This post is part two of a short story I wrote for a travel writing competition but didn't submit. You can read part one here.
It's an embarrassingly true story. Don't judge a long-tail boat by it's driver... continued.
So there we are.
Me, my Australian boyfriend and the madly smiling Cheshire cat of a long-tail boat driver all lost at sea somewhere off the coast of Krabi in Thailand. It's also raining, hard. And my boyfriend, NewMan, refuses to speak to me other than to remind me that it is my fault he has switched on data roaming on his phone, the cost of which will deprive me of Mai Tais for at least the next week.
Time drags its heels as it passes us by. I begin to imagine innumerable worst case scenarios. From falling victim to the Loch Ness Monster's distant Thai cousin to becoming the first person to die of hypothermia in Thailand, my mind becomes a playground for the irrational. I want to reach for NewMan's hand and feel the comfort that sometimes only he brings me but I see his teeth are still clenched so instead I keep my hands to myself and twiddle my thumbs.
After a while my wild imagination is interrupted by the put-put-put of an engine. A larger long-tail boat approaches us weighed down with mostly Western travellers who sit atop, alongside or under their backpacks like an awkward modern art arrangement. Their driver is waving to our driver and as if by divine intervention this much larger boat manages to glide towards us and line up beside our boat in the shallow water that has all but grounded us. I realise then and there that our poor smiling long-tail boat driver is simply and ironically completely out of his depth. Loud animated words are exchanged between the two drivers. I avoid eye contact with the passengers on board the other boat and am suddenly very self conscious of my appearance and so focused on making my washed up drowned river rat look more aloof and alluring than could ever be possible.
I decide not to ask all the obvious questions: Where were we going? Where is that other boat going? Why can he get through the low tide and you can’t? Can you see my nipples through my wet T-shirt? Instead I do what I very rarely do. I sit still and I stay quiet.
As we tentatively fall in line behind the other boat, the rain stops and almost instantly Thailand's heat returns. With things starting to fall into their rightful places, I am filled with shame. Shame at my overreaction, shame at the lack of faith in the ever-smiling driver and shame at letting a now seemingly solvable problem cause such tension between NewMan and I. True to his stubborn self he shows no signs of mellowing and true to my unpredictable self my anger had evaporated into an irrational need for us to passionately reunite or to at least to be on the same side again.
It quickly transpires that we are following the boat to the main passenger port in Krabi, which is not a million miles away from our hotel and more importantly, is firm, solid, wonderful, dry land. Once docked and our bags and feet touching concrete there follows an awkward conversation about payment with the long-tail boat driver, during which again his smile didn’t falter for a second. Once money has changed hands, I realise that we are clueless as to what happens next and God forbid was NewMan about to talk to me about it.
“Taxi, taxi! Taxi?” comes both the answer and a question. A small, bouncing Thai man in surprisingly smart and bright white linen trousers pops up out of nowhere.
“Yes, please. Kop khun kha ,” I say, my body sighing in relief as it starts to dry and warm up in the now impressively strong heat.
“How much?” NewMan demanded. I made a mental note to advise him that it wasn’t pleasant to direct his anger at me towards a kind, helpful Thai taxi driver.
“2500 Baht,” I do the calculations. “Fifty quid?” I exclaims. Nothing in Thailand costs fifty pounds.
“No, thank you,” NewMan says firmly but politely and he ploughs past White Linen who is still grinning or is he smirking at us? Maybe he has previously had great success in ripping off poor stranded, drowned tourists?
I follow NewMan as he asks "Taxi?" to every other Thai man we pass on that harbour front. They all reply by pointing to White Linen. Just as we’re running out of people to ask a voice snaps at my heels. White Linen has bounced his way next to me. “Ok, ok. 2000 Baht,”
Another second or two of calculations followed.
“Forty pounds. Darling, maybe we should,”
“No. It’s less than an hour’s drive. They’re ripping us off,”
“I’ll pay for it…”
“It’s not the money. It’s the fact that they think they can overcharge us. No.”
Ah yes, that’s right. If there is one thing NewMan hates in this world it's being ripped off and so despite being a wildly generous man at heart, NewMan travels the world disputing taxi prices and Googling appropriate tip percentages. It's exhausting to watch and with my patience draining out of me, I suggest again that we just agree to the price we are offered. I receive a look which not only tells me to be quiet, but also instructs me to do something about the offending cost estimate.
I take a moment to look skywards. I see blue sky and sunshine and I find hope in this and so I abandon the throng of White Linen's cronies and cross the road. I walk into each and every shop and cafe facing the harbour and I ask if they can arrange a taxi for us. They all point to where I have come from. I specify my desire for an alternative, more affordable option but again the response is a smile and a nod in the direction of White Linen, until I walk five minutes up the road and approach a man in a shop tucked away around a corner, away from the waterfront. He speaks excellent English and my heart skips a beat when he offers to phone a taxi for me, "very cheap" he mutters reassuringly. I return his smile and instinctively anticipate the thanks, love and hugs that will be showered upon me by NewMan once I return to him with a taxi at a better price.
As per my Thai hero's instructions, I step outside to wait for the car and as I do he joins me in order to try and sell his boat tours and island hopping day trips. Without explaining why, I reply politely that we would probably prefer to stay on dry land for a few days. My Thai hero nods and smiles, undeterred. "Here is the car," he says and sure enough a smart, silver saloon car with blacked out windows pulls up next to us. Slowly the driver's window rolls down. Inside is White Linen, a genuine smile pulling his cheeks apart. "Taxi?" he asks, again with an almost sweetly innocent determination.
Half an hour and a well fought 1700 Baht later, we are finally on our way. Siting beside him in the backseat I try to hold hands with NewMan. To my relief he accepts my touch and squeezes my knuckles back. Then he looks at me.
"Are you cold?" he asks.
"No, not really." I beam back at him, feeling that all is well with the world.
"Are you sure?" He nods at my chest and my still slightly damp top. Ah. I see his point and both of mine.
I ask White Linen to turn the air conditioning down. He nods his head slightly towards me and duly obeys, still smiling. I thank him, lean back and relax into the chair, happy to have NewMan's hand still in mine. A few seconds later I glance in the rear view mirror where I again see that completely innocent beam of a smile, not dissimilar from the one plastered on our long-tail boat driver's face. In fact, not dissimilar from the smile I see on the faces of almost all the Thai people I've ever met.
Ah, Thailand, the land of smiles and hapless tourists.
Frances M. Thompson
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