I booked a bus through Wandering Star again from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. It cost 300 baht and that was for a minivan with aircon. I got lucky with a seat close to the front, a motion sickness tablet and a bit of meditation and the road was fine. We stopped at the white temple on the way into town it is called Wat Song Khun and it is pretty magnificent. It’s a modern temple designed by architect Chalermchai Kositpipat and construction started in 1996. Unconventional and really ornate. Worth a stop off, even if it is just to see the outside. Really hard to get a shot that didn’t include a tonne of tourists though!
Shared a tuk tuk into town from the bus stand 2 with two Canadian girls. It cost us 50 baht each to my hotel, around a 15 minute drive. I treated myself with Pimann Inn Hotel with a pool and my own massive bed for a couple of nights. It was nice, if a little empty. No backpackers here and the staff weren’t that friendly.
My friend Nootcha came and picked me up. She and I went to college together in Edinburgh. It had been 4 years and was really lovely to see her. She has been through an awful lot since we last met and she is now Boss Lady at The Wanderer, her family’s business, more on that later! We drove into town and stopped for food across from the clock tower in the centre of town. It was designed by the same architect that did the white temple and you can see the similarities. It is lit in all sorts of colours and usually it plays music but it didn’t for whatever reason that night. Sitting on the street at her friend’s place we had seafood pad thai and awesome tiny chicken wings. Then we walked around the night market and Nootcha bought clothes for some weddings she had coming up. Home for an early bed as I had catch a cold and she arranged to pick me up in the morning.
Nootcha took me to The Wanderer for the day. It is tucked away on the other side of town on her family’s land. A beautiful cafe in a gorgeous jungle garden. She treated me to lunch and hot lemon and honey. We had a garden salad, with imported cheese and pomegranate which was a delicious change to the usual Thai fare I’d been having. A chicken panini with melted cheese and I had a heartwarming chicken soup which was filling and certainly worked at shifted my cold! She set me up in a glassroom to crack on with some work I had been putting off. Nootcha worked, I met her baby nephew and her husky, beautiful Mercy. Her staff were so polite and attentive and I powered through a lot of stuff with a crumble topped muffin.
Dinner that evening at The Wanderer with Nootcha and Pinky, her friend. We had beef massaman curry with and thick, traditional green curry with black rice and sticky rice and spicy Thai chicken salad. Then Nootcha brûléed a couple of crème brûlées for us and we shared them with a caramel, macadamia cheesecake. Wow!
Then we headed into town as Nootcha had decided we were to get our tarot cards read by a local woman she knew. I was very sceptical and a little apprehensive as to what she might tell me about my future! She asked me what I do, translated by Nootcha, what am I doing now? Puzzled as those are different questions I replied that I am a designer. There are 3 draws of the cards, the first tells of my current situation, the second of my future and the third sums me up. She had asked whilst Pinky was getting her cards read where I was from.
I pulled The Magician and she said I make my own way in life. I am my own boss. I also pulled The World and she said that I’d make my money from a lot of different places. Most of the points were around my job. The Empress symbolises my eventual success, that I’m going to be a rich old lady. Yet I squander my money, some how I manage to save for a good pension and I need to plan for the future. I am also secure in myself and I’ve recently let go and sacrificed a lot. She said I am clear in my own values but I am figuring out my path in life.
She said I am with someone or have met someone recently who I will love and there will be a relationship there. I’ve not to worry about it. But a card that was a heart with three daggers through it means either I need to start looking after my heart and not to hesitate to seek medical attention if I get tired; I later asked her if I should be imminently worried about my health and she said no. Or it means I will be torn between two people but not to worry as I’ll be in a relationship.
She said I will settle in another land.
I paid my 200 baht as she told storied of how she doesn’t make much of a profit from this work. It is good karma to use the money to help others. Just now she was building a house for some girls. She told a story of how other clients that were wealthy tried to trick her by coming to her looking poor. The cards kept reading there was wealth in their lives. I remain unchanged and certain I’ll continue on my path regardless.
The next couple of days I mainly worked. Chiang Rai is a quiet place now but the remnants of tourism are clear to see. Lots of bars and massage parlours, perhaps Pai is the furthest north people head nowadays. Nootcha said in the last 4 years or so things have definitely died down. Pai must be too irresistible with a magnetism that people can’t avoid.
A few too many of these guys around.
On Saturday morning I was up bright and early and Nootcha picked me up from my hostel, which was really great! Ann Hostel. Met some cool people in there I was to meet up with later on. Super cheap and coffee and bananas in the morning! Also beds were comfortable and the whole place was really clean!
We headed to the Chiang Khong border crossing and I got stamped out, exchanged my Baht for Kip and hopped on a bus across the Friendship Bridge with a load of French and Chinese pensioners. At immigration on the Laos side I couldn’t get any money from the ATM. A problem an American guy I met had also had. The form was easy to fill in and you don’t need all the information. I had no place to stay and wasn’t sure whether I’d be jumping on the boat that day or the next.
As it was a Saturday and maybe as my luck would have it, there was a woman selling the 2 day slow boat at the desk. The group, all marked with stickers had prebooked from elsewhere and I managed to get a spot with them. They jumped in tuk tuks as I waited for my visa and passport. $36 (processing fee of a dollar for a Saturday apparently!) and she took me on her bike to meet the rest. Stocking up on a baguette, crisps and beer for the boat, I exchanged some dollars I had to get 300,000 Kip for the boat and we headed to the river!