|A Diary of my overland journey from England to Australia||
By Steven Abrams
As the gate from Cambodia automatically sprung shut behind us Louis said "well that saved them having to put up a 'please close the gate' sign". I asked if the gate was there to keep the Cambodians in or to stop the Thais from leaving. There were two people standing just inside Thailand who had watched us come through the border, one of them was an American Peace Corps worker and he welcomed us to Thailand. Mike thanked him on our behalf and advised him that the weather seemed much nicer on this side of the border. They then walked with us chatting until we came to a small building at the side of the road, which served as the immigration office.
Considering that Thailand and Cambodia didn't have diplomatic relations, I found it quite surprising that the frontier was such a relaxed place. There was a small village, which was where the Peace Corps guy was working, and the border seemed to form part of the village. There was no guard at the border and if we hadn't been shown where the immigration office was, we could have well walked right past it and I don't think anybody would have stopped us.
After all formalities had been completed we went to a café and had a drink of Ovaltine and some cakes. Mike was now anxious to get a move on to Bangkok as quickly as possible. He was getting to the end of his summer holidays and had to get back to Singapore to fly home in a few days time. With that in mind we caught a taxi to Aranyaprathet, only a few kilometres down the road, where he was informed he could catch an overnight bus to Bangkok.
When we got to Aranyaprathet we found that he had missed the evening bus and the next one was not until 5.30am. So we decided to have something to eat then find somewhere to stay for the night. We sat in an open-air restaurant and had an enjoyable meal while just watching life go by. The bill came to just 2 baht each. A man got talking to us and introduced himself as Sin. He asked us lots of questions about where we had been and where we were going. He then told us that there were some trucks going to Bangkok at 10 o-clock, and that they usually take passengers. He then took us to another café where he said the trucks would leave from and in the meantime he lent us a bicycle so we could ride around and look at the town. I rode around for a while, but Aranyaprathet was only a small place and there was nothing much to see. The roads were unmade and full of potholes, which made cycling uncomfortable. I also felt uncomfortable about riding around at night without any lights on the bicycle, so I returned to the café and sat down to write some letters and have a drink while we waited for the trucks.
Just before 10 o-clock we went out to see where the trucks where, but there was no sign of them. Sin came back to collect his bike and finding us still there he offered to let us sleep in his house that night. We walked home with him to his one room house and we all bedded down together on the floor. Sin drove us mad that night. We just wanted to go to sleep, but he insisted on reading to us. When he had finished he tried to get into bed with Louis. When Louis shooed him away, he then tried to get into bed with Mike. He drove Mike mad asking him if he had any Australian coins for his collection and was thrilled when he gave him a 10-cent piece. I had troubles too, there was a mosquito inside my net and although I could hear it, I couldn't find it. Eventually I managed to kill it and settled down to sleep. Sin spent the night sleeping right up against one side of Louis' net, while Louis spent the night sleeping against the side of the net furthermost away from him.
We were woken up again at about 3 o-clock by some new arrivals, but things quickly went quiet again. The next disturbance was at 5 o-clock when Mike left to catch the early bus to Bangkok. He was hoping to get there in time to catch the morning train to Had Yai, which is right in the south of Thailand near the Malaysian border, where there is a connecting train to Singapore. We said our farewells then went back to sleep again until 8 o-clock when Sin woke up. Once we were awake we decided to get up and get out as quickly as possible. We thanked Sin for the floor space and gave him some Yugoslavian coins that I had left over, for his coin collection.
We walked well out of town before stopping at a café to get some breakfast, just in case Sin came out and found us. We started hitching just after 9 o-clock, but while we were standing there a road works team came along and set about digging a hole in the road right by where we were standing, forcing us to walk further up the road. While we were walking a jeep stopped and took us 22 km to the next town. From there we soon got a long lift in the back of a truck that took us almost half way to Bangkok. The road was unmade for most of the way and we got covered in dust. The good part of that lift was that the driver had a large flask of iced water in the cab and he frequently stopped to give us a drink. The lift finished at an ice factory and we went over the road to start hitching again, but the driver came over to us and took us to a café to buy us a drink. He then took us to a garage where the owner permitted us to wash and clean up a bit from the dusty ride. I don't know who this guy was, but he seemed to have a lot of influence around the place. The next thing was he had stopped a bus and after a short conversation with the driver, he let us travel to Bangkok for free. It was just as well that we were in the bus, because during the afternoon it poured with rain. Had we not been in the bus we would no doubt have been soaked through.
By the time the bus arrived in Bangkok the rain had stopped again. From the bus station we caught the number 29 to Hualumpong, then walked to the Thai Song Greet (TSG) where we checked in again. Needless to say, the first thing we did was to have a shower.
We had been away from the TSG for just two weeks and a lot of the faces had changed. Most of the people who were there a few weeks before had moved on, notably the Australians on their summer holidays had mostly returned home again, leaving the place to the more seasoned travellers like ourselves. We had arranged with Mike that if he missed the train he would stay that night in the TSG, but as he wasn't there, he must have made it onto the train in time.
One of the first people I met was Matt. He was about to start work teaching English. He hadn't heard from Martin since he left about the same time as we went off to Vientiane. I managed to sell our remaining Laos money at face value to somebody who was about to go there. When Louis came down we had some supper and took part in the best feature of the TSG, that is just sitting around chatting to all and sundry. That night we also met the Germans who crossed the Pakistan-Indian border at the same time as us. I also met a Swiss guy called Salvador* for the first time. It was good to be back on the main overland route again.
Our first day back in Bangkok was a busy one. After collecting our mail from the American Express office we went to the Portuguese Embassy to enquire about visas for Timor. Although Indonesia had only recently opened up for travel to Australia, it had in fact been issuing tourist visas in Australia a few months earlier and a route through was already becoming established. The route ended up in Timor where it was possible to fly to Darwin in Australia. The eastern part of the island belonged to Portugal and we had heard that we needed a visa. At the Portuguese Embassy we were told that permission for the visa had to be referred to both Lisbon and Timor and would take 4 to 5 weeks to issue. We could apply for the visa in Bangkok and collect it in Jakarta if we wanted, so we filled in the forms and hoped that the visas would be through in time for us when we reached Jakarta.
We then searched all over the place to find a tube so we could roll up the rubbings we had bought in Angkor Wat and post them home. We looked everywhere and eventually managed to find one in a carpet shop that must have been the centre of a roll of carpet. The tube was a few metres long, but the shop owner hacksawed a short length off for us. Even so, the wall of the tube was very thick and it was quite heavy. Back in the TSG we started to unpeel the thick paper that the tube was made of to make it a bit lighter. Even though we pulled lots of the paper off, the tube was still very strong, but by now half of its original weight.
We then went to the Australian Embassy to enquire about entry permits. Having been told in Calcutta that we needed to get a permit we were quite concerned in case we couldn't get in at the end of our journey. On the way there I stopped at a shoe shop and bought a new pair of sandals. At the Australian Embassy we were told that being British citizens we didn't need any permits or visas to enter and work in Australia, which was a weight off our minds. We then went down to the information office where we were given a stack of leaflets and a book about Australia. We spent a few hours reading Australian newspapers and replenished the everlasting toilet roll again before heading back to the TSG.
On the way back to the hotel the strap came away on my new sandals, so I diverted back to the shoe shop while Louis went back on his own. At the shoe shop the assistant looked at the sandals and took them into the back. When he returned he had repaired them for me. I wasn't happy but as he didn't speak any English and I couldn't make myself understood, I decided to give them a try. But the repair didn't last more than 50 yards when the strap came apart again. I took them back to the shop again, but the assistant just shrugged. A customer who spoke English explained that they shop were not prepared to do anything about it, but I refused to leave until they did, so the manager called the police. The policeman who arrived didn't speak any English either and after a short time he left again without taking any action. The manager took me around the corner to a shop where somebody spoke English and they explained that in Thai law, the shopkeeper was not required to offer any form of guarantee. If the shoes fell apart it was just hard luck. Despite this explanation, I then went back to the shop to try to insist on a refund. I did a lot of shouting and kicked out at a shelf full of shoes. My good sandal then flew off my foot and sailed over the display knocking a box of shoes down from a top shelf. We then watched horrified as a domino effect started. The falling box knocked something else, which in turn knocked something else. Within seconds the whole display had collapsed in a heap and there were shoes everywhere. A lot of the boxes had opened spilling out their contents, so all the pairs were mixed up. At that point I decided it would be prudent to leave, fast. I dropped the broken sandal and ran out of the shop barefoot. A woman ran out of the office and stood in my way but I was able to push past her and she followed me into the street screaming hysterically after me as I ran away. I didn't stop running until I reached the TSG and for the next hour I watched the door anxiously in case I had been identified and the police came to get me.
That evening I managed to sell four letterheads to a group who were on their way home to England. We haggled about the price for ages and eventually agreed on a total of 60 baht for the four letterheads. There was also another group of English guys there who had travelled out in a Land Rover. They had crossed from Madras to Penang on the weekly car ferry, then driven up to Bangkok. They were visiting a friend on a British Ship that was berthed in Bangkok the next day and invited Louis and I to join them.
When they came to pick us up the next day, they were in a German registered (Z plates) Volkswagen Combi van. The VW belonged to a couple who had crossed with them on the ferry from India and they were also coming along to visit the ship. The VW was converted into a camper and belonged to an American called Doug Beckman. He was travelling with his Dutch girl friend Yvonne. We all piled into the back of the VW and drove off to the docks where we were allowed to drive right up to the ship and park at the bottom of the gangplank.
The ship belonged to the Blue Funnel Line. I didn't make a note of its name, but it was something like Methusen or Menethuan, but I do remember that it was registered in Liverpool. On board we were introduced to the Land Rover crew's friend, who was the chief cook. He took us down to his cabin, but it was very cramped with all of us in there so after a few minutes we all moved to the seaman's mess where we were each given an ice cold can of Harp lager. The ship being from Liverpool was naturally full of Scousers and we soon got into a good-natured banter about whether Everton or Liverpool was the best football team. The mess was well decorated and hanging on the wall was all the ties that had been cut off all the newcomers when they crossed the equator. They had a cargo of cars and latex rubber and had come via Cape Town and Singapore. One of the Land Rover crew was wearing flowery shorts that the seamen asked for to decorate the back of the door but they didn't get them.
We spent a few hours on the ship and when we left we decided to visit the Bangkok snake farm. When we arrived there we stopped behind a car that was going in and when the barrier lifted for them, we followed through right behind him. The snake farm has a large collection of live venomous snakes from all over Thailand. They regularly collect the snake's venom in order to make anti venom serums and we were able to watch one of the keepers picking the snakes up and "milking" them. There was a cage full of cobras but they were all sleeping in the sun and
We all went back to the TSG for a late lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon chatting. Don Greer who I had first met in Goa had flow in that morning and he joined us. The Land Rover crew were starting their drive back down to Singapore the next day and they offered to give us a lift out of Bangkok as far as Ratchaburi, 105 kilometres away and the start of the road South.
We had arranged to meet in the TSG to be ready to leave by 11.30 and right on time we were sitting downstairs packed and ready to leave. The Land Rover arrived a few minutes later and the four guys got out and came in to have a meal before leaving. They said that they wouldn't be leaving for another hour, so we decided to use the time to walk to the post office to send the parcel of Angkor rubbings home.
Trying to post a parcel to England was not the straightforward job we had expected it to be. First of all we had to fill out four different customs declarations and get them stamped by a customs officer who had a desk at one end of the post office. We then had to take the parcel and the completed forms to another counter to be posted, but they wouldn't accept it as it was because it was not sealed properly. Apparently we needed to have it tied with string and apply sealing wax to the knots. We had to go outside to a stationery shop and buy some sealing wax and string. Neither of us had used sealing wax before so the stationer had to show us how to seal the parcel for posting. We used the cigarette lighter to melt the wax onto the knots and the edges of the wrapping paper and were also supposed to use a seal to press into the hot wax, but neither of us had a signet ring so we used the end of my penknife. Back at the post office we were finally able to post the parcel, which cost 46.80 baht, almost £1 to send by surface mail.
All this had taken a lot longer than we had expected and although the post office was only a short way from the TSG, we caught a bus for the short distance in order to get back quickly. We ran the last few yards from the bus stop, but we could already see that the Land Rover was no longer parked outside. It was just after 1 o-clock and they had given up waiting for us. Because we were already packed we considered the idea of setting out there and then, but decided instead to stay another night and get an early start the next day.
We got talking to a Turkish guy who said he was a professional wrestler and he was working his way around the world fighting in different countries to pay his way. He said he collected banknotes and asked us if we would sell him an English pound note, but he would only pay about half of the going exchange rate for it. A group of us went up to his room and he showed us his collection. He had an album full of different banknotes in many different currencies. It must have been worth a fortune.
Downstairs again we got talking with Doug and Yvonne. They were heading back down south again on Sunday and had already agreed with Don to give him a lift if he shared the cost of the petrol. They offered to let us come with them to Singapore if we too put in a share. We had intended to hitch hike down south, but we figured that it wouldn't cost too much with the fuel split 5 ways, so we asked them if they wouldn't mind us just travelling with them just as far as Penang, 1501 kilometres to the South in Malaysia. They agreed to this so we arranged to leave first thing on Sunday morning.
Later that day we met an English guy called John. He was also looking for a way to get down to Singapore and we suggested that he asked Doug and Yvonne if he could join the party. After all the more we could squeeze into the VW, the cheaper it was going to be, and there was plenty of room because the beds converted to seating during the day. When Doug popped in later on we introduced him to John and he agreed to let him come along. That evening the whole group of us got together for a meal at the TSG. Each of us ordered something different and we all shared each other's meals. It was a terrific banquet and the total bill was came to just 24 baht, that is 4 baht each for a wonderful banquet.
The next day we decided to take it easy. We didn't want to do any more sightseeing so we got up late and went downstairs for brunch. We heard his voice before we got to the bottom of the stairs and we both looked at each other and said together "Laffy". We both though we had seen the last of him in Goa, but sure enough, Lafayette Bosman was sitting there as large as life in the TSG. This guy seems to turn up like a bad penny. From Goa he had travelled down to the South of India and had flown from Trivandrum to Jafna in Ceylon. After touring around Ceylon he then flew to Bangkok, having arrived from Colombo that morning. He was staying at another hotel but had come to the TSG for lunch and to meet other travellers. We chatted for an hour or two before he went back to his hotel. We had no way of knowing it at the time, but this was the last time our paths would cross again.
Sunday 26th January 1969
We eventually drove away at 8.45 and Doug immediately got lost trying to get out of Bangkok. I took over the navigation and before long we were back on track again. So there would be no arguments about how much fuel was in the tank when we started, Doug stopped at the first petrol station we came to and filled the tank to the top, which he paid for himself. Being a Shell petrol station we were at last able to get our free map of Thailand, the old one was now in a
The Thai-Israel Project is an Israeli foreign aid project. Israeli agricultural experts had set up the project to pass on their expertise to Thai students and farmers. The project was run on similar lines to a kibbutz and having spent some time on Kibbutz Hulata a little more than a year ago, I was amazed at the thought of a kibbutz in Thailand. Dovid drove us around the project in his jeep and introduced us to many of the Thai staff and the students, but as there wasn't enough room for all of us in the jeep, Doug and Yvonne had to follow behind in the VW.
After the guided tour Dovid invited us to join them for lunch back in the house. Ati had prepared a fabulous meal and the dishes included humous, olives, pita bread and many other things that were typically Israeli. When I was in Israel I didn't particularly like the food, mainly because on the kibbutz we seemed to have the same things every day and it became monotonous. Having the same sort of food here in Thailand it was a novelty and I thoroughly enjoyed eating it. We spent almost the whole afternoon sitting and talking to them. They didn't get many Western visitors and we would have probably been welcome to stay overnight, but we had to get on our way. At 4.30 we said "l'hitraot" (Hebrew for goodbye) and continued the drive south. That night we reached Pratchuab, a small coastal town on the Gulf of Siam.
Doug and Yvonne were going to sleep in the camper van and Don was determined to find a hotel for the night. Louis, myself and John decided that we were going to sleep on the beach, but on inspection we found that the tide mark was very high up, almost to the top of the beach, which wouldn't leave us an awful lot of room to sleep. Not being experts in the way of the tides or having access to tidal tables we decided not to chance sleeping on the beach in case there was a particularly high tide that night. Instead we arranged with Don that if we paid a share of his hotel costs we could sleep on the floor in his room. The hotel he had found charged 20 baht for the room. Don paid 10 baht and we split the other 10 baht three ways for the use of the floor.
We went out for a meal and met an American Peace Corps guy and some Germans. The Peace Corps guy was an expert on malaria and spent the evening explaining to us how the mosquitoes spread the disease and how they were trying to combat it. Being in the middle of a malaria area we were all concerned about the disease and we were all fascinated by what he had to say, so much so that we stayed up discussing it until after midnight.
Back in the room Don had a good moan when Louis and I put our mosquito nets up. There were strings going everywhere and he had to duck under them to get to his bed. He said he would probably end up dreaming about tents and telegraph wires because that was what the place looked like. I don't remember what started it, but before long we were all laughing, making wisecracks about the nets, strings, mosquitoes etc.
Before we set out the next morning we all decided to go for a swim at the local beach and we were having a great time until we noticed that there was effluent floating on the surface of the
There was very little traffic on the road, but when Doug stopped on a bridge to take a photo of the van going across, traffic appeared from everywhere and we caused a traffic jam. Later on we crossed another bridge where there was a waterfall. Doug asked me to drive the van over while he took a photograph of it on the bridge with the waterfall behind.
It was after 8 o-clock before we stopped in Takuapa for a meal. We sat in the middle of the town in an outdoor restaurant and enjoyed a good meal. After we had eaten and were sitting around talking we saw a rat the size of a small dog walk across the road and go to the rubbish bins at the side of the restaurant. As we watched it we noticed that there were quite a few more of them, some even bigger, crawling around amongst the bins. We decided to forgo our dessert and move on to try to find somewhere to spend the night. First of all we tried to find a Wat, but after driving around for a while looking for it we found ourselves back in the centre of town at the restaurant again. We eventually found a hotel room for 25 baht and as with last night, Don took the bed and we all slept on the floor, but this time we were all very tired after such a long day and we all went straight to sleep.
We started out very early in the morning and drove more or less non-stop until lunchtime. By now we were starting to run out of Thai money and lunch had to consist of bananas. We bought a number of bunches at a baht for 12 bananas. Doug still had some Malaysian money from when he had driven up and we tried to see if anybody would accept it, but all they wanted was baht. We went to a bank to try to change US dollars but they told us that they couldn't exchange that currency. I tried to change some pounds and they weren't acceptable either. Between us we tried Malaysian, French, German, Swedish and Canadian currencies, but with each one, after examining the currency notes the clerk told us it wasn't one of the currencies they exchanged. When Don asked if they exchanged Martian currency and the clerk asked if he could see it, we decided to give up and find another bank.
By the time we got to the next town the van was almost out of petrol and if the bank there hadn't been able to exchange money we would have been in big shtuk. Fortunately the clerk in that bank was a bit more clued up with foreign exchange and we were able to exchange US dollars without any problems. After that we drove all day until we reached Songla.
Just outside Songla there was a newly built tourist hotel and we stopped there to go to the toilet and to replenish our toilet roll. Out of curiosity we asked the price, but at 100 baht for a room we all decided to try somewhere else. Down the road was another hotel and they showed us a room for 60 baht. The room was massive, probably big enough for us all to fit in and park the van too, so we asked them if they had a smaller cheaper room. They gave us the key for a smaller room for just 15 baht, but when we saw it, it was not much bigger than a cupboard. Back at reception we asked about the other room again, but they claimed it had gone while we were looking at the smaller room. Doug had been parked outside and he said that nobody else had come in while we were there so we reckoned that they just didn't want us to stay there and drove into town.
Songla was a small fishing town and there were very few places to stay. We found a hotel for 20 baht but the room was only small, it was very cramped but we managed to all fit in but it was cosy. Don was not too happy with Louis and I having out mosquito nets tied up because the strings ran over his bed and he would get tangled up in them if he decided to sit up during the night. In fact, when he woke up the next morning, the first thing he did was untie my net strings allowing the net to settle around me and they are very difficult to untangle yourself from when that happens.
We put everything in the van before going down to the beach for a swim, where we also had breakfast at a beachside café. It was almost 10 o-clock before we set out for the short drive to Malaysia and we arrived at the frontier at 11.30. We all managed to clear Thai immigration within half an hour, but as we drove over to the customs, the customs officer was coming out of his building and locking the door. He told us that they close for an hour at mid-day and we would have to wait. We didn't really need to go to customs on exit, but Doug needed the customs to clear his vehicle papers out of Thailand, so we had no option but to wait an hour.
While we waited we had some lunch and used up the last of my Thai money. We also took the opportunity to do a bit of sunbathing. Eventually the customs opened and Doug got all his papers stamped, but they asked him to pay for the service. He refused to pay and they had quite a heated row about it. Eventually they let him go without paying and we all piled into the van and drove off before they changed their minds. While sunbathing, Louis had stripped right down to his bathing costume and that was all he was wearing as we left Thailand and drove into Malaysia.
Note from * above