February 7-9, 2016: Miracles in Chiang Khong

Chiang Khong, a tiny little one-street border town that almost entirely serves as a sleeping point for travelers intending to cross the border into Laos the next morning, turned out to be such a pleasant and pivotal point in our travels that we decided it deserved its own post. Let me tell you why…

(Brace yourself, cus it’s story time, and we all know how long my stories can be…)

We got off the bus from Chiang Rai late in the evening on the 7th, intending to cross into Laos the next morning. Now, keep in mind that the four of us had been planning and looking forward to this reunion trip ever since we parted ways in Nepal, so for almost three months! We made our way into town and found our accommodation for the night – “The Hub Pub“, an awesome British-themed hostel run by a British man, his Thai wife, and their adorable, yet also slightly annoying, son. We settled in, intending to go have a quick dinner, followed by a free shot that was offered by the hostel, and come back early to sleep and be ready to cross the border bright and early the next day. Upon checking in, Lauren discovered that their passports were missing. Though they had their U.S. passports (both hold dual-citizenship), they came in to Thailand on their Israeli passports and a) you have to leave on the same passport you came in on and b) all Southeast Asia border crossings require you to enter their country with the same passport you left the bordering country with (I’m only going into this level of detail for any fellow travelers out there who happen to be reading this and thought it might be a useful piece of information to share, as it was news to all of us).

Anyway, after a few minutes of blankly staring at each other in horror, we dove into action. We tore through their packs and bags, all the way down to their underwear sacks and first aid kit. No passports. We called the guest house they stayed in for one night in Bangkok (which is where we assumed the passports must be, as it was where they last saw them), but the person we talked to was useless and said they wouldn’t be able to check until the cleaning lady came in the next day. If their passports were indeed there, that would mean they would have to go all the way down to Bangkok to get them, and we would only be able to reunite in Laos a few days later at the very least, which would really put a damper on our planned adventures. And as much as we were all looking forward to traveling together, neither of us was convinced that it was worth that amount of travel time and money to then only have a few remaining days together in Laos (we had only planned to be in Laos between 7-10 days).

Now, another possibility, though slim, was that the passports were at Chok Dee, our guest house in Chiang Mai, although neither Lauren nor Yoav remember giving them their passports (it was, however, very early in the morning when they arrived off the night bus and checked in) and Francy and I definitely did not give the guest house our passports. Nonetheless, we desperately tried to call them, but no one picked up. We even tried calling the neighboring guest houses to see if they could put us in touch with Chok Dee, but apparently answering phone calls isn’t a common practice among Chiang Mai guest houses.

And of course, there was the terrifying possibility that the passports were stolen or lost entirely, in which case Lauren and Yoav would have to go to the Israeli embassy in Bangkok, where they would likely be stuck for close to a week, completely putting the kibosh on our plans. We were quickly losing hope and the depression of the growing likelihood that our much anticipated days together were over was setting in. We all looked at each other, tears pooling in our eyes, knowing that we were all thinking, but neither one saying, the same exact thing: “It’s over” (I’m OBVIOUSLY over-dramatizing this, but I’m trying to tell a good story here, so stop judging and just roll with it).

Almost entirely out of moves, we grasped for one final straw in an attempt to locate the passports – a straw by the name of Kea, our amazing cooking instructor from Chiang Mai. As she had friended me on Facebook, we thought to shoot her a Facebook message to see if she could run over to our guest house and ask if they have the passports. Even though we all thought this was the least likely scenario (like I said – grasping at straws), this would have been the most favorable one as that would mean that Yoav and Lauren could leave early the next day, get the passports, and make it back to Chiang Khong that same day, thereby only delaying our trip by a day, which seemed like a minuscule sacrifice given the gravity of the situation (again, intentionally over-dramatizing here). Problem was, her Facebook name was in Thai and there was no way for me to search her without scrolling through my list of friends (and my embarrassing number of Facebook friends DEFINITELY did not permit for any form of scrolling). As we had been given a cook-book with the number of the cooking school – Smart Cook Thai Cookery School, for those who are interested – on it, we gave that number one last desperate call. They picked up! The man I spoke to (the owner, I assume) was so kind and helpful and a few minutes later, Kea sent me a Facebook message. I explained the situation and she told us to hang tight as she ran over to Chok Dee to investigate. We sat in silence, the four of us avidly staring at the computer screen. After a few minutes, a message popped up: “Tamar”, followed by the three little dots that indicate that your messaging partner is typing. We collectively held our breaths, staring at the three little dots for what seemed like an eternity. And then, another message: “The owner of guesthouse she told me have passport of Lauren and Yoav”. I can’t even begin to adequately describe the screams, shrieks, yelps, hugs and hollers that ensued. It was easily one of the most intense moments of our entire trip. Our soon-to-be shattered dreams were no longer so, and our much-anticipated Laotian shenanigans were going to take place in full force! To describe Kea as our “amazing cooking instructor” is nothing short of an understatement. She was our life-saver (OK, slight exaggeration, but again… just roll with it). Kea – there is no universe in which we can properly thank you. You are our hero.

Naturally, we had to celebrate. We immediately downed the free shot that was very much due, and followed it up with another (not free, but still very much due). We ran down to Rin Bar, the only open restaurant/bar in town, to eat and continue our celebrations. What was supposed to be a relaxed and quiet evening in an unassuming and mundane (some would say, but not us) border town turned out to be one of the most fun nights we’ve had on our trip, and Chiang Khong quickly earned a very fond and memorable place in our hearts. Read on, if you’ve even made it this far, to learn more about our Chiang Khongian adventures!

Miles walked:                              4
Miles transported:                    ~75
Miles transported for Yoav:    ~435

First things first – we had to send our love and gratitude to Kea, the best way we could:

Chiang Khong - 1

Next – dinner, more drinks, and spelling-mistakes galore:

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Followed by much, much, MUCH more drinking (with the staff, no less, who were feeding us free shots all night and getting pretty damn smashed themselves):

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After a genuinely absurd night, the oh-so noble and valiant Yoav SOMEHOW managed to get on a 6am bus to Chiang Mai, leaving the three of us to nurse our hangovers at an adorable little organic restaurant called Bamboo Mexican House, which boasted freshly-grown coffee and homemade WHEAT bread, which is SO hard to come by in Asia! The owner was an adorable hippie who can best be described as a Thai John Lennon in his long-haired, bearded days and whom was extremely proud of his restaurant and products. And he should be – the coffee and bread were some of the best I’ve had in Asia, maybe even in my entire life. Or maybe everything just tasted better due to our exceptional circumstances. Nonetheless, we came back the next morning before crossing the border to have some breakfast, coffee and buy an entire loaf of bread:

Chiang Khong - 8

We spent the rest of the day blogging and wandering around town, awaiting Yoav’s return. Found this nice little spot with a fantastic view of Laos, just a hop, skip and a jump away across the Mekong:

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After THIRTEEN hours of busses, Yoav returned, ready for another night of sweet, sweet shenanigans. Met some cool folks who were staying in our dorm, notably two Australian brothers, Cody and Mitch, who ended up joining us for the slow boat to Luang Prabang the following day. Cody is the guy in the picture holding the beer bottle and you’ll meet Mitch soon, as they will both pop up quite a few more times in the next posts 🙂

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And finally, we couldn’t part ways with Rin Bar and Chiang Khong without leaving our mark:

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Chiang Khong – I think I speak for the four of us when I say that you will forever hold a very, very dear spot in all of our hearts. We will never forget you.

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