06-May-2007 -- Those two grey squares in the far North East of Thailand had just been killing me. Every time I checked in to the confluence site, they still hadn't been done. They were there, calling my name like sirens on a windswept rock. They had waited patiently for me for who knows how long - but I knew I was tempting fate; I would kick myself if I checked in one day and found that some brave and hardy soul had got there to sample their delights before me.
May 2007. A long weekend in Thailand. The chance presented itself. We had planned to laze around at home doing very little, but I woke up with a start on Saturday morning and leapt out of bed. Melanie had to work a late shift on Sunday night, but I checked the airline websites and found a flight back from Ubon Ratchatani to Bangkok on Sunday afternoon. We could get to the area, do the confluences, and I could drop her off at the airport to fly back to the capital while George the Dog and I stayed in the area or meandered back at a more leisurely pace.
Firing up the 2.7 fuel injected power plant of the trusty Toyota Fortuner - otherwise known as the Confluencemobile - we were on the road early and had left the orbit of Bangkok way before 8am, bound for the far reaches of the Thai-Laos border areas.
Rocketing past the Khao Yai National Park and Pak Chong, we detoured at Si Khio to take the scenic route on highway 24 along the Cambodian border - stopping at the utterly spectacular Preah Vihear. This is the most incredible place I have ever seen in my life, a sort of cooler, more geographically amazing version of Angkor Wat perched on the edge of a cliff with views for hundreds of miles around onto the Cambodian plains below. Officially, the place is in Cambodia, but can only be reached from the Thai border. There are no passport controls, and even George the Dog crossed the border without any formalities. In a reversal of roles, the tourists became the tourist attraction, with Cambodian monks snapping George with their latest model Sony Cybershots.
Arriving in Ubon Ratchatani for dinner, we checked in to the only hotel that would accept a dog on the premises. Melanie declared that it looked like a prison, and it was certainly less than salubrious, but these are the sacrifices one has to make in the hunt for new confluences. We found a suitably comfortable restaurant where we enjoyed Thai food with ice cold Tiger Beer, watching Man U clinch the title with their narrow win over Man City. The omens were good.
The next morning we woke early to a steady drizzle. Being further east than Bangkok yet in the same time zone, Ubon enjoys much earlier sunrises, and we were on the road before 6. Munching happily on snacks bought from the 7-Eleven, the 26 kilometres from Ubon to the confluence disappeared in the blink of an eye. Down a minor road, the GPS arrow pointing in the right direction, a left turn onto a dirt track, another turn at a muddy fork in the track, and we were within 300 metres of our target. I could almost see that big grey square up ahead in the trees which would be turned into a red square once I set foot in the correct spot.
Incredibly, a path led between the fields almost directly to the confluence; about 8 metres away, I left the path and stepped across a small stream and arrived. How I had waited for this moment. I stayed there for several minutes, enjoying the serenity of the quiet morning, a light rain falling. The red square, looked at so many times on the website, had become reality.
Making my way back to the car, I saw that I was being observed by a farmer sitting casually in his open-sided sala. I waved, and was greeted with a wide smile and a friendly greeting. How lovely, I thought, that Thai people's first reaction to a stranger, a foreigner, on their land for no conceivable purpose, is not suspicion or confrontation but one of simple friendliness.
The confluence had been so easy that it was not yet even 7am. The original plan had been to do one, drop Melanie at the airport, then do the other: but we were confident that we could easily get the second one in time. So off we went, our goto point set one degree north to 16N 105E.