• 23 . 02 . 11
  • In which we travel from Chiang Mai to Thaton in a mosquito enclosure on wheels and see some of the beautiful northern Thai countryside.

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On The Road Again

Our next major destination is Luang Prabang in Laos. Rather than spending hundreds (of dollars, not baht!) to be flown there, we’ve chosen to take a scenic overland route. This morning saw us taking the bus to Thaton, a sleepy town in northern Thailand on the Mae Kok River, near the Myanmar border. From here, we will take a boat to Chiang Rai, a bus to Chiang Kong and cross the border into Laos at Huay Xai (apparently pronounced Way Sai).

None of the options to go down the Mae Kong from there were particularly appealing. The choice boiled down to risking life and limb on a speedboat that gives preference to Thai travellers, a 2 day public slow boat sure to be overloaded with no guarantee of a seat, or a private slow boat that would take longer and cost more than flying. Instead, we’re heading north again to Luang Namtha, then east to Nong Khiaw, from where we will take a shorter, more scenic, less busy boat down the Nam Ou. Having no firm timeframe also allows us to stay a couple of nights in a few places if we like the look of things.

The journey is just as important as the destination after all.

Outside of the major municipalities, Thailand is even more beautiful, with small towns linked by narrow highways that snake through mountains, rivers, jungles and paddy fields. There are still occasional signs for international brands, the familiarity of which is simultaneously depressing and reassuring. In Chiang Dao, we passed a local parade complete with marching bands, what I assume are local women’s groups, and, this being Asia, the obligatory giant furry mascots. As it passed 9am, the temperature heated up considerably, and my jeans, such a good idea at 6am, began to stick to the vinyl seats. We weren’t on an air-conditioned bus, and I’m not sure just how hot it needed to be in order to turn the fans on, but we clearly didn’t meet the threshold. Two things to remember for bus trips in Asia: short clothes and mosquito repellent. Why can insects always, always find a way into enclosed spaces, but never find a way out? Surely the probability of entering a small space from a larger one is much smaller than the reverse?

We gave up playing King after the hundredth picture of him, just 20km outside Chiang Mai. I do wonder what the Thai people will do if and when he passes away. (I say if, because he’s basically deified here so there’s an outside chance he’s immortal.) Will they replace all the current pictures of him? Notwithstanding the fact that the labour involved in removing them and making new ones could easily power an economic boom for Thailand (I imagine that the print shops alone would add a couple of points to GDP), it’s hard to see the Thai people revering his son and heir the way they do him. From what I understand, he’s unpopular, has been implicated in a few scandals and is closely identified with the yellow shirt movement, which few of the working class support.

Finally, a new driving insight: For a particularly egregious breach of the rules, (and given that speeding, undertaking, near-misses and running red lights seem permissible, it must have been approaching a crime against humanity), the police can and do stop offenders and issue tickets. The term pull over seems inappropriate though, as in the one case I’ve seen it happen, the ticket was issued to a car the policeman had ordered to stop in the middle of a three lane highway.

I hope there’s less traffic on the river.