The Northern Bus terminal, or Mo Chit, is Bangkok’s biggest and busiest station. Serving provinces predominantly in the north and northeast of the country, it’s an axis of excursions for all different walks of Thai life – with thousands of local and foreign travellers using the station daily.
Mo Chit smoulders.
It smoulders with the humidity of the city, and the exhaust fumes of idling buses, and the soupy steam of perspiration emitted from the nomadic masses.
Fortunately there is a veritable swath of eateries within the terminal building where one might purchase a snack and a drink, or even a full plate of food in order to obtain a modicum of comfort and satiate the appetite before the vehicle departs.
Let’s meet some of the characters passing through one of Bangkok’s most vibrant gateways…
Bum and Trevor
It’s outside a 7-Eleven that we meet our first pair of passengers: Bum, a 41-year-old Thai national who hails from the Thai/Laos border province of Mukdahan, and Trevor, a 67-year-old retired butcher from Stockport.
Apparently engaged in a deep and heated recourse, we let the couple conclude their tête-à-tête which ends with Trevor marching into the shop with a cocked and loaded wallet.
Meanwhile, Bum remains somewhat forlorn at the entrance:
“He will not stop drinking!” she tells me, while reaching into her handbag for a menthol nasal inhaler to clear her nose.
As if to add some authenticity to this statement, Trevor presently emerges to the dulcet ‘ding-dong’ of the 7-Eleven sliding doors with a carrier bag fit to burst with large bottles of beer Leo.
“Just a little aperitif,” he says, expertly cracking open one of the bottles with an upturned cigarette lighter and deftly putting paid to half of the contents.
It’s hard not to notice that Trevor and Bum have packed to excess today with no less than four large suitcases in tow.
“We’re moving to the sticks,” remarks Trevor, gesturing towards their laden trolley.
“Yep, it’s far too expensive for us in the big city, so we’re going to stay with Bum’s parents in Mukdahan for a few months while we sort out our own accommodation.”
Bum looks pensive. Trevor drinks.
And the unlikely couple go on their way…
Greta and Heidi
Gap year students Greta and Heidi from Holland stand out amid the sweat-sodden masses.
They are six feet tall, blonde, fresh-faced and beautiful.
Attached to backpacks which could quite happily accommodate an Isuzu D-Max, the ladies go on to inform me that they are heading into the wilds of Thailand’s Isaan region today, where they will embark on a two-day trek around Khao Yai national park.
Each sporting quirky apparels freshly plucked from the stalls of Khao San Road, they represent every European twentysomething on that much-hallowed voyage of self-discovery while subsisting on a budget of minus five Euro per day.
“Today we will travel on a second-class bus to Pak Chong”, they chime almost in unison.
“This way we make a saving of 40 baht”.
They, of course, had the option of using Nakhon Chai Tours or the First Class service, but their parsimonious approach to world travel has apparently moved them to employ the services of a bus company with a track record for mainly reckless driving with occasional disastrous results.
Still, Greta and Heidi weren’t to know this.
But they will.
Upon the cessation of the journey one can only surmise that they will be on the telephone to their parents regaling how their lives flashed before their eyes, and could you please send sufficient funds for me to get back to the Western hemisphere post haste.
Sniff, sniff, sob, sob.
Next we meet May, a glamorous, silky-haired 20-year-old with an hourglass figure, soft brown skin and a knowing grin which belies her tender years.
May comes from Surin, Thailand’s driest, and therefore poorest, province.
She has spent the last seven months seeking her fortune in the big city and is now heading back home to share the spoils with her family.
May has been a rather busy young lady, and during her stay in the Big Mango has accrued no less than six foreign boyfriends – from Singaporeans to Scandinavians – whose combined donations have made her a millionaire.
But things haven’t always been so easy. Just eight months ago, when she wasn’t up to her neck in buffalo shit, May would toil hard under a tropical sun, harvesting rice by hand and maintaining drainage ditches and canals.
“Now we can buy our own rice!” she tells me, a big beaming smile etched onto her face.
Indeed her trolley is laden with 10kg bags of Hom Mali (the Mercedes Benz of the sacred grain) as well as a selection of dried and cured foodstuffs. May has certainly proved that bending over in a bedroom is significantly more lucrative than doing so in a rice paddy, and more power to her.
Nonchalantly stepping on to the bus now, her iPhone 6 begins to buzz in her jean pocket. She answers.
“Hello darling, how are you….” And the conversation is lost amongst the melee.
And so the sun sets over Mo Chit Bus Station – but you can bet every grain of rice in Roi Et that its doors will open again tomorrow.
And another band of colourful and complicated characters will spill through en route to wherever their lives are destined to go…