Back on the Road

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It was a strange feeling.

Standing in my apartment in Chiang Mai, idly picking things up and putting them back down again. Throwing out all those little pieces of paper and other junk that accumulates whenever I stop moving for a while. Finding new homes for the few household items I’d accumulated (who wouldn’t want a used teaspoon anyway?)

Leaving.

Even though I hadn’t bought a single new possession since I arrived, my pack seemed to have shrunk as I crammed stuff back into it. Everything fitted, but only just. So much for travelling light.

The weight hadn’t mattered when I started the trip — I’d carried my bag maybe a few hundred feet between leaving the house in Australia and dumping it in a wardrobe in Thailand for months — but it mattered now.

As I closed the door for the final time and walked down the stairs with my life on my back, I made a solemn vow. I won’t be carrying this much again.

The tuk-tuk arrived and we clambered aboard, packs balanced on our feet with our knees around our ears. The engine rattled, exhaust smoke belched, and we were off through the traffic one last time. There was nothing particularly unusual or different about the ten-minute drive to the train station, but I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face

I was a backpacker again.

Living in Chiang Mai had been wonderful and I was sad to leave, but part of me was excited at the same time. As usual I had missed what I didn’t have. After travelling for a while, all I want is to stop somewhere for a month or two, have some sort of routine, get to know people for longer than a day. Of course once I’m settled I start getting itchy feet, eventually need to leave, and the cycle begins again.

Bargaining with the driver about the price. Walking through the station and finding the right platform. Joining the throng of other travellers as we waited, separated by a myriad of languages and cultures but intrinsically linked by the bags on our backs.

Earlier than expected, and only two hours later than scheduled, the train to Bangkok slowly pulled out of the station. The seat was dirty, the windows were grimy, the toilet was best avoided, and I didn’t care a bit. Even the fitful sleep didn’t bother me, broken as it was by the clattering of wheels and blasts on the horn as we trundled through the night.

I was just happy to be moving.

Tired as I was, the next day sits in my memory in glimpses, more like a series of photos than a flowing video. Leaving the train sweaty and dirty. Finding the one taxi driver at the station not hell-bent on ripping us off. Meeting our friends. Tracking down the right bus. Bad karaoke videos. A flooded toilet. A late arrival. Walking the darkened streets of a nondescript town trying to find an open guesthouse.

And finally, sleep.

In 36 hours the transformation from expat to backpacker was complete.

My shoulders were sore, and my pack was covered in dust.

I’d eaten one proper meal all day, and the options at the supermarket five minutes to closing time were in no way appealing.

The ants in our room looked mildly annoyed that we’d joined them, the cold shower wasn’t calling out to me, and the mattress felt older than the bodies that had exhaustedly flopped down on it.

It was good to be back on the road.

 Image via The Wandering Angel

4 Responses to “Back on the Road

  • Welcome back!

  • Great read man, hereof back on the road is always a great feeling and know that route well.

    Safe travels.

  • Great blog! Reminds me of my experiences of travelling through Thailand.

    Travelling by train in Thailand (or any country for that matter!) is a fantastic experience and I would always choose it over flying. I’ve had the good fortune of spending nearly 24 hours in a first class cabin (unfortunately, they were the only seats left on the train….) from Sungai Kolokup to Bangkok.

    Enjoy!

  • 36 hours wow! That pic is AWESOME!!!

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