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.
After no more than ten minutes, a car pulled over ahead of us. Two people hopped 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?”
“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”
“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?”
There was a pause.
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 meeting 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.