There I was, packed in what can best be described as a surplus army troop transport truck circa 1945, and smashed in alongside Jeff and another 20 or so locals from Bangkok. It was a flatbed truck with canvas sides and two small benches along the sides. Metal frames that held the canvas came up on the sides and back and gave people something to hold on to since most were standing. The number of people in this truck and in all the vehicles in our little caravan far exceeded anything remotely “safe”. Some of the teenage and young adult men practically hung from the back of the truck – and it was a 4-5 hour trip to the beach.
I had met Jeff while studying in Hong Kong for the summer. I had planned to do a 2 week internship at a Hong Kong law firm after the end of classes. But after two days at the firm it was obvious they had nothing for me to do. So I took Jeff’s advice and headed to Thailand.
Jeff had visited Thailand for 5-6 weeks before our summer study program began and even better he had met a local girl, Mayura, who really helped him, and later me, navigate the bustling world of Bangkok. I had decided to travel to Thailand on a whim and had no idea what I would do once I arrived (other than try and find the hotel where Jeff was and to get a room). For a couple days Jeff and I went and saw some exotic temples and colorful outdoor markets, but I soon met a tiny and beautiful Thai girl named Koi while out shopping. Somehow we really hit it off and I asked her to dinner that night. She was fiery and kind and exotically irresistible. For the next 10 days and Jeff, Mayura, Koi, and I were close companions travelling around Bangkok and beyond.
Jeff’s girlfriend lived in a neighborhood of very modest means and one day she informed us that her entire neighborhood was going to take a trip to the beach that coming weekend and she wanted us to go along. It sounded like a wonderful opportunity to see the country in a manner most foreigners never would. And it would have been impossibly impolite to refuse.
I was certainly right. What a trip. An unforgettable trip.
The weekend came. We arrived at Mayura’s neighborhood where about 30-40 people were packing travel bags with some snacks, liquor and other drinks, and various odds and ends for the trip. There were a couple beat up vans and the aforementioned truck as well. We loaded up and set off. Thailand in August is hot. Very hot. Many Americans might have found the conditions on the truck too uncomfortable, sweaty and crowded.
Jeff and I were having a ball. It didn’t hurt that we both were with women that spoke English and could translate when necessary. But most times it wasn’t even needed. Although I rarely understood a single word others said, one of the great things about traveling when you are open to the new and unexpected and are friendly to everyone is you get by. You manage to communicate enough without words to still have a great time.
Soon the drums were beating, the liquor started flowing and someone was playing a flute-like instrument. The group started singing and laughing as the truck bounced along the highway. Despite the heat, the crowded conditions, and general discomfort – everyone seemed happy. After a while I noticed they were singing and pointing at me and Koi, with gestures to my ring hand. Jeff encouraged them in my embarrassment. It’s hard to say if they were singing a betrothal song or something more bawdy because I don’t speak Thai. And as much as I adored Koi, I didn’t think I could return home and tell my dad I married a Thai girl on a truck! So I shook my head NO when they next pointed at my hand and they laughed at me. But whatever they were singing they did it with great cheer and merriment. They even got Jeff and I to sing some American songs which they cheered despite the fact I can’t carry a tune at all. Unfortunately, since every reasonable song left my head, I found myself singing “Puff the Magic Dragon” to a truckload of Thai people who thankfully had no idea what a stupid song I was singing! I guess it didn’t matter since it wasn’t the words but the spirit of the moment that mattered.
Along the way we made a couple stops at some Buddhist temples so people could pray and then finally arrived at the beach where our time was much too short before we had to make the return trip home. The trip back was much quieter and subdued as everyone was tired from the morning’s trip and hours in the sun and ocean. On arrival back in Bangkok, we all clapped shoulders and shook hands. Jeff and I thanked them all for inviting us and sharing their trip with us. It was special and an unforgettable journey.
And it would never have happened if I had laid out an agenda for my two weeks. By just exploring without a plan and being receptive to whatever opportunity arose and to whomever I met – I met some amazing people and saw a Thailand most tourists will never experience.
A final note. I was smitten by that girl. Koi and I promised to stay in touch when I went home, although letters were going to be difficult because although she spoke English, she couldn’t read it. And I was hopeless either speaking or reading Thai. But I knew the owner of a Thai restaurant who had grown up in Bangkok and I went to see him. He volunteered to translate our letters both ways for us. How exceptionally kind! And so we both wrote for 5-6 months before things faded away like difficult love affairs will. But I regret not a moment.