When I saw the bag on the seat opposite me moving on its own accord, I did a double take. When I looked again, it was perfectly still. I rubbed my face and presumed that it was sleep deprivation, making me delusional.
I was at the bus station in Savannakhet (Laos) sitting on the dilapidated coach, bound to Hue (Vietnam) and just relieved that I had two seats to stretch out my ungainly, almost two-meter frame, to sleep away the next seven hours of travel time.
A bag moving on its own accord wasn’t going to occupy my thoughts and prevent me from getting the rest I needed.
I chose this bus because after a few weeks in Thailand and Laos, spent traveling in taxis or on air-conditioned tourist buses with fellow backpackers; speaking English, acting English and doing nothing more parochial than drinking the local beer, I craved something more authentic. My guidebook advised me that local buses were a great way of experiencing the ‘real’ Southeast Asia.
Sleeping on this bus was proving difficult though. A mixture of Boney M playing on the TV at ear-splitting volume, two teenage girls listening to differing pop music on their mobile phones at loud volume - and singing along even louder - all polluted my ‘blocks all noise’ ear plugs. I made the best of what I could do in this situation - as there was no other farang to talk to - and read some more from my guidebook.
Suddenly, there was then a shrill scream from a woman at the front that rose high above all the sounds on the bus, shattering all hope of tranquility.
A man started to crawl on his hands and knees underneath the seats towards the front of the coach, as many passengers shouted and pointed frenziedly. People jumped up off their chairs and ran from the front of the coach to the back. The driver swiveled round - whilst continuing to drive very fast - to get a full view of what was happening. I stopped everything and stared at what developed before me.
The crawling man had now risen to his feet to a round of applause and audible sighs. He was grabbing hold of something I couldn’t quite see and lifting it up like a trophy. He walked to the back of the bus to the seat opposite me. He passed whatever he had in his hands to the woman sat there, who had remained passive throughout.
It was a baby crocodile.
She looked the crocodile in the eye, gave him a quick once over, followed by a gentle stroke, and then placed it calmly back in the bag I had seen moving a few hours ago.
My guidebook was right; local transport had given me a more adventurous and authentic experience. It provided me with both a narrow escape from a nasty nip and, more importantly, from a holiday without any local flavor.
Robert is 36 years old, originally from Walsall but has spent the last ten years living in London. His passions include travel and sport.