Today was our last day in Laos a place which we really have taken to our hearts, the country is just so very beautiful and the people so very charming too. We started off with a very nice breakfast or at least part of it anyhow and then it was all just a blur of travel, travel, travel. The reason our meal was cut so short was due to fact that our Tuk Tuk ‘taxi’ had arrived to pick us up earlier than expected to take us to the bus station. So it was all a bit more of a hurried departure from our hotel than we would have ideally liked before we bundled ourselves onto the Tuk Tuk, our backpacks thrown up on top and then we set off on the longish drive out to the bus terminal.
As travelling in SE Asia invariably does, it all seemed very chaotic but once we were at the bus station we were then shown onto one of the local busses which seemed comfortable enough – not air conditioned exactly, more reconditioned – but it did have windows that you could open, so bit of a plus really.
Once again the drive was simply beautiful, possibly the best we had had in Laos, through the lush green mountains and past the many villages of wooden ramshackle houses many standing on stilts. Best of all though were the people, really beautiful types – old wrinkled women smoking long thin Asian pipes, young kids lugging around huge bags or playing games using just their flip flops and, strangely enough in one village we observed a group of guys wandering around with rolls of lino on their shoulders. I kept expecting to see a linoleum wagon broken down or crashed in a ditch and these guys perhaps relieving the driver of his load!
Laos is a country that I have really enjoyed and for a lot of reasons too, the simple joy and beauty of seeing so very many different shades and hues of green – it all just makes seeing the colour green on anything manmade seem really quite pointless. So it was with something of a heavy heart that we reached the buildings of the border crossing and jumped aboard the little border shuttle bus for one last trip over the Mekong saying Goodbye to it for perhaps one very last time. I suppose that if a person can have a favourite river then for me perhaps the Mekong is it, it just seems to have been an ever present companion during our Salmon-like travelling upstream from our starting point in another lovely country – Vietnam, through Cambodia and Thailand to Laos and now back over on our return to Thailand and our next resting place Chiang Rai.
First though, after crossing the border, we had to get a Tuk Tuk in order to take us to the bus stop to get one of the local busses to Chiang Rai and as the roads in affluent Thailand are of an altogether different standard, we would hopefully have the chance to grab a bit of shuteye along the way as well. Upon boarding the bus though we started off too strangely for us to start napping. We appeared to be going along at a snail’s pace, we had encountered this style of bus behaviour before in Thailand at Nakhon Ratchasima, it jogs along at snail’s pace in the hope that any snails with money, or any other possible fares can jump aboard as we go along, quite entertaining in its own way.
As we neared the end of the town we finally picked up a bit of speed or perhaps we had just hit a bit of a downhill section but at last, entertainment over we were able to settle down and grab ourselves some zzz’s. The journey turned out to be a good couple of hours so after a bit of napping, we each had our own double seat, then we could also settle back and watch Northern Thailand pass by through the bus window. It is more flat and cultivated than it’s neighbour across the Mekong, Laos and here you can see signs of industry along the way, it was a nice enough journey though and before we knew it we reached our destination.
The bus station we were dropped at was a hustling bustling affair but soon enough we managed to get hold of a tuk tuk driver who, it turned out knew very little about his own town and although we knew our hotel was on a main road, he did not know where this main road was and he even had to stop and ask the way a couple of times. Possibly all a bit of a rouse and subterfuge but he genuinely did look confused did the old lad!
When we got there our hotel was comfortable enough and the staff really friendly and our room was nice (and quite brightly) decorated so we soon enough unpacked and went off mixing it in Chiang Rai proper. Not too far from our hotel was the town’s ‘walking street’, a road shut off from traffic for the night and set up with stalls selling almost anything really, it was a great place for a spot of casual meandering and people watching! We kept a lookout for some bargain clothes but the smell of the foods was just too great so we stopped to buy some, at one stall we were even given some fruit to eat whilst waiting for our dishes to be cooked, it was that kind of friendly place. We ambled along taking in the atmosphere and as we passed a big open area which had a stage we saw a whole load of Thais indulging in some communal line dancing to songs coming from the live band on the stage – amazing! It was all ages too, from Grandmas and Grandpas having a spot of exercise to the very youngest being zipped round by their mum and dads in pushchairs, and giggling away or just looking confused by the whole affair! Whilst we watched I had more chicken – the veggie week in Laos that I had recently ‘suffered’ was taking a lot (of meat) to get over, carnivore that I am!
We had finally had enough and it appeared the stall holders had too as many were starting to wrap up for the night so we continued our wanderings. We walked on past a new clock tower in the centre of a busy roundabout which looked quite impressive and onwards towards the drinking area of town where the bars there were a bit less than impressive!
After a bit of research and trial and error (lol) we ended up at a bar with the required ambience and price of drinks and got listening to some good ‘sounds’ and having a bit of a natter when we were joined by a guy looking and sounding a bit worse for wear. It turned out, or so he said, that he was a teacher and he started talking Thai to Liz and her amazing ‘translatophone’. Something loosely resembling a conversation then took place whereupon Liz found out more about the man and his family and as the night wore on he even offered to drive us to our hotel. Due to his somewhat shambolic state we decided against this course of action before we were all told that the bar was closing, even then he wanted to take us round his house for a last drink which we did decline but we did say that we would meet him tomorrow before wending our way back home. Very nice people the Thais!