I was returning to Thailand for my flight home after a few months in Asia. The day-long bus trip from Siem Reap in Cambodia and over the border as far as Bangkok was always going to be a sad affair as I was sorry to be marking the end of my trip.
A bit emotional, the day began with an argument. I challenged the pick-up driver as to why he was so late in collecting me. I had, after all, a plane to catch that very night and had yet to leave that country and get into the next. He was a proper feisty little Cambodian and I was slightly wrong-footed by how good his English was. It made me raise my game – and voice – on the argument-stakes which, in turn, made him do the same.
After every volley and return of insults we would break for me to compliment him on his excellent English and for him to thank me. Apparently he was also the manager of the company. We would then resume our fight.
It was the first of two fights of the day.
I was unceremoniously dumped on a street corner where the bus awaited. It wasn’t quite the VIP Super Deluxe Tourist bus that I’d paid for but hey. Other backpackers were milling around waiting for the driver to figure out how to wedge the door open and allow us onboard. The usual small talk began and soon we were all chatting like old friends.
Apart from one solitary, shifty-looking character.
The door finally open, on we got and spread ourselves around the sparsely populated bus.
Goes without saying that the solitary, shifty-looking character sat next to me, despite a great many empty double seats.
I’m used to this, they always find me.
All the things you would expect to happen happened. He lit up, he took up more than his fair share of space, his legs were constantly rubbing up against mine, he spilt his messy food everywhere and trumped noisily and odorously in appreciation.
I was having a fine last day in Asia.
We made one stop before reaching the border, at a large roadside café.
We unstuck ourselves from the plastic seats and poured off the bus to investigate what food was on offer from the choice of stalls.
I tried to create as much distance as possible between me and my odd fellow passenger.
However, having witnessed his continuing outbursts at the stall holders who didn’t understand what he was asking for in his heavily-accented English, I felt I couldn’t just stand by and let him shout horrible insults at these lovely, gentle people.
So in I stepped.
He stood up to his full 5’6’’ height (I had a couple more inches on him) and let rip. Among his more bizarre accusations of my ‘interfering’ was why I hadn’t personally ‘returned the Falkland Islands to Argentina’. His tirade went on for quite some time, the café went quiet, no-one reacted. Not even the Cambodians whose honour I was defending.
He adopted the ‘let’s do this’ stance and goaded me into stepping outside.
He was difficult to put either an age or nationality on. He was so utterly messed up from, I’m guessing, drugs that he was little more than a wiry skeleton with long, frizzy, bandana-d hair. He could have been anything from a haggard looking 40 year old to a young but sick looking 70 year-old.
I couldn’t decide between Brazilian or Russian.
For some reason, for a split second I did actually consider going outside and taking him on. I could feel myself appraising my chances. I was taller but he was angrier. I was alert but he was crazed. I was …
Hang on, what the hell was I thinking? Why on earth would I attempt to physically fight a madman who, if he were Brazilian, would undoubtedly pull some lethal capoeira moves on me and, if he were Russian, he’d pull out a Kalashnikov.
And anyway, I’m a lover not a fighter.
So I turned on my heels and ignored him. The 30 odd group of passengers who had watched all of this came and congratulated me for taking him to task.
The remainder of the bus trip was, of course, excruciating, but he at least chose to sit elsewhere and annoy others instead. He loudly discussed with them how ‘British girls have too much independence and should know their place.’ He was having this conversation with a British couple, however, who soon told him where to get off.
The border crossing was as painful as ever, taking hours. We transferred into connecting buses on the other side, now at least in Thailand.
A few hours later we pulled up in central Bangkok in an undisclosed busy street outside an unidentified hotel.
Keen not to be harangued by him any further, I grabbed my backpack and dived straight into the hotel and out of sight. I had a good few hours to kill before needing to be at the airport and decided I’d leave my bag in their storage and head out for some last minute shopping once the coast was clear.
As soon as I could see him disappearing into the crowd, I ran out and jumped straight into a tuk tuk.
‘To a shopping mall, don’t spare the horses!’
It was a few hours later when it dawned on me.
I had no idea where the hell the hotel was in which I’d left all my worldly belongings. I had no idea of its name nor the street it was in. Not even the district of Bangkok.
I normally take a business card from hotels’ receptions in order to wave it at drivers and get back safely. But in my haste to evade death by capoeira at the scrawny hands of an elderly Russo Brazilian hippy, I had failed to do this.
I could think of absolutely no way of figuring out how to ever find it. The stub for my bag had no name on it.
Time was running out. I was due to head to the airport within a couple of hours.
I really didn’t want to return to the UK just abandoning my entire backpack, but what could I do?
Slightly panicked, I burst into the airline shop when I happened upon it in the mall and explained my predicament.
‘You’re in luck Ms Nugent. The flight is over booked and we are looking for volunteers to stay on an extra night, at our expense, and leave on tomorrow’s flight instead.’
‘Well, thank you, yes, but how does that help me find my bag?’
‘It won’t, but you could try calling the bus company and ask them what their drop off location is.’
I could of course do that, but I was beginning to regret having argued with the manager that morning.
‘If you agree now we can offer you transportation to the hotel that we’re happy to accommodate you in.’
As I say, what could I do?
The cab came to a halt back in downtown Bangkok and I got out, feeling utterly miserable.
Then, I stopped in my tracks.
No, not the mad hippy come to get me, but the self same hotel where my bag was patiently waiting for me. Apparently it’s THE hub for arrivals in Bangkok and last minute airline passenger bookings.
What are the chances?