The kindness of strangers – Or how I got off the Banana Pancake trail

Fuck! I knew I had overstayed my Thai Visa by one day. I knew it would cost me 500 baht. And still, there I was, at a border control office in Padang Besar with only 440 baht in my wallet and two border control guards looking disinterested at me and my not full enough purse. I was so sure I’d put away enough money!

If only I hadn’t had that stupid dinner in Chumpon the day before, it cost me a bit more than intended, and I’d never felt so alone in my whole life – sitting there with a group of people speaking German over my head through the entire meal. Whenever I managed to lure one of them to speak a bit of English with me, another would soon throw a question in German across the table in that direction and I would be all alone again. It didn’t seem to occur to them until the end of the meal that they were slightly, very, extremely annoyingly rude.

(The picture is of a family on a motorbike in Mandalay, Myanmar. My compact broke during Sonkgran on Koh Tao, and my DSLR was very conveniently out of battery) 

And then there was the overpriced and unexpected motorbike ride from Hat Yai train station to the bus (or shared taxi) station. I’m pretty sure the guy drove a little detour as well, to make it seem further, and just cashed in and drove away with almost 40 extra baht because he didn’t have change. After some sleepless night hours, and then a few early morning hours on the train, questioning if every slight stop would be my stop – the train ended up being more than three hours delayed and I was so far back in the train I couldn’t see the station signs until we were leaving the stations – I was too tired and confused to protest. If only, if only, I could have had enough money.

But I didn’t, and I was still standing in a small office, with one guy clad in an informal suit, and another in a military uniform, with only 440 baths, while I through the window could see cars coming and going and people getting stamped in and out of Thailand.
“Can I pay in dollars?” I finally ask – remembering my 100 dollar note I’d tucked away in my backpack for emergencies – the uniformed guy shakes his head “In Thailand you pay in Baht”.
“Is there an ATM nearby then?”

The angry exhaust, and the four headed savior 
Luckily there is, kind of nearby at least, and one of the guys fetch a motorcycle taxi with an orange west clad driver, fix a price for me and off I go. We stop, there’s the ATM, everything will turn out all right in the end. I try to take out some money – nothing comes out. I try another one, but that ATM-machine doesn’t work – at all. I get the driver to take me to another bank, he seems stressed, like he didn’t want me as a customer in the first place, or maybe he was waiting for someone at the border, maybe the price for taking me was too low, whatever the reason he seems like he just wants to get back and get rid of me as soon as possible, but he takes me never the less. On the ride a frightening thought occur, when did I last transfer money from my savings to my spending account? Maybe I don’t have any money for the ATM to spit out. Please, please don’t let that be the case I plead when approaching the next ATM. I try with a lower money amount than my last try, cross my fingers and wait… wait… wait… money!

I stuff the money into my wallet while hurrying over to the motorbike, the engine is already running, I get on as fast as I can, too fast, and in the process I press the side of my calf on to the burning hot exhaust, this just isn’t my day. An angry red mark is forming as the driver speeds up, heading to the border post. It hurts and stings and I can’t wait to apply a thick cooling layer of aloe vera on it. But first I’ll pay my fine and get out of Thailand. Before we reach our destination, a motorbike with a whole family on it is following us, and tries to get my driver’s attention. What now? We stop, and the family stops, and then the woman – one of four riders on the little motorbike – holds up a remarkably familiar wallet. I glance down at my simple, cheap, Khao San-bought shoulder bag that can house everything you need, and a little bit more – it’s open! In the stress of getting on the bike, and burning my leg, I forgot to close it, my wallet fell out, and these kind people picked it up and followed us to give it back. My driver looks annoyed, another delay, but I take the wallet and say thanks and bow and I’m so grateful and relieved and happy that I’m almost on the verge of tears.

Later…
…when I’ve finally crossed the border, walked all the way from the Thai checkpoint (after telling the border control guys adios, and no, I wont come back later today, or tomorrow, cause this is not a Visa run, I’m actually heading to Malaysia)  to the Malaysian checkpoint (this border crossing is definitely not meant for walking) – with a little rest in the grass outside a huge duty free shop between the two checkpoints, applying my first (of many) thick layers of aloe vera on my now bubbly and still burning burn mark – I sit on the asphalt outside a 7/11 munching peanuts, while contemplating my luck  and wondering where to go next (I just learned that there’s nowhere to sleep on the Malaysian side of Padang Besar). I sum up the long morning and come to the conclusion that while a bad day travelling isn’t necessarily better than a good day at work, at least it makes for a way better story. Oh, and how good it would be with a banana chocolate pancake just this moment, crispy and sweet and slightly salty…