It’s 9am and a woman wearing an apron is leaning over me yelling in Thai, waking me up from a nap with an urgency no alarm clock could match. I’m panicked, not sure for a moment where I am, or what I did wrong, or maybe if I’m covered in spiders (millions of spiders?!) until I notice she’s hawking food — a tray of a dozen small, folded banana leaf bowls full of shrimp, fried noodles, and a few indiscernible vegetables — and I’m not about to die. There are zero spiders.

“Mai,” I manage to grunt as I squint my eyes in the morning sun, one of the few Thai words I have on the tip of my tongue. No thank you, my eyes say. And also, maybe don’t wake up a belleagured traveler by yelling in his face next time if you want him to buy your stuff? I collect my bearings.

The train is stopped in Nong Pladuk Junction. Steamy air fills the rail car. Nong Pladuk is the starting station of the infamous Thai-Burma railway, more commonly known as “Death Railway.” It stretches from here to Nanchanaburi, the town a few hours down the road from which I am returning to Bangkok. Nearly one-hundred thousand prisoners of war and forced laborers had their lives forfeited to the construction of the Thai-Burma back in the 1940s. It’s a dark place to wake up to on a sunny Monday morning. It plucks at the melancholy I’m feeling in my heart.Keep Reading

We pile our bags on a little side street in downtown Bangkok. It’s 8pm, the city’s lights are waking up, and busses fill the street. A double-decker bus drives by, inside on the top level a man is singing karaoke to the rest of the travelers. We’re waiting for bus #3, our nine-hour overnight ride to Chiang Mai, a rural town in northern Thailand.

We can’t find our bus.

Mike and I are sitting on the stoop of a closed shop, the dozen pieces of luggage and gear scattered around us. We are drinking a beer and appreciating the calamity of the moment: unsure of where we’ll be in the moments that come, what it will feel like, and how we will be getting there. It’s one of the best things about traveling — the constant uncertainty, the focus on the moment, the near-to-nothing being granted — if you can learn to appreciate it. Admittedly, it’s an acquired taste. It’s my coffee. It’s my wine.

After some confusion and stress, we learn our bus has already arrived. It’s been waiting for us.

We don’t know what to expect inside. The conditions of the bus, the seats, the air, the noise. We’re hoping to sleep, but first we’re hoping the seat recline functions. I can’t help but think back to the bus I rode from Cairo into the middle of the White Desert (the half-day of one-hundred degree sun, the broken air conditioning, the overcramped seating, the failing engine).

We pile into the bus and find that we have a private room in the front half of the lower level. Eight seats all to ourselves. I wouldn’t have hoped for anything better. The seats recline. It does get better. And there’s air conditioning. I could die happy on this bus.

The bus jerks into gear. A strange smell sweeps through our cabin. We might die on this bus.Keep Reading