Chiang Mai held few surprises for me. I was basically there to recover from jetlag and wait around for my Lao visa to be delivered from Bangkok.
Not that I am complaining mind you; waiting, when done correctly, can be used as a form of relaxation. Eat, sleep, read. Eat again. A lot of eating.
It was “waiting for Gordo”.
Chiang Mai is a large city, it is a nice city, though not at all quaint. Being far too cheap to buy a ‘real’ map, I relied upon the mimeographed (and nearly illegible) free tourist maps supplied by the guesthouse.
The interesting stuff in Chiang Mai lies within the moat. Said area is laid out in a perfectly square grid pattern, and a moat surrounds it. On a cloudy day, without a compass (where the heck is my compass?) one can get lost very easily. And so I did.
I would spend my precious napping time wandering around, generally in the opposite direction that I had intended to go. Since men do not ask for directions, I spent a few days invariably lost.
I had made it a habit of having an evening beer at a outside bar where the skanky bargirls do not ply their trade. They swarm around every adjacent bar, just not where I was drinking. As I drank, dark-skinned hill tribe women would regularly pester me to buy long stemmed roses from them. I did not buy roses, I am a backpacker.
What does a backpacker need with roses?
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I tippeled a few Singhas several nights in a row, not heavily mind you, but just enough to feel sufficiently jolly. There were so few farangs (foreigners) in town that it didn’t take long for everybody there to know my name. The bar, by the way, is named “Cheers“.
Eventually, my waiting was over. My passport with a new 15-day Lao visa showed up on the same day that my laundry came back from wherever stinky laundry goes. I had no more excuses, I checked out and paid my bill and got a ride to the bus station.
The next bus to the Lao border was leaving shortly, I had barely enough time to down a plate of pork and noodles before departing. “My” bus looked like a fullsize bus but only had seats suitable for tiny folk. Luckily, it was not full and I had two seats to myself. The ridge between the seats left a lasting impression, and in hindsight, I should have brought a pillow to sit on.
We climbed over mountain passes in low gear, we whizzed down steep inclines followed only by the smell of burning brakes. Occasionally, we stopped at an obscure bus terminal devoid of any trace of tarmac.
There were a handful of other English-speaking backpackers along, all going to Laos. At these stops, we would all pile off to buy ice cream. That is one thing that they don’t tell you in the tourist brochures: you can buy ice cream here. As it was about 85 degrees f., ice cream was quite welcome.
Several hours later than the schedule would have you believe, we arrived at the dusty border town of Chiang Khong. By now, the union of English-speaking backpackers were best of mates, so we all piled onto three-wheeled motorcycle taxis and trundled off to the same guesthouse.
Which was full. Damn.
It was not a crisis, we simply went next door and checked into a lovely, multi-storied teak guesthouse that overlooks the Mekhong river. For $6.00, I have a nice room with nice bed, toilet, plenty of hot water and a fan that cools with considerable gusto.
After we were all settled, the Australian, British and American backpackers gathered to exchange travel info and drink Chang beer. Not feeling much like drinking beer, I poured myself a glass of Jameson’s from my secret stash and then went off to bed.
Tomorrow, I cross over to Laos.