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Published: December 3rd 2009
Day 19: Hua Sai to Songkhla
We set off biking early at 8 am, with the wind against us. But at least the day’s route was flat, and we biked along 408, the main highway, for hours. I was very, very sore and every push of the pedals made each muscle in my body hurt. We stopped to eat noodles for breakfast, then noodles for lunch, mixing it up with white noodles, then yellow. We rode by cows tied up through a ring in their nose, cute kids on bicycles, dozens of stray dogs of varying decrepitude. Huge smelly trucks piled high with unknown goods and motorbikes with side cars whizzed by us as we rode.
The people down here in Southern Thailand had much darker skin than the Thais we’d seen before. Thai people generally want to be whiter, wearing hats, umbrellas, using whitening creams, while we Americans, ironically, strive to be darker. I’m not sure if Southern Thais are ethnically different or just less concerned about the strive to be ‘white’ than their Northern compatriots. We grew accustomed to seeing signs stating a town was 60 km distance, then later seeing signs saying that same town was 80 km distance.
The cows we passed were alert, looking up as we rode by, watching us, displaying very human emotions of fear and curiosity, or cuddling with their babies. You may be thinking, but you were riding on the highway all day, how did you see cows? Well, oftentimes the areas the cows were left to graze, sometimes grassy, sometimes woods, abutted the highway.
While biking I remembered thai iced tea, one of the most delicious drinks on earth, and a drink which I’d completely forgotten the past three weeks we’d been in the country. Oh man! It starts with a very strong tea, which becomes orange when brewed as it always is with loads of sugar. Condensed sweetened milk and lots of ice is added to the tea base, which is served beautifully in a little plastic baggy, tied at the nape, with a straw. Mmmm. We managed to enjoy thai iced tea three times on this day, attempting to make up for our lost time with the beverage.
Many people we passed responded to spotting us with a friendly, “Hey you.” Very sweet and personal and also surprising. Where did they learn to greet like that? Many Thai kids learn English in school, not well, but they do often know a few phrases, like, “How are you?” and “Where from?” and “Name?” Most adults do not know any English, but some can speak it, always surprising us. Generally the level of understanding is low down in these parts, as the locals get little chance to practice what they have learned.
I realized that the locals only tried to rip us off in very poor areas, while everyone else was honest. That is truly amazing, the locals only took what they needed, and when they needed more, they tried to take more. Can’t blame anyone for doing that. Ripping off someone in a situation like that seems pretty honest, actually.
My body was failing me and I was struggling to continue pedaling. I sensed that what I was feeling was my muscles breaking and rehealing stronger and bigger, but for this day, my ripped muscles were making the ride extremely difficult. So while continuing to bike along, I had my thumb out, looking for rides. But as I mentioned before, the thumb is not the universal symbol for hitchhiking, and so nobody stopped. We wanted to reach Songkhla, the next big town, but we had started the day with signs reporting it to be 80 km, and two hours later, seen signs reporting it further away, at 100 km. The signs had taunted us all day, reporting 45 km, then 53 km, then 40 km, then 45 km. Around 3 PM, the signs told us we still had 30 km, about 20 miles, to go.
Passing a gas station along the highway, we stopped to bravely try to solicit rides. Mostly we made up excuses about why we couldn’t ask one person or another. “They don’t have enough room in their truck,” or “I don’t think they’re going far,” or “They look mean.” Finally, I worked up the nerve to ask this one couple. They didn’t say no, but I wouldn’t say they were overjoyed either. But I think, with their Buddhist principles in mind, to always help others, they gave us a ride. Jay got in the bed of their truck with our two bikes. The bed was full, so I got in their back seat, which I was a little nervous to do, but I figured hey, these people aren’t going to kidnap us, they didn’t even want us to come with them. I basically forced them to take us. What are they going to do, a spur of the moment kidnapping, with no plan? No way.
The ride was awkward; the couple spoke English but they did not want to chat. I really wanted to chat though, having met few people lately who spoke any English. We had a conversation where I asked questions and they reluctantly answered them. After five minutes in the car, the rain started. Then the thunder. The rain was coming down by the bucket and J was in the bed of a pickup truck with two bicycles, and no rain protection. But ten minutes later, we reached the outskirts of Songkhla, about 10 km from the city center, and our benefactors dropped us by the roadside. Despite their obvious displeasure at taking us, I think they felt good about themselves as we profusely thanked them. They could surely tell we were exhausted and truly grateful for the help. They took us about eighteen miles.
Twenty minutes of looking for hotels in the storm found us safely and happily inside a dry room with a soft bed, in a giant complex whose reception was in a mini-mart baking donuts and bread. (Here was that bakery I was craving yesterday!) The shower was of the cold variety, so I simply stripped off my soaked clothes, put on dry clothes and passed out in the bed. I woke up to a picnic J had brought back to the room. Three pounds of sweet rhambutan, fried chicken, sticky rice and spicy chicken and vegetables. A nice change from noodles.
After dinner, we explored town. The most interesting part to me, was the mini-mart below us, boasting a massive display of baked goods, all baked in-house, and all getting swarmed by ants. Apparently their packaging was not secure and the building had an ant problem. I told the receptionist/cashier, who spoke good English, and she wasn’t at all concerned. I found that very curious. We watched a crew of four bakers in the rear room, making bread, weighing every single pat of dough, every single piece of butter. Only one person was actually working, the other three were there for emotional support I think. Dogs roamed through the bakery and the adjoining restaurant, the patrons paying them no notice. Nobody paid us any notice either, despite the fact that we were the only tourists in town. I guess the city people were “too cool” to be interested in us foreigners.
*We later found out that there were a series of bombings in Songkhla the night we were there.
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