I Love the Open Road and All that It Suggests
Riding in wooden trains, sleeper cars and pickup trucks across Thailand.
My favourite travel quote is actually a song lyric by the Smashing Pumpkins: “I love the open road and all that it suggests.” It undulates in my mind’s anterior like a jellyfish against aquarium glass during moments of locomotion—when I’m literally travelling.
I felt it when Lena and I were reclining in the bed of a pick-up truck, cruising down the hard-pack amidst messily fecund jungle on our way back from Elephants World. The late-afternoon sunshine strobing through fluttering palms and plaited hills was especially disorienting, as I’d lost my sunglasses in the same truck bed that morning; they were whisked from my face and rolled like a tumbleweed in a manner uncharacteristic of cheap aviators before vanishing beneath the tires of the car behind us. The rushing wind was too deafening for conversation and so we slumped against the hatch, each lost in our own private thoughts.
The lyric came to mind again while on the rickety wooden train from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok. As the humidity and dust coated our skin in a grimy paste, we chatted in Thaiglish to giggly grandmothers beneath the pensive eyes of an amulet-sporting, neck-tattooed man that our photographer insisted was part of the Thai mafia. Vendors hawked red pork curry in banana-leaf bowls as we chugga-chugga’ed past raked farmland.
Thailand's trains: Maybe the best place for candid photography?
I thought of it once more on the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. We were in the second-class sleeper on curtained berths with blankets and pillows wrapped in plastic like vegetables sealed for freshness.
The air conditioner was too high and the lights stayed on all night, and one inconsiderate passenger loudly chomped on and crinkled a bag of chips at 4 a.m.—otherwise, it was quite comfortable. The view outside the window was mostly black with the occasional smatter of lights as we passed through towns.
Riding the sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
Our videographer once said—somewhere between Chiang Mai and Lampang, as we swayed with the road like seaweed with the surf in the back of a red truck taxi—that he usually hated literal travel, yet Thailand was winning him over.
I’m the opposite. I love those introspective moments where your eyes and mind are lulled by the passing landscape, and your thoughts traverse the past and future in a meandering cadence akin to that of a fingerpicked guitar.
Chowing down on red pork curry in banana-leaf bowls on the train from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok.
This is my meditation, and feels much more soothing and natural than anything forced on a yoga mat back home. While my mind is far from still, it is quiet, and that’s the most I can expect from my quivery knot of pink tissue. In these moments, I feel as though I’m ebbing and flowing with the current of life, with nothing demanded of me and nothing to do but watch the world go by.
And what does the open road suggest, anyway? Unbridled freedom, potential and adventure.