by Peter Nelson
We never hitched in our time in Southeast Asia. Cars were small and always seemed to be full, and all the roads were crowded with people and bicycles and animals and carts. We thought it would be hard to attract the drivers’ attention. Also the thumb-up gesture to ask for a ride is not a universal symbol. Doesn’t work everywhere.
Public transportation was cheap, but not without its hazards. The most nerve-racking part of every bus trip was watching our backpacks being tossed up onto the roof of the bus and rather quickly tied down. Would they stay up there on these quite jouncy roads? Would they find their way into other hands during one of the frequent stops along the way? We never lost anything, but many fellow travellers weren’t as lucky.
I did have one close call. The seat backs in this particular bus didn’t come all the way down, so there was a gap of a few inches between the vertical back and the seat. I kept my wallet in the back pocket of my jeans. We hadn’t gone far when, suddenly I felt it slipping out. I turned around, and the guy sitting behind me pointed to the floor of the bus. There was my wallet, lying there. I grabbed it and checked the contents. All was well. But as we were leaving the bus, we found that a clean cut had been sliced right across the top of my pocket. The guy behind me had cut my pants with a razor. Pretty tricky operation, to cut through the cloth without nicking the behind of the wearer!
Bangkok, like all Asian cities, is very crowded and very noisy. Crossing the streets was a life-and-death gamble. There were no traffic lights. You just took your chances, never knowing if any cars would stop and let you pass. We often literally ran to safety. We soon learned to do all of our shopping on the side of the street we were already on. The batik may be more colorful in that shop over there, but it ain’t worth losing a leg for!