Chiang Rai, Thailand
Mar 19, 2008
|From Huay Xai, Laos, to Chiang Mai, Thailand, by way of Chiang Rai.
The "Sometimes-the-Option-That-Originally-Appears-Most-Frivolous-Winds-Up-Being-The-Cheapest, Fastest,-and-Most-Comfortable,-but-By-Then-It's-Too-Late-And-You're-Already On-The-More-Expensive,-Slower,-and-Less-Comfortable-Option" bus ride - Nick writing
By now we feel that we are pretty confident travelers. Pretty savvy. You've got to get up pretty early in the morning, Mr. Tuk Tuk Driver, to pull one over on Nick and Kyla. Except that every now and then we're reminded that, no, you may think you know what you're doing, but on the road, you never really know, and that well-honed instincts can still be dead wrong.
We got up early at Somboun's family's house, had a traditional Laotian breakfast (VEERRRY SPIICCY!!), and headed down to the ferry to take a short long-tail boat ride to the Thai side of the border, a town called Chiang Kong. We had seen signs for a mini-bus to Chiang Mai on both sides of the border (Fast! Air-Con! 5 Hours!), but being savvy travelers, we knew that we could get a better deal by taking the local buses. "They only do that for the dumb tourists who don't know any better," we smugly thought. So instead of the 250 Baht ticket in the 5 hour minibus, which would get us there at 3:30 in the afternoon, we took a short taxi ride (20 Baht each) to the Chiang Kong - Chiang Mai bus station.
When we arrived, we were told the Chiang Mai bus doesn't leave for another 2 hours. But the Chiang Rai bus leaves in 20 minutes, and there are lots of buses we can get in CR to CM. "Every 15 minutes!" our guidebook screamed at us. So no problem. We took a 2 hour bus ride to Chiang Rai (60 Baht each) on an old bus without much cushioning - somehow I managed to fall asleep with my head against the metal bar, though. We arrived around 12:30 pm in Chiang Rai, at a busy bus station. Yup, there were buses every fifteen minutes to Chiang Mai. But they were all full until 2:45. Sorry, savvy travelers, no ticket for you for two hours!
We bit the bullet, bought the ticket (175 Baht each), and found a nice internet cafe and bakery at which to wait (we highly recommend that spot if you're stuck at the Chiang Rai bus station - they are training street youths to be servers and cooks, which is a laudable mission. However, I wouldn't plan a whole trip to Chiang Rai simply to go to the bakery. But if you're there already...). At 2:30, we wandered back over to the bus station to get on our Air-Conditioned bus to Chiang Mai.
I figured out that day that in Thailand, "Air-Conditioned" is not actually English, but a Thai word that translated loosely as "May or may not actually be air conditioned, but will definitely be without shocks or seats that remain in an upright position." The bus was stifling hot when we got on, and the sad little bit of cold air that descended from the vents was counteracted by the fact that THE HEATER WAS ALSO ON FOR SOME REASON. That poor little air conditioner didn't stand a chance. It took about half of the 3 hour ride to cool down to an acceptable level, since an A/C bus won't let you open a window.
But the problem of the heat was soon pushed aside by my problems with my seat, and the bus's problems with bumps on the road. My seat refused to remain upright - I would sit, gently, in the seat, only to have it slowly lower back, back, back, until I was almost lying in the lap of the poor person behind me. And without functioning shocks, every time the bus entered the vicinity of a tiny bump on the road, our heads were sent crashing back against the seats violently. Crack, crack, crack, went my head. Slide, slide, slide, went my seat. For just over three hours.
We arrived exhausted in Chiang Mai, and then had to do the dance of getting a tuk-tuk at a reasonable price. And that's when it dawned on us... add up the numbers yourself. 20 + 60 + 175 = 255 Baht per person for our cross-country adventure, which arrived around 6 pm in Chiang Mai, our bodies bruised and sweaty.
The minibus was 250 Baht, and got in around 3:30.
What I would love is for some other traveler to write us, and to tell us that no, they took the minibus, and it broke down constantly, or was filled with diseased chicken carcasses, or played Thai pop at about 150 DB. Because otherwise, these savvy travelers ... well, ... we got to eat at a nice bakery, right?