So I eventually dragged myself out of bed in the late morning in Pai, hours after Annika, Aurora, and Vince had already headed back down to Chiang Mai. Negotiating my way through crowded streets, I found my way to a travel place that could organise a bus for me, and then sat down to wait. I was due on a 2.30pm bus, which meant I could be picked up at any point from 12pm to 3pm. Uncertainty is the spice of life, and the Thai people appreciate this.
6 hours later I was back in Chiang Mai, at some bus stop that I vaguely but not really recognised from about ten days previously. But I had no plans on hanging around; it was time to go to Chiang Rai, to see what was going on there. I’d heard that there was a temple or something. A white one.
Unfortunately I didn’t have much of a say about hanging around in the end, because there weren’t any buses out to Chiang Rai, so I had to stick around for the night, in the bus stop district. It’s not the most fun district. There’s not much to do. I split a room with a girl called Jaycee who was in the same situation, said about three words to her, then never spoke to her again. Saved 100 baht though, so money well spent.
The next day I went to Chiang Rai. It’s an okay town.
The issue is, I think, is that Chiang Rai’s big draw isn’t really real. It’s called the White Temple, but in reality it’s this bizarre art exhibition, utilising modern day themes and icons, then mixing it with a traditional-ish temple, to make this strange collection of buildings and pieces that leave you feeling a bit confused. Why is Pikachu on the wall, next to a Minion, above a Buddha? Why is Captain America’s head hanging from a metal tree just outside the main building? What is the artist trying to say? Is he trying to say anything or was he just being weird? Who is this for?
I’ve never been that phenomenal at appreciating art, especially when I think people are just being strange for the sake of being strange.
But here are some photos nonetheless.
Later that day I met and hung out with a few people from my dorm, accompanying them to climb a thousand steps up a hill to watch the sunset, before heading to the night market for food, and then excusing myself three minutes later when I found that the night market food did not get on well with my stomach.
After that it was bed time; I had a long day tomorrow. It was time to cross the border to Laos, and the most exciting part of it was that I was going to be doing it myself. Throughout Pai, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai I had seen signs for organised trips across the border into Laos and then down to Luang Prubang via the slow boat, but it seemed to be a hugely inflated price just to have someone hold your hand while you crossed the border in a bus. So I’d decided that I was going to wing it, catching a local bus to the border myself and then haphazardly wandering across it. How difficult could it be?
Exactly. Not that difficult.
So on Sunday 11th March I got up pretty early and made my way to the local bus stop. On the way I helped a group of Thai men lift a some stuff into a truck, and it struck me that this was probably the most useful, productive, unselfish thing I had done in a while, and what a sad thing that was to say.
Then I shook it off and got on my bus.
The exciting thing about doing things yourself is you get to hang out with locals doing local things and riding death traps with doors that don’t close. You feel more like you’re experiencing the culture. At least, I did. Also it cost me about £1.50 for well over an hour of bus time, which can’t be sniffed at really.
The bus dropped me off around 0930 at a random junction on a road, of which one of the roads, I was assured, went to the border. Making an educated guess that it wasn’t the one the bus had just come from, or the one the bus drove away down, I picked up my bags, lifted my spirits, and headed towards the border.
Having had a few issues with border crossings and visas before, I’ve been wary of taking pictures or doing anything that could get me in trouble at border crossings, and I therefore didn’t take any photos while I was crossing. But I remember paying an extra dollar for my visa because it was a Sunday, and apparently that’s a good reason. I remember someone trying to give me a horrendously poor conversion rate for Laos Kip. And that’s about it.
With minimal fuss, no bribes, no one getting in trouble, I was in Laos.
From there it was just a case of stealing someone else’s tuktuk, as they were all reserved for the organised tours, and finding my way to a slowboat, to spend 16 hours travelling through amazing, beautiful landscapes, surrounded by drunk gap year students and sensible adults, torn between choosing to be one or the other.
If you’ve stayed with me all this way, we’ve made it through ten countries so far, and there’s only four left. We’re nearly there! Stay with me!
We’re not really nearly there, but stay with me anyway