The Long Road through Laos and Thailand – Tom’s Big Hitchhiking Adventure

Thanks to the tourist-bus driver who took me for free from the border, I had a relatively comfortable ride halfway down Laos. Tree-laden, bottle-green mountains surrounded us as we ascended from the crossing and the clear sky of the standard, sweltering afternoon only highlighted the ruggedness of them; I did not realise how much struggling this long ride wold save me in the coming weeks.

It was a very underdeveloped country; essentially a rainforest with a few bumpy roads paved through it and very poor citizens who mostly only go short distances and didn’t want to take me.

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I rested up in the halfway point, Luang Prabang, which, surprisingly, was crawling with backpackers despite there being almost nothing there to see.

I walked out after two nights of deep rest and tried to wave down one of the handful of vehicles that were passing hourly. I felt invisible. I was drenched in salty sweat. After three hours I gave up on cars, bikes and trucks, deciding that my best chance was to find another tourist bus to take me for free; they would be going all the way.

This idea gave me relief initially but the reality of how hard it could be threw me back down. ‘What if I have to wait for days? What if I never get picked up?’ Silly thoughts that, in the moment, occupied my mind and were magnified by dehydration. I even counted how many days it’d take to walk it; it wasn’t feasible.

Someone stopped eventually after four and a half hours; a man going halfway to the border capital who drove very fast to make up for my lost time. Something always comes through.

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We didn’t talk much because of the language barrier, but I ended with playing poker with him and his friends. It was a moment that I cold not have predicted or even imagined, such things are typical of a lifestyle on the road; daily uncertainty and excitement. Life shouldn’t be about knowing what will happen in the coming hours, days, months and years; we crave it but nothing is worse for a human being. A plan is good, but we need hope, fear, uncertainty, highs, lows, disappointment, anxiety, and an ever-changing future; to be open to opportunities we could never have known existed, doors that we never knew were there.

I couldn’t stay for long and after a couple of hours I headed out of the city to find another spot to camp to await another one of these days.

I was now three‐quarters of the way down Laos and making much better progress than I thought with the country’s challenging hitchhiking conditions. I felt positive now, partly because I could walk the rest of the way if I had to.

But the next day was one of the hardest stretches of hitchhiking of the entire trip. Nobody was stopping again and heat and humidity was so great that the salty sweat filled my eyebrows and flooded my eyes. It provided no relief to my body and the occasional breeze seemed to only bring more heat.

But after four hours, a driver in a tourist bus took pity on me and drove me to the outside of Vientiane, my final stop in Laos and the capital ‘city’, which was more like a village.

As I sank down into the hard seat, a wave of relief came over me that I’d made it through the challenges that Laos had thrown at me. Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore would be much easier with better roads and drivers going much farther; I just knew it.

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I took a week to recover from heat exhaustion before continuing South to Thailand. But the symptoms held on for longer than normal and more seemed to appear.

I’d developed a fever and so much weakness that I could barely sit down and, having been through a high-risk malaria zone and come out with multiple daily bites, I needed to get to Bangkok as fast as I could to get tested.

Bangkok, Thailand.

A friend from back home, Vinny, paid for my bus ticket to Bangkok which saved me a week of precious time and didn’t break my hitchhiking rules. I was very grateful.

The test was completed in just 20 minutes and came out negative. I was relieved, of course, but also a bit disappointed; if it had been positive, I’d have had both rabies and malaria on my around-the-world hitchhiking adventure. I preferred this result.

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I met a Scottish chap in Bangkok. Frank  introduced me to the infamous party capital, Khaosan Road. We met ladyboys, prostitutes and saw both in a ‘ping‐pong’ show; I won’t go into detail here, just Google what it is.

The drinks were flowing and Frank decided to try to get into a club without paying. After getting thrown out, he came up with the clever idea of swapping clothes, because we apparently all look the same to Asians, which did seem to go well for a few minutes. But his new outfit sagged on him and showed more underwear than was acceptable and was thrown out again. But he persevered and bribed the bouncer, which secured him entry.

I’d spent all my money early on and he’d had to lend me the cash. But after the night out, I asked what I owed him. ‘Nothing, mate’, he said in the way my brothers would. He also paid the 30p train fare out of the city. Kindness doesn’t have to come from people in far-off lands, it can come from everyone, even those where you’re from.

Now on the outskirts of of Bangkok, I had one of those days which I think we’ve all had. Those days where you can’t get out of bed because what you’ll have to face feels like too much. When you have overcome challenges in the previous days and you just don’t have the energy for what awaits you. So, you go back to sleep. And then back to sleep again. And again, until you can’t rest anymore. But when you finally get up, things feel just about manageable.

It was 1000km to the Malaysian border, 1/3 the distance from England to Russia. A huge distance to make and I didn’t want to leave the comfort of my tent; I’d barely overcome the recent challenges and I didn’t want to face the ones coming. But optimism is a powerful thing and quite often, things turn out better than you predict.

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The day began at 14:00 for me, with nobody stopping for a couple of hours. But, as always, my luck turned and I got taken 100km.

The sun set after that one lift and I walked off into the woods again, knowing tomorrow would be better.

When it all gets too much, take each day as it comes and don’t try to do things in one big jump. Nobody climbs a mountain in one step (I don’t know anyone who does anyway), we do it one step at a time. By taking it one day at a time, it actually feels easy.

And seeing the view from my tent the following morning made me realise that I need to appreciate where I am and what I’m doing. The campsite was beautiful, with golden light breaking through the thick, veranda trees. It’s easy to forget to do this, to only feel the stresses of our challenges and not appreciate the rewards.

And the next day, a man picked me up and I rode in the back of his pickup truck for 700 more kilometres!

As Thailand rushed away from me instead of towards me like places normally do, my eyes adjusted and at traffic lights, stationary objects seemed to be approaching me like an ominous moment of realisation in a horror film.

On top of that 700km, I made another 350 the following day and 50 the one after, taking me all the way to Malaysia.

The roads were now straight and smooth and the drivers seemed to be going much farther. I was only 888km from Singapore – the original end point before I decided to lap the planet.

 

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