Pai was bit of a critical moment for me in realising that, from Bangkok onwards, we've been shoved from box to box. From cab, to tuk tuk, to minivan, to guesthouse, to bar, to club... all claustrophobic four walls, barely any open space... designed not to challenge but to comfort.
And so, being men of extremes, Mr. Furious and myself decided to hitchhike to Laos.
Oh yeah, I also only had two days left on my visa, which meant getting over half of Thailand to border town Chang Khong by that night. In a country neither of us had hitchiked in before. Yes, it was a dramatic race against time. Like '24' if it mainly consisted of two increasingly desperate-looking punks standing on dusty roadsides with their thumbs out.
Hitching is surprisingly easy in Thailand. Some people wanted money for the rides, but when we said we couldn't afford public transport most of those who stopped took pity on us. And it definitely broke us out of the claustrophobic box of the tourist trail, opening our eyes to a damned beautiful country and some extremely nice people.
There is a slightly unnerving ride with one guy. He stops, and I jump in front, and Mr. Furious in the back. The driver is slightly, how should I put this... over-friendly, what with his drunken (yes, drunken - drink driving seems something of a sport in South East Asia) strokes of my leg. He speaks okay English, and suggests that we go to his place and stay "for free". His manner suggests that he had a very liberal interpretation of the word "free". I turn to Mr. Furious - who is happily ignorant of the whole situation - and say: "I don't think this ride is going to be free". He doesn't have a clue what I mean, seeing as he can't see the occasional light petting. Mind you, I'm pretty sure he would encouraged me to take one for the team in order to get a free ride anyway.
The driver is clearly a nice guy - he isn't really that creepy (the whole picking-up-younger- men-on-roadsides-and-trying-to-bang-them-whilst-drink-driving-thing notwithstanding), and dropped us off where we needed to be dropped off. I am, however, a little shaken by the experience. If that had happened in a club, I obviously could've just gone "sorry man, not interested" and wandered off. But being in the car, with someone else in control, not able to get out... that is genuinely a bit frightening. I don't think the driver quite realised how intimidating a situation like that is to a girl like me.
Anyway, after that, some kindly gent drops us off outside a police station. Now, given my very brief history with Thai police and their reputation of being pretty corrupt, this doesn't exactly make me feel safe. However, it seems that the cops out in sticks are a bit nicer than Bangkok's finest, and help us flag down a ride with their torches. This does take some time though, and I'm amazed at the number of people who simply ignore cops trying to flag them down. And fair play to them for wanting to avoid getting involved with Thai police. I wouldn't if I had the choice. After an hour or so, a car stops, with a lovely English-speaking couple who had a lovely car which smelt lovely and had lovely seats. And then two men - who, at the best of times, probably don't wash their clothes enough - clamber in and ruin the atmosphere. Still, they are very tolerant of us, and drop us off in Chang Khong.
And so, eight rides and around nine hours later, we've made it. Boom! We then meander around trying to find a hostel, and wander into one owned by a guy called Danny. We ask him if he knows anywhere cheap to stay. The exchange goes something like this:
Me: Do you have anywhere cheap to stay?
Danny: How low can you go?
Mr. Furious: Free?
Danny: If you buy food and a few drinks here, you can sleep in the massage palour next door.
Us: Yes, that sounds great, thank you.
"If you beg for free shit, sometimes you get it" - The Bible, Chapter 674
And so we do as he says. We watch an amazingly terrible horror movie dubbed in Thai, drink, eat, barble nonsense at each other, before being shown to the massage palour.
Now, given that it's a Thai massage palour, and it's free, I presume there are be some kind of strings attached... so we wander in with some trepidation and find...
... two made up beds.
So we snuggle down for a decent night's rest in the most comfortable beds we've had so far. Danny, if you're reading this: You're our hero, and thank you.
So we wake up, buy breakfast, give our heartfelt thanks to Danny, and go to the border. We pay 40 baht to cross the Mekong River into Huay Xai, Laos by boat (when, later, we see people crossing it on foot - and that's the kind of petty revenge Thailand takes on you when it senses you've got something for free), pay $35 to be let into the country, bimble around the border town for a bit, get bored, and decide to continue our hitchike into Laos, with little to cling on to other than second-hand advice about the country and our own ever-decreasing grip on reality.
And that, my friends, is how you get to Laos, UK-crusty style.