04.12.2012 87 °F
It’s 5:00 pm on a lazy Tuesday in Chang Mai. Lazy you may ask? Yes absolutely lazy. Lazy as in the fact I am hung-over worse than a 13 year old school girl who snuck into her parent’s liquor cabinet when they were getting dinner at the Outback Steakhouse down the street. Worth it? Absolutely worth it hands down. There’s something very refreshing in the fact I can rage on a Monday night, in a different country, knowing full well I have absolutely no responsibilities the following day.
Last entry posted I had just arrived in the northern city of Luang Prabang in Laos. After spending several days there (I say several because time is very hard to keep track of and I’m not sure how many days I stayed there) I absolutely loved the city. I could be wrong, but I believe it used to be the capital of Laos and for good reason at that. Cleanliness, friendly people, awesome night market, and exquisite waterfalls makes this a place I would definitely recommend to others heading down the same path as I. Once again I rented a bike and just spent a day getting lost. I usually head out on a bike (24 hour rental less than $2 USD) having no idea of where I am going or what I am looking for but that’s all the fun. I rode probably 20 km all day, stopping here and there to take pictures wherever I saw something kick ass. I’m really digging the bike rental as it’s a great way to learn the city/village/town and it keeps me in good shape as LAX season is just around the corner. About 30 km from the town is the most amazing waterfall I have ever seen in my life. I forget the exact name, but I think it’s referred to as the “Big Waterfall.” We only spent 2.5 hours there as that was what was agreed upon with our van driver. If anyone reading this is planning on going there 2.5 hours is not nearly enough time. A whole day can be spent there playing in the pools, trekking up the fall, and just hanging out. There was also a bear rescue/sanctuary within the waterfall area which was pretty cool. I’m not a huge phan (MSG New Years, wish I could make it) of bears in general but those that are seemed to really enjoy it. Different strokes for different folks you know what I mean. The night life was pretty tame as the Laos curfew is enforced rather strictly; however there are always ways around it. The two options after curfew was bowling or a local night club. Of course I did both and had a lot of fun. I officially am the worst bowler on several continents at this point and am not representing the USA as I should in that regard. The local night club was fun as it was just that, a night club with locals. Very few tourists were there, but I managed to still dance like nobody was watching when I am pretty sure everyone was watching. A tall white man with crazy hair and an even crazier beard busting out the c walk is bound to attract some stares. Like I said, dance like nobody is watching. People were always laughing and pointing at me, but it’s better than the inverse of being mean or even violent, so that’s cool.
Like I said I spent several days there, still travelling with my two German friends Franky and Max, when we collectively decided we were indeed going to take the slow boat up the Mekong and cross over the border into Thailand. The bus is the faster, easier, less expensive, option versus the slow boat. We still all decided it would be well worth it and for Christ’s sake what a great decision we had made. The first day took around 8 hours, with no rest stops. Only stops to let people on/off the boat in some very remote villages. We saw wild elephants working in these villages instead of seeing the typical touristy type deal of being able to wash/ride elephants through rivers. I’m sure that’s an awesome experience as well, although I am starting to feel bad for such elephants after seeing their cousins thriving in their “true” form. The boat had seats much like a bus except they weren’t bolted to the floor. A great thing as we had plenty of opportunities to reconfigure the seating and stretch out or even play cards. I don’t play any card games back home but I have learned two that are really fun. Ones called Durak (no clue on the spelling as its Russian) and the other we call the Greek game or Melaka. One of the hostel owners in VangVieng taught it to us and he didn’t know the name, but it was taught to him by a Greek so that’s how the name came to fruition. We also knew the term Melaka was Greek for a vulgar word so we then appropriately termed it as such. After 8 hours on the boat we were let off in a very very small town. I forget the name as we only stayed there the night and then jumped on another boat 8:30 am the next morning. That night we all just played more cards, drank a few beer Laos’s, and went to sleep very early.
The next day we were back on the Mekong for another 8 hour boat ride. Much like the first day it was an amazing experience. Seeing the people depend on the river so heavily is absolutely mind blowing. I am far from a good enough writer to even begin to describe the sights that were seen. Although, we did witness a “funeral” on the banks outside of a small village. A square structure made of fallen timber was constructed and the body of the deceased was housed inside. It was then set ablaze and the person transitioned into the next world. I felt deep respect for the ceremony as we were passing by on the boat and opted not to take any pictures. Others did and that’s their decision, which is all well and good. I just felt differently and if the tables were turned I wouldn’t want someone taking pictures of my loved ones or even me. 8 hours later and we were at the border. Unfortunately the border crossing closed at 5:00 pm so we had no other choice than to shack up in yet another small town on the Laos side. Once again this ignorant American forgets the name, but I did plot it on the map feature of this blog which is my saving grace. Pretty easy going night once again and I’m sure you guessed it. Cards, beer Laos’s, and food was what we did to pass the time. When getting food we met an older Englishmen who felt compelled to share his life story, philosophies, and view on America with us. Needless to say he didn’t have many kind words to say about my country and in the end I believe I outwitted that ignorant bloke. Matt 1-Englishmen 0 and that’s all I have to say about that. Next morning we all woke up and hit the boats. The boat ride to the border is only 300 yards away so stepped into Thailand in a matter of minutes. Still haven’t figured out the conversion for yards to meters so all non-Americans reading this please bear with me.
Stepped onto Thailand soil, filled out a short immigration card, stamp in the passport and we were in. No searches or real security measures of any means. The icing on the cake was that the Visa was free, but the downside is that by entering the country of Thailand by land one is only allowed 2 weeks. Flying in gets you a 30 day Visa, but I’m only here for 2 weeks on the button so all is well in that department. Our destination was Chang Mai which meant we had to catch a local bus for a few hours until we reached Chang Ri. In Chang Ri we got on another bus which would take us then to Chang Mai. All said and done it took me and my friends two full days by boat and about 7 hours on two different buses until we reached our target, Chang Mai.
I have been in Chang Mai the past 4 nights and I once again am really digging this city as well. Even friendlier people and cheaper food than those in Laos. Beer is a little more expensive than previous countries but still a great deal. Just been taking it real easy here and doing a lot of walking around the city. My friend Max is constantly on the go and doing something every day. I don’t know how he does it as every day is filled with activities for him. He does everything from Thai cooking classes to zip linning through the jungle, good on ya Max is what I say. Yesterday I spent many frustrating hours at the Indian embassy here trying to get my India visa. After 4 or 5 hours and for little over $100 USD I think I may have successfully obtained my India visa. I use the word “think” because they actually take your physical passport and return it in one week with the visa stamped inside. Feels a little strange to not have my passport on me when Im so far from home, but I do have photocopies should anything arise.Fingers crossed the paperwork goes through okay as I have already booked the flight to Kalkutta months ago and if they refuse my entry than I am not really sure what to do next. This is very exciting to me and am very optimistic that there will be no issues obtaining entry into the beautiful country of India.
Tomorrow my German friends of two weeks and I are parting ways. I am headed north about 3 hours to little slice of heaven known as Pi. Spend several days up there and then head back down to Chang Mai on Monday morning to pick up my passport from the embassy. Jump on an overnight train Monday at 5:00 pm and hightailing it straight into Bangkok with an arrival on Tuesday morning. Hangout in the depths of Bangkok for two nights and then fly into India on Thursday before the fuzz catches on.
I am sad to see my friends go after a great 2 weeks together, but we are all very happy with the adventures that lay before us. Pi is supposed to be “my kind of place” and the hostel I am staying at looks crazy from the pics on the net. Once again I am flying solo and am back to a wolf pack of one. Don’t be mistaken though as I truly enjoy travelling alone just as much as I like travelling with other friends on this journey. It’s a balance, just like everything else in life.
Just finished two bottles of water and am feeling much better now. Maybe this wasn’t a waste of a day after all as this was probably one the longest entries to date and being able to keep track of the last week or so brings back great memories I will never forget.
I was taught a month ago
To bide my time and take it slow
But then I learned just yesterday
To rush and never waste the day
Catch you on the flip side,