The train jerked to a stop, and you watched sleepily as the carriage emptied. Your watch indicated that it was only 4:30am and a full hour before your train was due to reach its destination, but the cleaners had boarded and begun mopping down the floors.
“Nong Khai?” You ask one of them.
The lady nodded. You hop out onto the platform and straight into the arms of the tuk-tuk drivers.
“Thai-Lao Friendship bridge, ka.”
The driver shared a nonplussed look with his colleagues, which should have tipped you off to your grave error had you not already been in transit a full 30 hours and suffering from severe sleep deprivation.
“Laos, okay.” He says, with the look of a man who has no idea what he is doing but has decided to figure it out as he goes.
The drive takes you past things you hadn’t seen before: that shopping centre definitely wasn’t there the last time you visited- and is that a Makro? Your head feels full of cottonwool and oh, for goodness sake, you’re stopping outside a bus station.
“Friendship bridge!” You insist.
“55 kilometres, tuk-tuk too expensive!”
“Ha sip ha kilometres?” You confirm in a small voice.
He nods, flashes five fingers twice, and then makes a throwing gesture to further illustrate how far away it is.
“Bus Laos here, 9 o’clock.”
“No bus before then?”
“Gone already. You wait here, is safe.”
You pay the tuk-tuk driver and buy a 15 baht paper-cup of coffee from a sniggering Burmese woman (who had overheard the entire interaction) to aid you in your decision making. It’s just a little past 5am, and still dark. Immigration opens in one hour. The Consulate opens in 3.5 hours.
Screw it, you’ll try and hitchhike; worst comes to the worst you can always catch the bus.
Thirty minutes later you’re sitting in the passenger seat of a car heading to Nong Khai.
“Why you walk? So dark, no good.” The woman asks.
“I missed the bus.”
“Ohah, no good. Strong smell, sorry. You want to go 7-11 for food? Hungry?”
“Mai, ka. Mai hiew.”
There was a dirty Styrofoam box sitting on the backseat, and the odour emanating from it was like something from one of the lower levels of Buddhist hell. You’d encountered critically infected motorbike wounds on the cusp of gangrene and half-decayed animals that were less of an affront to the nose. Fortunately, you have a very strong stomach.
“What is it?”
“You have a restaurant?”
“No, I cook for family.”
It is not outside the realm of possibility that this woman’s family actually comprises two baby seals.
After a bit of broken conversation, you find out she has two primary-aged children in Nong Khai living with her husband. She spends most of her time working in Udon Thani managing a construction company.
She dropped you off at immigration.
“Be careful you, little girl, I worry you!”
“I will! Thank you ka!”