The man with the big smile and kind eyes passes us his phone. He wants us to speak to his son.
“Hello again,” we say. We spoke to the young man a few minutes ago on speaker phone. His father called him when he saw we were having problems reading the menu of the restaurant we found ourselves in at the end of a 26-kilometer stretch. Thai letters are beautifully curvy, but we have no clue what they say. Both father and son wanted to make sure the cook understood that we requested our favorite, easy-on-the-stomach walking dish: fried rice with chicken and a fried egg.
“Hi. My father will take you to a homestay where you can sleep tonight, and tomorrow he will take you back to the intersection where you are now so you can continue walking. Ok?” The young man on the phone is in Bangkok, a few hundred kilometers from our finish line today, Ban Lan Sang, a speck of a town near Road 12 which will take us into the Thai hills and eventually into Myanmar. His English is very good, and our Thai is pathetically bad.
The Next Task of the Day
With our day’s walking done and lunch sorted, figuring out where we will pass the night is the next objective. My dad gave us the directive of finding a safe place to sleep every day, and it’s something we take rather seriously.
Today poses a little challenge. We’ve reached a crossroad without many options. There’s a border control checkpoint in front of us, some houses behind us surrounded by farmland, and a temple several kilometers ahead. The temple is where we plan to go; we found shelter in them along the way, including the last couple of nights and we hope the monks allow us the same privilege today. We have several hours of daylight on our side, and we’re not worried yet. We’re simply clicking off our daily to-dos…walk, smile at everyone, refill our water bottles, stretch during rest breaks, eat, write our journals, and find a safe place to sleep.
We ask the five people in the restaurant, “Guest house, hotel, homestay, here?” “No have,” they all say, waving their hands for extra emphasis. They point us back a far way down the road we just came from, or point us very far ahead. “Mae Sot have,” they add. Mae Sot is where we’re heading but it will take us three, possibly four, days to walk there.
I smile, hiding my disappointment. Thailand is well set-up for local and international tourism, and roadside motels and guesthouses have been relatively easy to find; for the price of a venti caramel macchiato and a bagel, we could have a bed, a shower and a fan, while leaving our mosquito net rolled up in our rucksacks. In the rural areas we’ve come too, the sleeping options have become more creative. This time, I had hoped that Google maps was wrong, and there was a place nearby that only locals knew about.
Following Our Gut
As we finish up our meal and resign ourselves to walking onwards to the temple, the father-and-son offer seems worth considering.
“So your dad doesn’t mind taking us back here by 5 a.m.? We like to start walking when there is less traffic and before it gets too hot,” I say into the microphone, holding the phone away from my mouth. “And, the price is ok. We have a small budget, but we want to give something to the family.”
“No problem,” comes the answer over speaker phone. “If you need anything, you can call me back. My name is Doy.”
Lluís and I glance at each other with our “Why not?” look and shrug our shoulders. “Ok,” we say. “Thank you.” We repeat this in English and Thai.
We pick up our bags and head towards the man’s pickup truck. The cook comes over and gives me a thumbs up. “Good man. Good man,” she says, smiling, which I take to mean that we are in good hands.
We drive two kilometers down the road we just passed exhausted and tired, and slightly disappointed about going backwards. We hate going backwards. We turn down a little street and wind our way further back into a narrow paved path, passing banana trees, coconut groves, cows, chickens and a handful of houses. We pull up to a well-made wooden house, with the dark wood we typically see in Thailand and have come to love.
The man helps us with packs, and puts them in an empty room. He starts sweeping the floor, and grabs a couple bottles of water for us.
“Oh!! This is your house? We’re staying with you?” It suddenly dawns on us that there was no fixed homestay, no one who regularly rents rooms to people passing by. This man with a big smile and kind eyes invented a homestay for us.
“Yes, my house.” He continues to make it feel cozy for us.
“We don’t even know your name. I’m Jenn. Jennifer” I say.
“I’m Lluís, but my nickname is Alex.” Thais understand nicknames. Their first and last names are often pretty long, and everyone introduces themselves with their nickname.
“My name is Ot,” says the smiling man.
Together we set up our bed for the evening – a few foldable mattresses, a couple blankets, pillows and a mosquito net. We talk about our walk, our work, our families, and his trip to New Zealand, where his wife and two other children are. Then we go for a walk in the neighborhood. We meet Ot’s brother, who is busy repairing the water pump, and his sister who is gardening. I admire her sun hat and the way the air passes through it; its bulky mass makes it an impractical walking hat, but it is a fantastic sun blocker for working the land.
We loop around side streets we would never find and head back up to the bigger country road, our lovely 1108, and say hello to Ot’s friends. It’s a lot of smiling and pointing, with many things lost in translation but smoothed over with compassionate nodding and sips of cool water. Ot gives us a botany lesson, showing us tamarind trees and picking fruit off trees, which we make mental notes about in case we find ourselves without food one day and need to eat these bitter green berries.
We head back home and take “showers,” meaning we dip a small bucket into a barrel filled with water and throw water over our heads and bodies. It’s refreshing. Ot goes to the market and returns with sticky rice and coconut milk and other treats we’ll divide up for dinner and breakfast,
We keep the conversation going with the help of Google translate, passing phones back and forth so we can have deeper understanding of each other’s lives.
One of Ot’s friends, Word, stops by. He is taking English classes and is eager to swap English and Thai phrases. He opens his notebook, filled with pages of pleasantries written in a clean, functional penmanship, and clicks his pen, ready to take more notes. We work through the list of questions and answers about how old we are, where we come from and the weather. He struggles through the Rs and the Ss in English and our tongues twist in impossible ways through Thai words we sadly won’t remember.
We get to the “How are you doing? How is it going?” exchange, and I notice a phrase that would be good to know, something that could apply to many situations. “How do you say this?” I ask.
Word breaks down the phrase into something that sounds like my-pen-rye. “It’s alright.” He smiles and gives us a thumbs up.
Yeah. It’s alright. All of it.
If you want to see where we’ll sleeping most nights, follow us on Instagram at @bangkokbarcelonaonfoot and check out our #bkkbcnonfoot #dailynest posts.
Mapping Our Route
For those of you following our footsteps digitally, here are the places we passed through this week: Kamphaeng Phet, Ban Lan Sang , Huay Ya-u rangers headquarters and Mae Sot.