When the sign at the front of the promised Deluxe bus with cool a/c, wifi, and “toiltel,” read “NO Wifi Now Repair,” it should have been my warning. But even if it had been my warning, how should one heed such a sign in the middle of Thailand with bus, plane, and hostel tickets already booked?
The bus ride started off fine enough with the double decker bus floating through Chiang Mai like an old, old ship. Sure, there were more modern and better equipped buses passing us on the highway, but the point was to get us to Bangkok not make sure our devices were charged and ready to stream Netflix.
Then about a half an hour into the ride, the bus picked up a little speed. Then a lot of speed. Remember, double decker.
The bus barreled over several pot holes. It sailed around tight corners. I thought we were going to tip over.
At least get us to Bangkok in one piece, I kept thinking.
So, I reclined my seat, pulled the blanket over my head and tried to sleep. If I didn’t see us tip over then hopefully the death would be quick and/or painless. Just get us to Bangkok.
Somehow I managed to sleep. At some point, my bladder woke me up. After spending the better part of the day in a coffee shop swilling Thai iced tea and the occasional fancy coffee, I needed to empty out. Keeping the gleeful sign of “toiltels” in mind, I go hunting.
What I found was a tiny room, an aluminum bowl, and two buckets. No toilet paper. No running water. And a smell I hope never to experience again. After much maneuvering while pitching back and forth (remember speeding double decker bus) in a small and smelly room with two nearly full buckets and a wad of napkins taken from a distant coffee shop, I managed to pee. Then scrambled back to my seat and crawled under my blanket in hopes of dismissing the whole experience as some miserable nightmare induced by the lack of Internet.
I woke up a few hours into the ride to us stopping for “dinner.” 😐 It was literally the worst food I’ve ever had in Bangkok. The absolute worst. Fish balls in thrice-used dish water with two limp noodles and a demand for payment in the form of our food vouchers. A reminder for next time: Get snacks before the bus ride.
After another half hour, we all get back on the bus. The bus starts up and drives from the plaza. Three minutes later, the bus pulls over in the gravel and stops.
It idles, then the driver cuts off the engine. Minutes pass in disquiet. The driver and conductor are speaking in Thai and none of the passengers know what’s going on.
Did we leave a passenger behind? Is the engine compromised? Did the driver need to piss?
The engine gets turned on and then off a couple of times. More conversation. More disquiet. I think with longing about the 6,600 baht ($200) one way ticket I sneered at before getting on the 600 baht ($18) bus. More speculation from my seat neighbor, Jon. He, mildly disaster prone, accepts the blame for our circumstances. His karma or something.
How will we get to Bangkok? I’m questioning all my life decisions at this point.
Then, the engine heaves to life again. This time, the bus moves gently into motion. We sail carefully off the gravel shoulder and back toward the highway. No explanation. Maybe the driver ate the “food” and had to urgently take care of the results of his bad decision. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get to Bangkok.
A reminder for next time: pay the extra money for the plane. Maybe.