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At the risk of inserting a spoiler at this point, my yoga friend’s Berlin Welcome Card didn’t serve as a lifeline when she was robbed — of her passport, credit cards, debit card and entire stash of cash — the first time she used it. Embarrassing as it is to admit, it was ‘streetwise’ and travel-wise me who fell prey to pickpockets. On the ‘up’ side, getting back on track was not the train-smash I imagined it might be.
I sign up for the free two-and-a-half hour Doha bus tour; the 4pm run. The 100-year-old market is the highlight. The women encouraging us to try spoons of their brayani and other cooked food offerings — in heat that could probably melt my Crocs if I left them out for half an hour. Offering me tissues to dab at my face. Alarmed that I am sweating because they don’t seem to.
The text messages about the bomb blasts come after I conclude that this dry whiter-than-white unbuttered bread with a couple of withered brown tears of lettuce and about eight minute slices of what I presume is chicken and a dry small roll and a wizened small citrus fruit of indistinguishable nature must be the worst brekker ever served in food-loving Thailand. Thanks Nai Yang Beach Resort.
“Mam” comes out and we chat. I ask her why she’s so busy when the others are empty. “I’ve been here a long time,” she says. She’s refined. Warm. Probably 50. I tell her I want a good strong Thai massage and had a bad one yesterday. She goes inside. Chats to someone. Comes back out…
In the morning I read in my Lonely Planet that Nai Yang Beach is exceptional and part of Sirinat National Park. It is 15 minutes from the airport, but no plane noises to be heard. To quote: “This is one of the sweetest slices of the island.” Lucky me!
My outsize shibori scarf is the most useful item in my luggage. You can use it to cover your shoulders at the Big Buddha temple in Koh Samui, sit on it on grubby bus seats, keep the sun off your arms and shoulders with it, don it in the evening to add a touch of elegance, dry yourself with it, wipe your hands on it when you’ve eaten, use to to keep you warm when the breeze comes up of an evening and lots more.
In Laos on the Mekong slow boat to Pakbeng, there’s a boy of maybe eight. His mom makes sure he has an afternoon nap and later, it is he who helps his dad with the landings. This is their life. Their business. Their survival strategy. We are passing through, each of us on our own paths, living our lives; ours dissecting theirs for this brief intersection of time. The engine putters. We pass inpenatrable jungle and hide-away settlements.
We leave Chiang Khong for the Laos border crossing. By the time we get on the tuc-tuc buses, backpacks on the roof, a little group of three French women journos, a Japanese man who will join me for buffalo for dinner at the Pakbeng overnight stop, a French pair, a Dutch pair, an Australian couple, a Mexican man and myself have all done some bonding.
Snap some shots at a Chiang Rai flower market. Head back to pick up bags from The North hotel. Then 90 seconds to the Chiang Rai bus depot. A red bus this time. Local “milk train” bus. Three tiny ceiling fans. I head for the long back seat so I can put my backpacks in the large open area between me and the regular double row of double seats.
Many people travel with someone who is not fun to be with because they feel they cannot travel alone. And many people don’t travel because they don’t have the right (or wrong) person to travel with.
And that’s a real shame…