I feel unusually good this morning. I’d splurged on a private room with a huge bed and AC and ditched Murphy and Drisdelle to go to bed early while they drank up on the roof, was out by 11 and up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by 7 am to get an early breakfast and catch our ride to the Thai border. My watch alarm goes off so I shower and pack and am enjoying an egg in a baguette with a decent cup of coffee by 7:30. How delightful.
The boys aren’t looking quite so chipper. My face got sunburnt yesterday during the boat ride but their arms and legs are completely lobsterized. They look painfully uncomfortable just walking. And they were up carrying on until 2 or 3 or something like that. Sounds like I missed out on some fun but right now I couldn’t care less. They hustle to shove breakfast in their faces as the truck-tuk arrives, we all jump in (along with a super-friendly Argentinian girl) and roll out.
At a gas station we re-org with a big crew mostly consisting of British dudes and mostly headed to Chiang Rai rather than Chiang Mai. The guys “running” the show are moving bags back and forth between two truck-tuks without any rhyme or reason so that Murphy and Drisdelle’s bags are on ours but mine has been tossed on top of the other one. It looks like they’re sort-of tying the bags down but with minimal effort. They insist we’re all crossing the border together but I swear I’m going to lose my bag to a shitshow like this one of these days.
We reach a large border complex that’s strangely reminiscent of the Colombia-Ecuador border. The second truck-tuk arrives a couple minutes after ours and a guy throws my bag down to me. Check-out is a total breeze, basically a stamp, smile and a wave through to no-man’s land. This particular No-Man’s Land is lengthy and it doesn’t seem like you’re allowed to walk from one side to the other (we couldn’t even see the other side so at this point we had no idea how big it really was), but there are shuttle buses running people back and forth. There’s a bit of chaos with our organizers and the two different groups travelling to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai and at some point shortly after I’d changed some Laobucks to Thaibucks we realized that most of our group – and all of the organizers – had already jumped on a shuttle and left us, as well as four or five others in our group, behind.
After twenty minutes or so we were able to get on another shuttle but at this point we had about fifteen minutes until our bus to Chiang Mai was supposed to leave. The bus drove us to the Fourth Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge that crosses the river between the two countries then through an hourglass-shaped stretch of pavement where the lanes change. Whereas Laotian drivers stick to the right side, Thai motorists drive on the left, so the lanes of the road pull apart, crossover then pull back together with the traffic switched to the opposite side. There’s a traffic light to minimize the crossover chaos, but of course it was red when our bus went through.
At the Thai border building the first thing we saw was a sign saying “Visa On Arrival”. None of us had bothered to get visas so theoretically we all needed VOAs, but the window was closed and we only had a few minutes to spare. We decided to just get into the main line without visas and see if they’d let us in. Flip, stare, stamp, wave, we’re into Thailand and onto our waiting bus to Chiang Mai. Well, minibus. Shitty, packed, hot, minibus.
I was crammed into the back left corner with a British girl and about 20 backpacks beside me. I hadn’t noticed until this point how fucked up my back was from the wooden seats on the speedboat yesterday, but being on the wrong side of the rear wheels everytime we hit a bump I was jostled around so bad the pain would snap me out of any kind of nap I was starting to drift into. I’d also skipped laundry day in Luang Prabang to go to the hospital and was wearing the same shirt for about the fourth day; this didn’t bother me so much but I felt genuinely sorry for the British girl.
Murphy and Drisdelle were dealing with even bigger problems. In addition to having fucked up backs they were crispy-crittered from the boatride so being packed into a small space meant their arms and legs were constantly rubbing against seats, people and gear. They look really, really shitty.
At about the half-way mark they let us out at a gas station for a piss/snack break. While we’re having a couple coffees, stretching our backs out and mostly just bitching and moaning a second minibus shows up. They’re breaking us into two groups to give us more space. This is unprecedented and amazing. We’ve all got tons of space and even though I’m still in the back I can stretch out and it makes for a decent enough ride that I nap a lot of the way into the city.
We’re dropped off at a McDonald’s in the middle of Chiang Mai. No idea where we’re at but Rotten Ronnie’s has Wi-Fi, you just have to buy something to get a login. Stand back boys, I got this. I don’t usually eat Mickey D’s but there’s something really satisfying about it when you’re eating noodles and rice all the time. With a login in hand (and after talking to a couple of people) we discover the hostel’s only a six-minute walk from here so we decide to hoof it.
At the D-Well Hostel we get checked in by a girl named Boeing. Murphy’s made the booking so she looks at his passport and says “Jonathan Murphy… What should I call you?” Drisdelle and I simultaneously jump in with “Cobra”. She crooks her head and says “Okay, Cobra” and writes it down, but spells it “Kobra”. She looks at Jamie and asks him what he should be called. “Call me Sparkles.” “Okay, Sparkles.” She turns to me and asks what I go by. “James. I don’t have a cool nickname.”
Before we’re allowed into the dorms upstairs we have to take off our shoes and leave them on a shoerack. Murphy kicks his flip-flops off, sending them flying past Boeing. “Oh, Kobra! That scared me Kobra!” This Kobra thing is actually going to stick.
I throw my shit in my bunk and reckon the first thing I need to do is actually get my ears checked out at the hospital here like the nurse in Laos told me to. Wave down a tuk-tuk and it’s a short ride to the hospital where it’s night and day compared to the facility in Luang Prabang, nicer than most western hospitals I’ve been to and far, far better service. Within twenty minutes I’m speaking to a doctor who cleans my ears out with a little tube system, one spraying one sucking, like I’m used to seeing at the dentist. At one point the suction tube feels like it latches onto my eardrum or something and it’s like being punched in the head but by the end of my cleaning everything feels a lot better and I can hear more-or-less 100% again.
Most importantly, with my ears cleaned out she can get a better view of everything than the doc in Laos could and she tells me the infection hasn’t spread to my eardrum, so there’s no risk of it rupturing during flight. Flying into Burma is back on. I’m prescribed a shitload of different shit to sort everything out and sent on my way for a bill of about a hundred bucks.
While MacKay hits up another hospital (hospital tally is high on this trip) Drisdelle and I kick it for a bit in the D-Well common area with some Scots. There’s a self serve island with instant coffee and some delicious waffer/chocolate sticks. A pretty late night with Leia, Jakim and crew and we’re into a bit of recovery mode even though it’s afternoon now.
The Scots recommend we do something called the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary while we’re here in Chang Mai. Apparently you don’t ride the elephants but just get to hang out with them for the day and swim with them in a river. This sounds about perfect to us and so we inquire at the hostel front desk about it.
We get out front and a tiny Thai dude with glasses looks up from a paper at the front desk and says, “Yes, Kobra?” Oh this is rich, Boeing has already told this dude about our nicknames. His name is Beam. He’s a super giggly, thin as a rake, gay guy with near-perfect English. We get him to call up and book the Elephant sanctuary for us and get a dinner recommendation from him. He tells us a place called Ratanna nearby has authentic Northern Thai food. “Right. Down the street. By the second temple.” We’re on the case.
Ratanna is only a couple minutes walk away. We step in and ask an older waitress lady if we can sit outside. “Of course, of course”, she leads us out with some menus. Num num this looks super good. Fairly different than the dishes in Bangkok and the islands. Seems to be more stews, different curries and sausages. We get a plate of hors d’oeuvres to try as much northern Thai as we can in one go. I go for a spicy ginger pork curry. Drisdelle hits up a different pork dish that looks like my larb from last night (which I forgot to document in the last post during our Bar How? experience. It was phenomenal, I pretty much licked the plate clean between honey whiskey shots). We also get a couple of gin and tonics. We’re going to medium-risk Burma soon and if we drink a million of these a day we should be safe from malaria.
Drisdelle and I are chilling at the sidewalk table taking in yet another temple across the street when behind us we hear,”Yoohoo!” It’s the server coming through a window she’d slid open right by our table. She’s got our cocktails (woo hoo!), haha, “Is this a drive-through window? That’s awesome!”
Shortly after there’s another “Yoohoo!” and the mixed plate arrives from the sliding window. Looks like a decent spread. The sour sausage is probably the standout. Very unique taste.
Another “Yoohoo!” and our main dishes come out. Also really really good. Ratanna was a great recommendation from giggly Beam. We’re wrapping things up when I look inside and there is a Boy Scott beside our sliding window.. is he.. it looks like he’s.. twerking? Yup that Thai Boy Scout kid is twerking. Aaaaand he’s still twerking. The older server lady is dancing with him now. What the hell is happening in there? I think this may be our queue to leave. We drop some Baht inside the window and twerk back to D-Well.
Come through the front door and Beam is ready for us with a receipt, “Kobra, you are booked for 11:30. Elephant Sanctuary”, “Ahh great, Beam! Thanks”, “Here is your receipt and tickets. Show the driver in the morning.” I grab the receipt and it’s made out to ‘Kobra’. I show Drisdelle and we’re cracking up in the entrance way. “Is something wrong?” I explain to Beam that my name is not actually Kobra, that we just told Boeing we had nicknames. Beam facepalm, “Ohh but you are Kobra now. In Thailand you are Kobra.”
“Kobra what are you doing tonight?” I show Beam this:
“Yes, yes you must go. But there is a better one. Let me show you on your phone.” Beam shows us where to find the other Muay Thai ring nearby. It’s not a far walk from here. Good location here at D-Well. Seems close to most things we want to do. Looks like we’ve got an evening plan!
Back at the room we check in with hospital detective McBurger and get the low down on his ongoing ear issues. Sounds like flying into Burma is back on the table. Sweet. Alright, time to go see some kids kick the shit out of each other.