On the way to Ko Phangan from Bangkok, the tour coach's A/C stopped working a couple of hours
into the trip. There were no windows that can be opened so it went from warm to stifling to nearly suffocating very quickly with a bus full of sweaty people
desperately trying not to breath in any more than necessary each other's humid breaths.
Ko Phangan [ 10 photos ]
Thankfully, the driver pulled over on the side of the road to try to figure out what happened and we all jumped off the bus to get some much needed fresh air. But he's no mechanic. It's like the man who props open the hood of his car when the car breaks knowing full well that there's nothing underneath that hood that he knows how to fix. But that's us men: we feel compelled to pop that hood up nevertheless. Anyway, the driver gave up eventually and we all got back onto the bus for another hour in the oxygen-deprived stillness of the ever hotter and more humid passenger compartment.
We ended up stuck at a rest stop in the middle of the night for two hours while the driver got some mechanic to come fix the bus. The point of the story is that somehow everyone (and when I say everyone, I meant the bus full of backpackers) kept his cool. Nobody seemed upset about it. We just took the opportunity to get to know the fellow passengers. Somehow being in Thailand gives you that "Hey, shit happens, don't worry about it" attitude towards things. Mai pen rai, a Thai would say. Don't worry, it's nothing. This would be a totally different scene in China, for example. I've seen huge shouting matches break out in the middle of the airport over some minor delays. But here, in Thailand, in the face of adversity, you smile and somehow things that might have upset you just flows away. It's very zen.
On the way back from Ko Phangan, I decided to try a "government bus" which counter-intuitively has the best service and accomodations. I associate governemt service to the lowest common denominator, but in Thailand, it is in fact the most expensive and luxurious. And even more counter-intuitively, it is filled with Thais. So the locals take the fancy expensive bus while the comparatively rich farangs take the cheaper third-party buses. I wonder if the Thais don't pay as much for these rides as us foreigners, or that backpackers just tend to be penny-pinching cheap bastards. In any case, in the middle of the night, the bus stopped at a rest-stop-cum-mess-hall and everyone got off and we broke up into groups of six to eat together family-style. It was great fun eating with a bunch of Thai strangers who all treated us like family, pouring drinks and serving rice for us.
And guess what? The fancy government bus broke down as well towards the end of the trip. They had to send another bus to come pick us up.
Mai pen rai. Mai pen rai.
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Also see my Thailand (March/April 2008) photoset on Flickr.