JP was one of the first men ever to pick us up while hitch-hiking. After being inspired to start we had hitch-hiked across the Malay-Thai border and arrived in the first largish city on the Thai side of the border, Hat Yai. Hat Yai was far from a beautiful place. Full of businessmen on Malay visa runs and the striking amount of old European white men with young Thai women that is a feature of the Thai travelling scene.
After moving through Hat Yai at a sharpish speed we directed our steps to Bangkok in order to start, what we feared would be a hellish, visa process for Vietnam. After several false starts we had hopped down the road a few kilometres and that is where we could be found, under the afternoon sun flagging down confused motorists.
One lady, seeing us on the side of the road, approached. Our hopes rising we looked around for a car from which she had appeared. Strange. No car. And still the lady came closer, so we put on our most amiable manner and awaited to hear what she had to say. The only problem was that she didn’t speak English. I am sure she wanted to help but soon the realisation sank in that we were getting nowhere fast. Five minutes passed, ten, twenty and still we remained looking at each other, smiling. How to extract ourselves without being rude?
So back to the road we returned with our thumb out and a strange staring woman in tow. A white flat-bed 4×4, the kind very popular in Thailand, slowed down. JP was a professor at the Thaksin University in Songkhla province and was travelling from the south of Thailand all the way to Bangkok to attend some conferences and was also using the time there to visit some family in the city. JP did speak English, one of the few people we met in Thailand who could, and offered to drive us the 960km directly to Bangkok.
JP was a very smiley man, calm and measured in his speech, interested in us and the world around him. On route we stopped at his university and met some of his students, we halted regularly so that we could try a variety of tropical fruit and drinks that he thought we might be interested in. We learnt about his family and his experience of the world outside of Thailand.
Over the course of the drive we discussed many things and watched a large section of the Live Aid concerts on his in-car DVD player. JP seemed particularly interested in the fact that I was willingly prepared to speak badly about my Queen. I am no royalist and in a country like Thailand, where the royal family hold an almost mythical status, my views must have gone against the grain somewhat.
We stayed with JP and his family upon our arrival in Bangkok. He gave us the keys to his sister’s house and we were invited to come and go as we pleased. We also had a great experience of a night out in a Thai-German beer-hall eating the spiciest fish in existence and getting affected by Weissbier. The place had to be seen to be believed. Large benches dissected the room like train tracks from the stage to the back wall. We were treating to what can only be described as a musical medley, including obscure Western pop, Japanese love songs and the always popular local hits that had the crowd on their feet. It was a unique mixture of traditional entertainment and all the worst elements of their view of Western popular culture, via school uniforms and 1950’s ‘American diner’ fashion. Still, the atmosphere was friendly and we felt like we had avoided the usual Khao-San-Road nightmare for one night at least.
We are so grateful to JP and although we have since lost contact we hope that wherever he is, he is doing well.
written by: Jon