailand was even easier. We never had to wait very long for a ride here and sometimes people would even turn off the highway, circle back around, then re-join the highway so they could pick us up having missed us the first time. Not only was it trouble-free, but the people who picked us up were keen to engage with us, often by taking us back to their home for some food.

If anyone is thinking of recreating a portion of our adventure, I would definitely recommend from Singapore to Bangkok. The route has everything a traveller could ask for. The verdant jungle scenery of South East Asia, bordered by pristine beaches, is connected by three distinctive mega-cities: Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Although I’ve said that the treasures of Thailand lie outside of Bangkok, it’s still well worth a visit. Moreover, the combination of fantastic food, accommodating people and a constant feeling of safety gives the peninsula an atmosphere that’s impossible to forget.

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Laos, however, proved more problematic. With considerable difficulty we eventually managed to hitchhike through the northern part of the country to the border in three rides, two of which we were expected to pay for. It only served to emphasise how spoilt we’d been in Malaysia and Thailand.

Malaysia Hitchhiking Rating: af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15

(9/10)

Thailand Hitchhiking Rating: af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15

(10/10)

Laos Hitchhiking Rating:        af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15

(4/10)

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Day 34: “Jimmy the crack head…” – to Chaing Rai

Feeling tired yet happy in the Thai sunshine we continued on our way from the motel that Por had dropped us in late last night. We were picked up, for the 20th time on our journey so far, in record time by a man called Wisoot. His English was good enough to hold a slow conversation, but was by no means fluent. In these circumstances, if I want to say something secretive to Michael, usually something weird, I can just speak quickly or colloquially to make myself understood, without offending whoever we’re with.

Or so you would think.

Wisoot told us that he had a huge house in Chiang Rai, so I, sitting in the passenger seat, turned around to Michael and said something along the lines of, “Would it be cheeky to ask if we could crash at his crib?”

“What? Say that again,” replied Michael, leaning forward.

I repeated myself, slightly louder and slower: “Do you think it would be cheeky to ask if we could crash at his crib?”

“What?”

This process continued, with me speaking slower, louder and less colloquially until, finally, Wisoot himself turned around and said: “He wants to know if you think he should ask if it is okay to stay at my house!”

Michael thought about this for a few seconds.

“What?”

I rubbed my temple with one hand and the bride of my nose with the other. I then leaned forward and turned the radio on with a heavy sigh.

I wonder what Sinjay is up to, I thought to myself.

We arrived in Chiang Rai, a slightly seedy little town, and, as we were on schedule, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. We settled down and watched the football with the intention of a chilled out evening because we were due to make it to the Laos border the next day. This was before we met Charlie, from Essex, and Jimmy, from Colombia. Both men were recovering from drug addictions at a ‘new life’ foundation, about an hour from Chiang Rai.

Charlie, who was so Essex he made Danny Dyer look like Prince Harry’s posh cousin, made his intentions for the evening clear, “Awight, who wants a tequila? Let’s get munted!”

At the end of the night we saw Jimmy, a former drug smuggling crack-head, trying to mount his scooter like a drunk Alsatian, with the intention of driving home. We walked over to him and I confiscated his keys while Michael parked the scooter. We then practically forced him to stay with us in our hostel, giving him my bed, while Michael and I slept top and tail in the other.

Sometime in the early morning Michael poked me in the ribs with his finger to wake me up.

“Rich, why are you in my bed?” he whispered to me

“Because mine is taken” I replied, sleepily.

“Oh right,” he said, rolling over to go back to sleep again.

About 30 seconds later he rolled back.

“Rich?” he whispered once more.

“What?”

“Who’s that man in your bed?”

“Huh?”

“Who’s that man in your bed?”

“It’s Jimmy the smack head, remember?”

“Oh yeah” he whispered, his memory returning. He rolled back over again.

A minute passed.

“Crack head,” said a croaky Latino voice from my bed.

“What’s that Jimmy?”

“It’s ‘Jimmy the crack head’, not ‘Jimmy the smack head’. You can just call me Jimmy, if it makes it easier for you?”

“Oh right yeah, sorry Jimmy!”

Day 22 – 23: “Chaos San Road…” – Bangkok

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From Ratchaburi, we hitched the 100 km to Bangkok in two rides without much trouble. The first car that stopped for us typies the Thai attitude.

A car drove past us on the highway at 90 odd km per hour and only realised what we were trying to do when it was too late. The pulled off at the next junction, drove back down the highway, pulled off at another junction so they could pick us up again. What can you say?  

We hopped in the back, and raced down the highway in the wind towards Bangkok. The mother and son dropped us of at a petrol station where we told by someone selling food that there was no chance that anyone would stop for us there.vcm_s_kf_repr_960x540

90 seconds later a beautiful mother and daughter stopped, the first female hitch we’d secured thus far.

We were dropped off at the notorious tourist spot, Khao San Road, which features in the famous book and film “The Beach,” where the lead character, Richard (played by Leonardo Di Caprio in the film), returns to the mainland to see a repugnant whirlwind of tourist sleaze.

We were swept with the current into the main street like a leaf into rapids. As we shuffled through the crowds we were accosted by suit sellers on our right and by tattoo pallors on our left, all competing for our attention, as if we were a big piece of bread in a pond full of hungry ducks.

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After the serenity of south Thailand it was a real shock to the system to step into this bustling orgy of sights, sounds and smells that all seemed to be screaming for our attention

“Try a suit sir. Very good price”

“Hello sir where are you from? Right this way for tattoo sir”

To avoid eye contact with the hawkers, I cast my eyes upwards. My mouth fell open as I tried to comprehend the hovering swarm of luminous signboards. Before I could attempt to adjust my eyes to their brightness, and distinguish one from the other, a plethora of smells grabbed me by the face and wrestled me towards the pad thai, quail eggs, roti, falafel, hummus, sliced pineapple, vegetarian noodles and banana pancakes that lined the streets.

We were snapped out of our overwhelming sensory hypnosis and spun around by the beeping of a tuk-tuk driver as it squeezed through the crowds of dread-locked, tattooed, vest wearing tourists. Feeling exhausted, we managed to fight our way onto a side street where we tried to catch our breath.

“Hey that smells familiar!” panted Michael. “We must be near the fish market! Remember when we had to wade knee deep through putrid fish guts in Jakarta?!”

“It’s not the fish market Michael,” I said, quickening my step as I studied the map on my Kindle. “This is the Red Light District”

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Day 21: “Michael’s happy dance…” – to Ratchaburi

That night we again slept in the back of the open truck as it drove through the darkness. It wasn’t as comfortable as Suwarno’s in Indonesia though, because this time we didn’t have any sleeping mats.

We were on a crate and, due to the pot-hole ridden Thai roads, every so often we’d take off and slam back down onto the hard, splintered surface. It was also a bit colder in  Thailand than in Indonesia, so we both had to wear everything we owned to keep warm against the wind.

The next day we stopped off at Badge-u-up’s family home: a small shack in a coconut tree forest in the middle of nowhere, for a break from driving. We hopped out of the truck and passed the old grandmother who, by the looks of things, had been sat in the same position, on the floor, chewing and spitting tobacco whilst weaving coconut leaves, for the past few decades.

Sinjay, their rather forward 19 year old daughter, asked, via an English speaking family friend, if she could come home back to England with me.

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When I told her that there wasn’t enough room in the truck, the family offered me an interesting exchange: Sinjay for Michael. As negotiations got underway some of the senior family members started inspecting Michael’s physical form, much like a Crufts judge would assess a dog, and earnest discussions commenced regarding Michael’s suitability as a coconut farmer.

I can’t understand Thai, but from what I could gather from the body language, they were impressed with his posture, which is only natural, but they were concerned about the strength of his buttocks (apparently vital for shimmying up a coconut tree).

“Err Rich? Can we talk about this?” Michael asked, looking anxious as he gave me his classic, ‘please, for the love of god, don’t broker a deal that involves me living out my days as a coconut farmer’ look.

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I was loving the fact that the family had, for some reason, assumed the Michael was somehow my property, to barter with as I pleased, so I started playing up to it and told him to go and do the happy dance.

Michael trudged towards the truck, dragging his feet, past the old Grandmother, who’d apparently taken a shine to Michael, perked up a treat at the news that he may be staying. As he shuffled past her, she gave him a two-eyed blink and wiggled her nose like a rabbit.

She then jeered something in Thai, which I can only assume translates as, “Ummm mmmm. Yo baby, you got some fries to go with that shake?”

Negotiations unfortunately fell through though. To the Grandmother’s dismay, Michael’s buttocks were apparently considered to be too much of a liability (story of his life).

As we left, Michael said goodbye to his admirer and kissed her on the cheek. She blurted another coy giggle and then flirtatiously spat a clump of tobacco in his direction.

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Day 19: “Sick fashion…” – Sadao

I awoke in a small attic-type room, above the bar. After the night’s heavy drinking session it was always going to be a brutal morning.

Michael went through every step of his customary hangover routine, as systematic and predictable as ever. He woke up chewing his hangover breath, then leaned over and was sick into a plastic bag (Michael never goes anywhere without at least one plastic bag. He has never faced a dilemma in his life that he hasn’t somehow managed to resolve with a plastic bag).

By this time I’d woken up and had turned away from him because I knew what was coming next: he staggered to his feet, all bleary eyed, trying to remember where he was; he then checked himself for any accidents he may have had in the night, first the front then the back.

He breathed a sigh of relief, “phew,” and wiped some imaginary sweat from his brow. He then took a few faltering steps forward, tripped over and dropped the bag of sick, spewing the contents onto the floor. I wasn’t even looking but I know his routine so well by now I was able to mouth the words “Oh Shit!” at exactly the same time he did.

“Where’s my Lee Gibson Training jumper?” I mouthed again, in perfect sync with Michael. He turned around to see that I was holding it up for him, as I had been doing since the moment he stumbled to his feet. I shuddered as I remembered that, in my drunken stupor last night, I’d resorted to using the wretched jumper as a pillow and had fallen asleep playing the “which one of Michael’s stale bodily fluids can I smell most” game.

The next stage of Michael’s grim hangover ritual is to get to work mopping up the mess with his long suffering garment. By this time it had endured so many of Michael’s various accidental spillages over the years, it now made Joseph’s Techni-coloured dream-coat look like a nun’s laundry basket.

This though, was one hangover too far, he dumped it in a bin near the house we were staying. If any of you are ever in south Thailand, and you see a local scamp skipping around in what looks more like a rainbow’s scab than a jumper, you’ll know the story of how the bin rummaging little tyke came to possess it.

Day 18: Welcome to Thailand – Alor Setar, Malasia

After a brief visit to The Chief’s new house, which he proudly explained was in an affluent suburb, the bus dropped us off near Alor Setar, only 30 kilometres south of the Thailand border.

We considered calling it a day and finding somewhere to sleep, maybe in a field or something but the allure of making it into a new country proved too great.

“What a day it would be if made it into Thailand!”

With the tall trees at our backs and the open fields ahead of us we stood at the toll gate, with a sign reading ‘Thailand’, as the sun went down.

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After no more than ten minutes, a car pulled over ahead of us. Two people hoped out of the front and waved us over as they moved some luggage into the boot.

There was a Thai couple, in their early 30s, in the front. They opened the boot and arranged their possessions to make room for our bags. Once again we were thankful that we’d packed so light.

The Thai couple were evidently married and the wife had a 7 year old boy on her lap. There was also a man of Indian descent, Winrey, sat in the back with us.

“I worked in Australia”, he said with twinkling eyes.

“Thank you so much for stopping”, I said.

“I saw you had a sign for ‘Thailand’ and I thought ‘well, we’re going to Thailand’ so we should stop. And you can just tell when you see someone that they’re a good people and you look like good people”

“Where are you going?”

“Sadao. It’s 14 km into Thailand. We go there often to a friend’s bar to talk nonsense and get drunk. Do you like to talk nonsense and get drunk?”

“Of course!”

“Excellent. Well then it’s settled. You must join us”.

We pulled up at the border.

“Foreigners go there,” said Winrey pointing to a kiosk. “We’ll meet you on the other side”.

We bumbled our way to the border crossing kiosk feeling elated at having travelled through Malaysia in only two days. We celebrated by filling in an immigration arrival form.

“What’s the address of where we’re staying in Thailand?” asked Michael.

“Eerrrr Bangkok, I guess”

“Do you think that’ll be alright?”

“I doubt it”

Sure enough, when we handed in our forms…

“Address?” asked the immigration official, pointed to where I’d scrawled ‘Bangkok’.

“I don’t know the address, we’re staying with a friend,” I replied. “No address. No visa”

“But I said I don’t know the address”

“No address?”

“No”

“No visa”

“Just say China Town” whispered Michael at my side.

“China Town”, I said to the official.

“China Town?” he repeated, doubtfully.

“Yes, China Town, Bangkok”

The official narrowed his eyes at me.

“Street?” he asked.

“Errm.. Beijing road”

“Beijing road, China Town, Bangkok?”

“Yes”

There was a pause.

“Number?”

“Seriously?!”

“Number?”

“10A!”

He stamped our passports and we were granted the mandatory 15 day visa. We wondered through into a new country.

“Yeah I guess you’re right”

We saw Winrey waving at us up ahead. His car had pulled off onto a side street.

“You are trusting people,” Winrey told us, seeing has we’d left our bags in his car after meetinjg them only 10 minutes previously.

“No, just stupid” said Michael.

“The secret to carefree travelling is not to take anything nice with you,” I said.

“Which is why I brought Rich!” said Michael, looking proud of himself.

“Ho ho bloody ho. I’m so glad to see that comedy school obviously worked out so well for you, Michael”.

“You went to comedy school?” Winrey asked, sounding impressed.

“Oh no,” I replied, “It was sarcasm”

“Oh right, where is that? Near London?”

“No, it’s just erm… yeah, it’s near London”

Winrey invited us to join them for a night of a bit of food and a lot of drinking in Sadao. We arrived at Bali House, an atmospheric outdoor bar that I would strongly recommend anyone to visit if they’re ever in south Thailand.

The leafy garden was groomed enough to be practical, but wild enough to look authentic. It had a large table in the middle, which seated our crowd of 10 or so people.

We were introduced to Sakorn, the owner of Bali House. He was evidently a much respected man in the Sadao community and it was easy to see why. Though he looked like a tough guy, he wasn’t intimidating in the slightest. His shaved head and muscular physique belied his generous and gentle personality.

As the evening darkened, the low level orange lighting, draped generously throughout the garden, over the trees and across the bar, like large Christmas lights, made it feel like we were partying underwater in a luminous jellyfish forest.

The candles on the table flickered on the smiling faces of the group, and they were soon joined by plates of rice and spicy Thai-curry. The food, the company and the beer were the perfect welcome to Thailand.

Elated by our successful day of hitching, buzzing on another potent travel high and encouraged by our new friends, who wouldn’t let us take two sips of beer before replenishing the glass, it wasn’t long before the glowing orange bulbs started spinning slowly around us.

At one particularly surreal point in the evening, Sakorn, who’d been watching me roll cigarettes using rolling tobacco, asked me to make him a marijuana joint, which I did, under the interested eyes of Ote, a member of the Thailand anti-drugs smuggling police.

Inspired by the lyrics of Cypress Hill (“insane in the brain”), I rolled up a nice fat 3 skin spliff, the kind that would have made Bob Marley splutter. By the time I’d finished my exhibition of ostentatious origami, it looked like a policeman’s truncheon.

I fired up the beast and passed it to Ote.

“You know you’ve just passed a joint to a police officer,” someone said. Ote looked at me in the eyes, took a huge puff and then, as he exhaled through his smile, said, “Welcome to Thailand,” and the whole place exploded with laughter.

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