Here, anything goes when it comes to transportation: Cars, trucks, coach buses, motorcycles, tractors and bicycles are all legitimate ways to get around and none would be out of place on even the main highways between Isaan cities. My transportation of choice? The baht bus.
In Thai, the baht bus is called a sawng thaew, which translates to “two rows” because it is just that. A baht bus is basically a pick-up with a roof (to protect riders from rain and sun) and rows of benches. They are color-coded and it was a great day when Steph and I discovered that the orange line goes to and from Pla Pak. Fares are roughly based on the distance traveled, so a trip into Nakhon Phanom (about 40 kilometers) costs 40 baht. It’s my favorite mode of transportation because it affords a surprisingly serene ride, passing by rice fields and small villages that are often overlooked when traveling by coach bus or even car. The only time it’s less than enjoyable is when the bus is overcrowded and I have to squeeze onto the middle bench, enduring pressed knees and elbows in less than desirable places. Even then, there are amusing exchanges with the locals because the women eventually ask me what I’m doing here, how old I am, and whether or not I have a boyfriend. As of late, as I jump on these packed buses, I can even hear one or two women whispering my name to the other passengers and reporting to them where I teach. Many even know where I stay in Pla Pak and they tell the driver where to drop me off before I get a chance!
Above is a picture of me riding a baht bus back from a shopping day-trip to Mukdahan (photo courtesy of fellow WorldTeach volunteer Valerie Lopez). We actually missed our bus back to Nakhon Phanom but luckily one of our co-teachers was in town, so we hitched a ride with her to That Phanom (1 hour) and from there we “sawng thaewed” it back to Nakhon Phanom (1.5 hours) before jumping on another baht bus to Pla Pak (1 hour). I arrived home exhausted but happy with my purchases for family and friends at home.
I just hope everything fits in my suitcase, which is looking smaller every day.