Approaching Nong Khai: A sprint to the finish

Amber is on the last leg of her trip in Thailand. We are now in Nong Khai, a small city in Northeastern Thailand on the border of Laos. It is one of the only popular backpacker towns in this part of the country so we are basking in all it has to offer: good coffee, used bookstores, friendly guest house staff who speak English, and non-Thai foods. And it’s not that I don’t want to eat Thai cuisine when traveling, because I’ve actually had more Thai dishes here than foreign, but it is nice to have a good slice of pizza and some fries when it’s available!

Our adventure to Nong Khai began Thursday afternoon when my principal from Wang Yang School drove us into NKP to catch a bus to Udon Thani, where we would then have to transfer to another bus for the final hour of the trip. The ride to Udon Thani is about 5 hours and since we weren’t leaving NKP until after my last class in the afternoon, many of my teachers said there would be no buses leaving for Nong Khai that late at night. We arrived at the NKP station with about 8 minutes until departure. Relieved though were were to catch the first bus, we were still unsure if we’d catch the second one in Udon Thani.

Five hours later (after what felt like hundreds of stops on the side of the road to let people on/off the bus, as well as a 10 minute detour to fill up on gas, which totaled my month’s salary) we arrived in Udon, only to be told by several bus drivers that all buses for Nong Khai had left for the evening. We were offered a private taxi ride for 800 Baht but quickly declined.  Just to be sure I asked the information desk if there were any buses departing from the other station in the city and after several requests (in both Thai and English) I convinced him to call the station to inquire. After hanging up he quickly scribbled numbers on a piece of paper indicating a departure time for the last bus to Nong Khai. And here began the most exhilarating and memorable tuk tuk ride I hope to ever experience.

The bus was sitting by a market nearly 4 kilometers away and before we knew it Amber’s luggage was swept away by a tuk tuk driver. We followed close behind and were barely seated before he tore out of the bus station in pursuit of this last bus. After flying through downtown Udon Thani and evading a group of police officers directing traffic around an accident, we slammed to a halt at the market but there was no bus in sight. Our tuk tuk driver, acting with great haste, asked a vendor for the whereabouts of the last bus to Nong Khai. He pointed, and sure enough about 200 meters down the street, just beyond a large intersection, sat an old tour bus with its parking lights flashing. Spitting gravel behind us, we pulled away in pursuit just as quickly as we stopped, only to be halted again by a red light. Knowing it could pull away at any second, our driver revved the little engine, was the first off the line as the light turned green, and quickly approached the bus with reckless abandon. We raced along its side and as a final gesture of triumph (or security), he parked directly in front of it. Above the tuk tuk’s puttering and the tour bus’s roaring engine arose the best laugh of relief I have ever heard, coming from our driver (who I still believe wanted us to make the bus even more than we did!). Amber and I soon joined in out of the disbelief of actually chasing (and catching) the last tour bus to Nong Khai.

I hope to post some pictures from this weekend soon. Tomorrow Amber heads to the airport in Udon Thani and I to the bus terminal to catch my transfer back to Pla Pak. Hopefully this attempt will be a little less eventful than our experience on Thursday night!

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9 responses to “Approaching Nong Khai: A sprint to the finish

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