Left a long, luxurious 5 star breakfast this morning; good coffee (for a change); Thai breakfast specialties; sun filled dining area with great views over the river and hotel grounds. Then the harsh reality of being deposited at the public bus station in Chiang Rai...
The transfer by minibus from the hotel to the bus station cost 300 baht; where as the following two hour bus ride to the border town of Chiang Khong cost 230. Needless to say we availed ourselves of the free water in the hotel minibus, Rosie pretending it was champagne in a limo.
The border river crossing was just that; no bridge; just make your way down the muddy river bank and set yourself down in a long-tail.
We got our visas for Laos at the border, then a tuk-tuk to the bus station. A noticeably poorer country showed its face, reinforced by the appearance of the 1pm public bus to Luang Namtha. Broken seats. Holes in the floor. Cracked windows. Missing bits. Long-peeling paint. Motor scooter tied up in the aisle. Front door permanently tied open. A Chinese bus destined for the scrap heap 10 years ago?
We had promised ourselves no long dangerous bus trips with the kids...was there an option? A tourist minibus? A later, better bus? Told no, and that the 2pm bus was cancelled. So (luckily your memory of things-bad dims) we opted for the 1pm bone-rattler.
They tried to get us to sit in the back. We refused based on being sure we'd all get sick.
The driver was twenty something. Thought he was driving for McLaren, but the bus thought otherwise.
He drove the lurching beast with one hand a lot of the time, with the other hand either on the horn (a lump of gaffa tape on the end of two dangling wires), or physically stopping first and second gear from jumping into neutral, or occasionally on his mobile. You had to admire his dexterity.
The hills were slow going, but the flats were flat out. The overtaking was always dubious. Fuel tankers and the like coming toward us narrowly missed. The kilometres took ages to disappear.
That moment in Ice Age replayed many times, when Sid the Sloth announces "We're gonna live! We're gonna die." Rosie loved every second; Tom tested his capacity to read on a bus to its limit.
We missed out on lunch, so quickly found ourselves at an Indian restaurant just down the road from our charming guesthouse - Thoulasith - followed by a circuit around the night markets.
We're all pretty shattered. But we're alive!
Shane, Helen, Rosie and Tom