Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Story Jar - Chaing Dao by Bus

Chiang Dao by Bus
Story Jar published June 20, 2007 copyright Elaine Hardman
I don't have many photos of this adventure.

There are lots of ways to travel in Thailand – rent some kind of cart pulled by a motorcycle or a car or van
but we found our way to Chiang Dao on a public bus. It was a huge, tall thing. The floor, sides and ceiling were shiny metal. Above our John-Deer-green seats were luggage racks with a variety of bags and backpacks. Under many seats pairs of sandals waited empty while owner-feet rested in lotus pose, bare toes cooling in the breeze from six overhead fans.
Green curtains covered most of the windows blocking the blazing sun to create squares of precious shade but some windows were opened to catch the wind – dry, sun-hot, and smelling of roasted asphalt and concrete.
We came to this bus by Tuk Tuk, a Thai cart/motorcycle. We asked our Tuk Tuk driver where to get a ticket for the Chaing Dao bus and he pointed us toward the wrong ticket window but other drivers waved us onward to the correct window.
Thai is a difficult language but English is rare outside of tourist areas so we used a few hand signals and asked for 2 tickets to Chiang Dao. Seeing that I had a bit of paper in my hand (Chiang Puak station was scribbled on it for the Tuk Tuk driver), the ticket vendor took it to write 40 underscore 80 so Rick handed a 100 Baht note for our tickets.
She gave change and handed us the tickets after writing 11:30, 31/32 on the back of one. Okay, that was the departure time and our seat numbers. She pointed to a bus and we climbed on and found that the back of each seat actually had 3 numbers stenciled on suggesting a future coziness that would scarce allow room for sweat to drip.
The ticket seller became our conductor, closing her window and joining us just before the bus left. At the rear door another staff member had the lively job of putting a wood block behind the back wheel every time the bus stopped. He pulled out the block and we took off.
Rick and I were oddities on this bus. Western oddities. Most tourists take taxis to Chiang Dao or they rent air conditioned vans.
Taxis are actually small pick up trucks with 2 rows of seats in the bed. In Cambodia they are yellow and have a roof against the rain or sun. In Thailand they are often red and more enclosed but both of these slightly-less-than-limo services require one to ride sideways engulfed in the dust and fumes of the road at a price ten times that of a bus ticket.
Had we rented an air conditioned van, the trip would have been a pleasant journey but getting to Chaing Dao would have cost more, each way, than three nights at our "Nature Lover's Bungalow". The guide book suggested that taking the bus was an easy and reasonable choice so that’s what we did and -as a bonus - it was interesting.
People boarded the bus at several locations so that, while we were the only two in our seat, some people were crunched three to a seat. The conductor asked two skinny men next to us to stand while she lifted their seat and pulled it away from the side of the bus so that it protruded into the aisle a bit giving enough space for a new passenger to perch her size zero jeans on the edge where she listened to her Ipod for the rest of the 90 minute trip.
It gave a bit of a sense of insecurity to know that our bus seats not only lacked seat belts, they weren’t even attached to anything.
We drove past rice paddies, houses on silts, stores, laundry on lines, construction sites, at least a thousand restaurants and half a dozen working elephants in our soft, free-floating seats, under ceiling fans on a non-smoking bus.
At Chiang Dao we got a tap on the shoulder and a nod to the rear. The wood-block man jumped off and placed his block behind the tire while we jumped off behind him. He called out as a monk in dark yellow clambered up the steps and in a blur he picked up his block and gracefully flew onto the rumbling bus to take everyone else toward Fang, the end of the line.

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