beware of dogs

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February 2nd 2013
Published: February 3rd 2013
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I knew I had to leave bangkok. If I wanted to be in a bustling city of tourists and people out to get my money, expensive crazy nightlife and more to buy than could ever be sold, I could have just taken the Q train to manhattan instead of coming to the other side of the world.

On my last night there, I met a Finnish guy named thomas, and we braved the streets outside of the touristy square of banglumpur, in search of a particular so called authentic thai restaurant. It was worth the walk, just to get out of the incessant noise of tourists and music and opportunists.

On the way back, we stopped for a few beers and shared our similar views on travel and tried to figure out what we were each doing next.

I wanted to go to a smaller town with some appreciation of nature, and I looked into kanchanaburi, just 3hours away by bus, further in the mountains. There is a meditation center for mostly women, and I liked the idea of disciplining myself by meditating for 4 hours a day, starting at 4am.

This was my plan. There were cheap and beautiful guest houses in the area, the possibility of renting a bicycle and seeing nearby caves and waterfalls, hot springs, war museums, etc. Then I turned the page of my lonely planet. Mae Sot. The mecca of NGOs. Work with Burmese refugees. Opportunities for short term volunteer work. Teach ESL. HALLELUJAH.

Well,I'd be lying if I said it was such a direct decision, even if it makes a better story. In reality, I called the guest hiuses in kanchanaburi, and all the budget options had been snatched up by travelers with better planning skills than I. The lady at the travel agency and internet cafe was very friendly, as she had just enjoyed a 3 day stint of me trying to find a job online. She explained how to get to mae sot with local travel rather than the expensive travel agencies. Just take a city bus one hour to the northern terminal, and then just a 5 hour ride to mae sot, with buses leaving every hour. How helpful!

How incorrect. I got to the bus terminal,

bought my ticket only to discover the bus didn't leave til 7pm, and was actually 8 hours long. I called my guest house to let them know I'd be arriving at 3am.

The bus was a double decker behemoth, with over zealous AC, and I had the good fortune to sit in the front row on the top floor, so I had the prime view of just how far we'd fall if the bus tipped over. I sat next to a young woman who looked chinese, and she basically adopted me.

She fed me gum and peanuts, and even tucked my blanket around my feet to protect against the unseasonably cold weather in the bus. We also shared a mild anxiety as the bus lurched over potholes and swayed around corners like a giant drunken elephant.

When the bus arrived after a sleepless NINE hours, everyone hopped out and crammed 6at a time into tuk tuks, and I was very abruptly left on my own at 4am with a small crowd of tuk tuk vultures closing in. The inevitable "where you go?" Cut the darkness from every direction. I asked how much to Smile guest house, and I knew he was over charging me, but it was late, so a moment later, we were off! It was actually cold, I had no idea my teeth would be chattering in Thailand.

We pulled down a driveway and came to a halt in front of a guest house, but not the one where I had a reservation. I said, "I'm going to Smile guest house." "Yeah, guest house" was his response. " But this is the wrong one." The gate across the front driveway was locked with a padlock. "How do I get in?" He mimed cutting the lock with bolt cutters and laughed. "I need Smile guest house." But he was already pushing his tuk tuk backwards down the gravel path. Luckily some unfortunate light sleeper came outside and pointed down the road to where I'd find my guest house.

When I stepped inside the thai style house, a man was coming down the stairs to meet me. He took me to my room which is very basic but familiar feeling, with a bed, a fan and two dying cockroaches in the corner, dancing away their last few minutes of life on their backs.

There are three shared bathrooms with the typical toilet shower combo room, (when you shower, you also shower the toilet next to you), and a bucket under the shower collects much of the run off water, which you can use later to manually flush the toilets with a small tub.

Here's the thing: cockroaches, manual toilet, spiders in the shower, hard mattress, cheap rate, and WiFi! Really! Everywhere has wifi here!

Most foreigners here are NGO workers and I guess it just makes sense. Amazing. I thought I was going out in the boonies to a tiny border town and now I'm better connected than I was in Bangkok.

When I woke up, I tried to make a nuissance of myself as much as possible, stopping every foreign person to ask for a volunteer job. I went to a guest house that lonely planet recommended as a good volunteer resource, and I got sent to an NGO that deals mostly with research, asking for 6month time commitment.

She said she'd ask her friend who is a teacher, and I continued on my search. The funny thing is I went to an indian restaurant, I was chatting with a woman, and she turned out to be the one the other woman was going to introduce me to.

I made two friends. I went to a popular place for expats, saw a bit of the expat community, and walked home.

Everyone seems quite friendly here. Except. The dogs. During the day, the stray dogs are too hot to move. They lay in driveways and under parked cars or creep into the lobby of guest houses. But at night, as you walk down the street, you hear growls from territorial beasts who have cooled down enough to get angry. If you come forward, they come out to confront you. If you turn back, they chase you. There are many of them and only one of you, and you don't relish the idea of being bitten.

My 20min walk home more than doubled because I tried to avoid the dogs by taking side streets, only to find the side streets inhabited by even crazier dogs. Finally I passed 4 men eating at a food stand, and soon after, the street narrowed, and in the streetlight, very dramatically, the dogs came out like a gang and lined up in the middle of the road, with a low collective growl warning me away. Their shadows from the lights made them look much larger than they were. I turned back to the men eating and asked, "are the dogs really crazy here?" One man said, "you, no crazy, they no crazy, ok." I said, "do they bite?" "No no no, ok I take you, car, no problem." I was hesitant. Classic get killed move anywhere in the world is get in a car with a strange man. But the dogs! What was more likely, getting killed or getting bitten? So I accepted the offer. We got in, started driving, and then I realized my guest house was literally a 5 second drive away. It was in sight of where I had been standing. The man laughed and said goodnight, and waited til I got inside before waving and leaving. I came to my room that I still share with 2 dead cockroaches, and got a wonderful night's sleep.


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