72km Houay Xai to Meng Rai
We returned to Thailand today by crossing the Mekong in yet another rickety boat. Dodgy water transport seems to be a theme running through our travels across Cambodia and Laos but this morning’s voyage, with our bikes wedged into a narrow and wobbling vessel, should be the last of our questionable boat trips for some time. Hooray for that because it’s not an event we put in the ‘fun’ category.
It took just a couple minutes for our driver to navigate across the Mekong, about twice as long for him to find a parking place (not unlike trying to get a landing slot at Heathrow Airport with all the boats ferrying tourists back and forth) and another pause was added on at the end as he grabbed a spare board to use as a hammer to pound the end of his boat back together. Some of the planks came loose when he rammed two other boats trying to squeeze into a docking place. The locals take this in their stride as just an everyday event, which it probably is. We, on the other hand, are always fearing the disappearance of our bikes and all our possessions into the water and a surprise swimming lesson.
Normal immigration frustrations aside – long queues, no entry forms available, little shade – our arrival in Thailand was a joyous occasion. Much though we enjoyed individual parts of Laos and Cambodia, the difficulty of finding good food in rural areas was dragging on us, as was the need to ask ‘how much is it?’ before every purchase. Thailand is much more straight forward in both cases. The food is fantastic no matter what tiny village you’re in and the prices are always fair. The one thing we did miss on our return to Thailand were the children. There will be no more cries of ‘sabaydee’ from the roadside as all the kids are in school. A good thing for them but it makes our riding much less interesting.
After a quick stop at the post office to ship home a few souvenirs, we were on our way, through flat farmland with rice fields on all sides, towards the ancient Thai city of Chiang Rai. We only made it about halfway by late afternoon, when we began the task of looking for a hotel in the town of Meng Rai. Honestly, it looked like a dire spot to spend the night at first glance and we weren’t hopeful of finding much more than a hovel. We asked the lady in a local cafe if she knew of a hotel, which prompted a long answer in Thai. Of course we didn’t understand a word except ‘police’ and we noticed she was pointing towards a small police kiosk across the road. We were confused but followed her advice and repeated our request to the first officer we saw. In seconds he pulled out a brochure and was calling the local hotel to come pick us up. An elderly couple soon arrived and showed us the way to their resort, three little chalets down a quiet lane, each with their own bathroom, balcony and garden.
The most pleasant evening in a long time followed. We relaxed outside, made ourselves iced coffee with the ice bucket the owners thoughtfully gave us, did our laundry, cooked a great meal and watched the chickens run around under a setting sun. Sometimes you find a little slice of heaven in the most unlikely spots.