Unfortunately, I’m waking up on my last day in Chiang Mai with a bit of a hang over. I wasn’t drunk, but I haven’t been drinking much here except for the extremely light beer in Laos that the people like to drink with ice, so it actually hydrates me faster than anything else. Last night the beer wasn’t as light and the bartender would have probably kicked me out if I even mentioned the word ice. No problem though, I get ready and leave my room at about 8 to get some breakfast by the river, which is on the other side of my guest house from the old city. I broke my own rule and did some research on this one. My flight isn’t until the afternoon, but I’m always a little tenser on flight days, or at least that’s my excuse. I think it comes from flying through LAX. I take the road in the other direction and after a few minutes find an assortment of different bars, that look all the same as what I was trying to find yesterday, except these are literally a block away. Although, probably also not as interesting as the one I went to last night. On my way across the bridge before I get over the water, I’m just at the place where the land meets the water, where all the runoff from the city is most concentrated. The smell is so bad I practically run to the middle, where I stop to try and take everything in, but mostly to recover so I don’t pass out and fall off the plank.
Those thick bushes that are growing in what looks like a line or path is where the runoff is going. It smells bad, but I’m glad to see that something is enjoying. Isn’t nature wonderful though? It baffles me that something can actually eat and live off what makes me dizzy it smells so bad.
To my right is a hazy, smelly, dirty, piece of what once was probably a quite beautiful part of the city. But, I do catch a guy leaving on his boat, which will hopefully make the scene a bit more beautiful.
Aren’t I in a good mood today? Everything is juuust peachy. Apparently the beer not only gave me a hangover, but also turned me into a grouchy old man. The café I’m going to is actually directly across the river from those boats and other commotion a bit up on the right hand side of this picture.
I look to the other side hoping that I just started looking at the uglier side of the bridge…
Oh gosh a colossal building (for this area certainly) and what looks like more pollution eating mutant plants in the middle of the river, I turn and quickly walk to the other side before the vegetation or pollution begins eating me while I’ve been standing still for so long. On my way to the other side, a white guy on his bike yells to me that he hopes I got the picture of the guy in the boat. I chuckle uncomfortably and agree as I try not to show my horror of what this big city has done to the river. Can you tell I’m not a city person?
I get to the café and instead of them having the normal selection of morning-baked goods; they have a bunch of dessert. I pick what looks closest to a chocolate muffin, which isn’t anywhere near my first choice, but will do this morning. He brings it to me after heating it up and when I go to fork off a bite hot melty chocolate comes out of the center. Now, that’s what I call the breakfast of champions. It’ll go splendidly with my hangover. Either the crash from the sugar high, the sleep deprived hangover, or the smell of the pollution will certainly claim me on the way back over the bridge.
I make my way back over and to the guesthouse. On my way actually I see that big drunk German guy from last night at the bar riding by on his motorbike and laugh to myself. I walk around a bit to see some areas I haven’t seen and to get some exercise to override all that I just did to my body. After a few hours I head back to my guesthouse and pack everything up. I tell the people at the front I want to go to the airport and they tell me they’ll have someone ready when I get back. I don’t know if they’re really nice or just like me because I was speaking Lao with them, but I’m very happy with the whole experience there. I make my way back to hooker alley and get a nice greasy burger and a milkshake. Now that’s what I’m talking about. Hey if I made it through the sugar, hangover, mutant-plant-eating bridge, a little greasy artery cloggage is a piece of cake. Okay, maybe a bad idiom to use here.
I tell the guesthouse people I’d be back by 12, but I’m on Lao time, I mean Thai time, or whatever time it is, it’s going to be closer to 1. I calculated my time though and even with some delays, I still have a few hours to spare in the airport.
Back at the guesthouse they call the car and the guy pulls up in a really nice SUV. I greet the driver in Thao. Well, it’s certainly not Thai and not quite Lao, so I’m now making my own language up here. I get in the driver’s seat, but since everything is backwards in Thailand, I’m not behind the wheel and we’re definitely on the scarier side of the road. I keep cringing as he’s driving down the road, so I strike up a conversation. He seems to be able to understand my Thao, but when he responds, I can’t understand a word he’s saying. It makes sense because I have a small grasp on Lao, not good enough to hear the slight difference in Thai and be able to convert everything over as he talks at the same speed he would with any of his buddies. I just keep saying uh huh, uh huh and then when I hear the same thing repeated, I try to then repeat it again and somehow work to something that might sound like an answer. It’s so much easier to listen to a foreign language when I’m surrounded by fruity baked good and talking to an attractive woman. I’m going back to the bakery!
It takes about 30 minutes and then we’re at the airport and everything goes very smoothly. The airports here are so easy. I get through and have a few hours to mill around and check out the stores. Nothing is interesting so I sit down and read a little bit. Time flies and then I’m on board, sitting in the very first row of the plane. My headache is gone, but now my stomach is not feeling so well from eating so much, not too mention it was all grease and milk shake, oh and I forgot about the molten chocolate kickstarter to my morning. A guy sits next to me and asks me if I’m from Australia, in an Australian accent. Either this guy is playing a joke on me or he stood on that bridge too long. I look about as Australian as my left foot. I politely tell him, hell no, I’m from ‘Merica. Then it makes a bit more sense when he says that he wasn’t sure because of my blue passport. He still has a long way to earn those point back in my book. We keep talking and he finds out that I’m staying in Laos and know a bit of the language. Then, I try and teach him some of the basic phrases. The flight attendant is sitting at the front literally facing us, so when she hears that I’m speaking Lao, there’s a whole new conversation started. Except this conversation is going on as we’re gaining altitude, so I can only hear the loud roaring of the plane and hopelessly try to read her lips. I finally tell her that I can’t hear well and then we stop talking for a bit and the guy next to me starts again wanting to find out more about what to do in Laos. I go through the whole schpiel that I learned from when mom visited and then before we know it we’re descending for landing. It’s only about a 1 hour flight, so I’m now getting excited to getting back and rest before going back to work tomorrow.
Off the plane the Australian and I keep talking until we get to the Visa line and then the couple behind us, from Canada, join in on the conversation. They ask me a lot of questions about the visa process and then things about Laos in general. Their questions are a lot less like the standard questions from people in their 20’s and a little more about culture and things I can answer a bit better. Their still questions that numb my mind a bit, like “are Lao people nice?” Then, the Russians in front of us join in on the conversation to ask more questions, which of course at this point are all directed to me. I feel like I’m the Foreign Ambassador of Laos. Does this qualify to be put on my resume? It’s great to distract me from the big line, but terrible for my ego because my head is so big I’m starting to float off the ground. Oh wait, my head has always been that big, okay it must just have been some gas from the burger.
We get through the line with no problem, with only a few suspicious questions from immigration. Technically, I need a whole different visa if I’m working here, so I’m just a “tourist”. I did the same in Ghana for 10 months, so I’m used to this dance by now. Once they start asking me questions out of suspicion, I just speak their language and talk about how their country and women are so beautiful that I have to keep coming back. Since most of the immigration workers, I’ve ever run into, are men, it seems to go over well and end with some laughs. Through the immigration I tell all my new friends good luck and then go out front to meet our PoP driver. Ai Mai is there, but this time only has his motorbike, instead of normally taking me in our company van. I could really care less what I ride in, I’m just glad that my company helps me so much with affording the visa process. In Ghana I paid for it all on my own, which was technically free because I have a five year multi entry visa into Ghana, so it just turned into a vacation to the surrounding countries, which I would have gladly paid for anyway. The visa here is just under $40 every time I enter, so I’m grateful for the help.
Ai Mai is one of the most responsible men at our office and I think is largely the reason he’s been put in charge of our vehicles and the safety of our staff on the sometimes-dangerous roads. However, on this ride back, someone is stopped in front of us and we slow down as we pass to see a dog that ran out into the street in front of the person’s motorbike and is now stuck in the middle of the motor bike, where it tried to pass the person’s feet. I’m not sure I can even explain this well enough to give it the justice of how weird everything is right now. Everyone on the road is looking at this strange sight and we swerve to the left a bit as someone tries and passes us, now three people across and we almost run into them. We’re only going about 15 miles an hour, but I’m glad we didn’t crash because that would have been unfortunate for Ai Mai’s bike and not at all fun with my backpack on.
Anyway, I’m back at my guesthouse safely and exhausted from all the walking and adventures. I quickly unpack and pass out, getting ready for the week ahead.