During the process of booking a bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong, the lovely lady at the counter had informed us that the trip would take five hours.
Heading into the seventh hour, we were starting to get a little frustrated.
The eighth hour was the worst and the ninth was marginally better.
When travelling, there is always a feeling of not wanting to be angry or annoyed at any stage. How can you feel such emotions when you are far from home eating new foods and discovering stunning new landscapes?
Quite easily actually.
All it takes is unexpected hours within questionably comfortable transport that lacks any sort of lavatory service. It also doesn't help when the driver consistently reiterates that there is around an hour to go, despite you asking the same question hours apart.
I have no issues with buses, but I do prefer trains.
Actually, you know what, I do have issues with buses. They are the least ideal form of transport. First off, the leg room is always disappointing, unless you are strange enough to be happy taking the middle seat of the back row and stretching your legs down the aisle, thereby showing your inner thighs to all new arrivals.
Any air conditioning that may be available usually only has settings of 'off' and 'strong arctic blast', both of which cause you to contract a nasal issue that will persist for the remainder of your trip.
Every twist, turn and bump can be felt, almost always coming just as you are about to drift off to sleep using your jumper as a pillow against the window. And of course, buses never run on time. Because they aren't on their own tracks like trains, buses need to deal with every other commuter on the roads and do it while being the size of, well, the size of a bus.
To me, it's a bit like a toasted sandwich to a regular sandwich. If the option for toasting the bread encasing my lunch is there, why wouldn't I chose it? Why wouldn't I chose the option that makes my sandwich better?
If I have to chose the bus to get from one place to another, I can live with that. But if the option to take a train presents itself, clearly that is the track I am going to traverse.
I really don't mean to bemoan buses, I realise there are many excellent ones. Double deckers will always be cool and the night buses that shuttle you home after a night's exuberance are simply world improving. The fancy ones proper adults enjoy jaunting around Europe in look rather luxurious and the world of children's entertainment is dotted with excellently anthropomorphised versions of buses. Some of which are magic and perform important tasks.
It's just, I don't like taking the bus.
A train, a taxi, a tuk-tuk, a canoe, a camel all speak of travel and excitement to me. A bus makes me feel like I am late to work and need to make sure I have the correct change.
Once night had fallen on our outrageously long bus trip, I passed the time by questioning if the darkness made the trip more or less bearable. No one could give us a firm idea of when it would end, and so we looked out the window and hoped every landmark in the distance was the bus stop we needed. Now that it was dark, we just had to wait.
Our frustration at the ever increasing drive was partly due to what awaited us at the end. We needed to cross the border into Laos in order to be ready for our boat trip the next day. Having originally thought we would be there before dinner time, this didn't seem like a concern. Now however, it was nearer to midnight and we wondered if a border crossing would even be possible.
We also hadn't booked a night's accommodation in Laos, we'd figured we could take care of that after dinner.
So now we had no place to stay and no idea which country we would even be staying in and, perhaps most importantly, no dinner. At this rate, it seemed fairly likely we would spend the night and potentially the next fortnight on the bus.
Eventually it did end. A few minutes before midnight.
I could actually feel the different components of my legs clicking back into place as I strutted down the aisle to freedom. My knees would spend the next few days sulking down near my shins, occasionally barking with pain at the slightest movement.
Stepping into the last few minutes of a Chiang Khong evening, we collected our bags from where they had been slung by the driver and avoided talking about what we were going to do. Just as it ticked past midnight and a new day commenced, our lucked turned as though marked on a calendar. Walking towards us was a very confident looking man wearing three quarter jeans, a tight yellow t-shirt and a welcoming smile.
Addressing all of the weary passengers that had disembarked the perpetual people mover, the man made it clear that he was the owner of a local hostel and believed a few of his guests were among the group. All but two of the travellers had indeed booked a room with this man.
Unfortunately, we were the two.
The man graciously offered us a room at a reasonable rate and revealed he also had a mini-van with which to cover the distance. I explained that we instead wished to cross the border into Laos.
The response to this did not contain even a millisecond of hesitation.
'You can't do that.'
The border had been closed for hours and besides, was several kilometres away through the total blackness of the night. Next we were told the tale of a man who ignored this warning and convinced a local to drive him out to the border after midnight. The moment the man got out of his car, the local drove home, his job done. With the border well and truly closed, the man had been forced to walk all the way back into town with his tail between his legs and requests for accommodation between his lips.
We spoke of our planned boat trip and were instantly assured we would have plenty of time to make the appointment. He was even running a shuttle bus in the morning to the border we could make use of.
Evidently, we were not the first tourists to be stranded in this town. It was clear the hostel owner knew everything we were going to say and had an answer or story prepared for each point. When you have just one option presented to you, there isn't much of a decision to be made, and so we jumped into the mini-van.
It was not a long ride to the hostel, yet it still felt intrepid and adventurous due to the fact we could see nothing from the windows but the night. Being in a completely new place and totally unable to see any of it sparks the imagination in a completely unique way. I imagined wild forests just beyond the glass and the eyes of exotic creatures returning my gaze as we barrelled through the night.
Jumping out of the van, we landed right on the front steps of the hostel. A huge patio area presented itself, opening into two rooms that formed the basis of the lower level. To the left was what appeared to be a small dining and kitchen area that also doubled as a reception, and to the right was an ornate bar crammed with unknown bottles and old favourites. A row of stools allowed guests to rest at the bar, while there was also a large couch, bean bags and floor level tables for playing the various board games that lay strewn across the floorboards.
You don't always know where you will end up when you take a few risks on the journey, and you certainly don't know what time you will arrive. But if you ever find yourself sleeping in a country next door to the one you planned, and alcohol and board games are present, it's best just to sample both and worry about the boat in the morning.