We stopped in Savannakhet just for the name and to see a cool river town before hopping the border into Thailand. Since it was New Year’s Day followed by the Monday after New Year’s Day, this place was pretty dead. We were able to find enough food to survive and enough beer to keep our New Year hangovers at bay. Other than that, we enjoyed a bar that floated on the river, enough walking to keep ourselves from getting bored and ate some decent Mexican food from our guesthouse while piecing together a puzzle with a bottle of wine. (We stayed at the Pilgrim Guesthouse – highly recommend it).
The following day we took a bus a short distance across the Mekong River and into Mukdahan, Thailand. I’d just assumed that Thailand would be the easiest of our SE Asian countries. That all went out the window within 30 minutes of crossing the border. As far as border crossings go, it was smooth and simple – easy to exit Laos, quick to enter Thailand. Whether it was in honor of the late king or because they’d shot themselves in the foot with tourism when they proclaimed a month of grieving with no concerts, celebrations or large gatherings, either way entrance into Thailand was free and clear for the next month. That’s where the fun stopped. Our guesthouse was way out of town and we were quickly greeted by a pack of aggressive dogs and people that spoke zero english. I’ve never expected fluency on this trip but so far, language has been easy for the last three months. Here, it was a battle to let the manager know that we’d booked online and already paid. This required bringing in an elderly woman from town, then awkwardly letting the formerly pissed off 20 year old kiss my ass, turn on the A/C and try to find cable. We quickly realized that our outpost had neither food nor wifi and without updating McKayla’s SIM card, we were stranded 2 miles from anything. McKayla had had enough, we packed up and walked 2 miles back into town and found a hotel room.
The people in town looked at us like we were spectacles. No one seemed willing or able to help us out with basic questions. The food, the wonderful Thai food we’d heard so much about and were looking forward to was absolute shit. I was sick, not sure with what but it felt a lot like the flu. I’d fortunately lost any and all appetite but poor McKayla was zero for 7 over the course of 3 days. I attempted to join her for a meal. None of the menus had any English translation (I guess we’d been spoiled but if Cambodia can translate, and the town just across the river in Laos – so can this place), so the waiter would point to the menu. “Oh, a recommendation,” we thought. We nodded and we were then brought a plate of grizzle, fat and cartilage of a creature I know for a fact I’d never eaten before. I never thought I’d find myself saying,”I hope that was monkey meat,” but the alternatives were too disturbing to consider. It got so bad that by day 3, the 7-eleven near the train station in Ubon Ratchathani became a symbol of hope, familiarity and excitement, a fucking 7-eleven.
After 5 hours of hanging out in and around the station, McKayla finally got her train ride. She’d been looking forward to a sleeper train maybe since before we even started our trip. It seemed like she honestly enjoyed it and for that, I’m grateful. For me, it was a series of nausea waves that crested into shitting in the train toilet. It wasn’t all that bad, I got to feel the open cool air on my ass as I shat Willy Wonka’s nightmare all over Thai tracks. In all fairness, I did get about 2 hours of sleep in my well lit rattling coffin.
Fuck you, Eastern Thailand, some place had to be the worst – you win.
(We’re posting this three weeks later; a little foreshadowing but our Thailand experience did get better.)