I woke up same time, same place, same intention, nothing different, just another day.
But Holy Mother of God, today was all sorts of wacky. Not the sort of wacky that puts you in an animal hospital with a missing nipple, but rather the sort that reminds you that this is one crazy world.
I caught a songthaew (shared taxi) to Chiang Mai airport to catch a plane to Udon Thani, an intermediate stop on the way to Laos for a visa run. For those unacquainted, a visa run is a quick trip over a border to renew a visa. In Thailand, you’re given a 30-day visa exemption on arrival. But if you want to stay longer, you head to a different country to apply for a proper visa, which typically gives 2 months for 2 separate entries.
The Great Burger King Rip-Off
Anyway, I was early to the airport. I sat down at Burger King, of all godforsaken places, to leach their Internet and get some work done. I nonchalantly ordered a croissant and was given a bill for 199 Baht (more than 6 dollars). “You’re kidding me right?” At least that’s what my eyes said. My mouth said, “Uhhh, okay, thanks”.
I went through the typical BS at the airport gate, walked onto the airport tarmac, got aboard a transfer bus, presumably because our BEAST of a plane was too goddamn big to fit in the terminal, and headed off into the deep concrete yonder.
Dare I Say ‘Duck’?
Ohhhhhhh my… what is… are you… can we actually… give it to me straight, is that what we’re flying in?
You wouldn’t believe it, you really wouldn’t. The nose of our plane was painted to look like a big yellow duckbill. And the rest of the plane was pink. Yep, our plane was a gigantic pink duck. Just the sight of the plane made me wish I had bought Travel Insurance.
Sure, funky idea, maybe on a big safe Qantas jet. But this was Nok Air (yep, that’s an airline), and the plane was a turbo prop (not a jet) resembling a mid-sized family car. If I wasn’t already worried about flying in a Nok Air matchbox, the bright pink duck regalia certainly did the trick.
The day had hardly started and already I was losing my mind.
Umbrellas? For Me?
I headed out the door of the bus and you wouldn’t believe it. One of the air hostesses offered me a big yellow parasol. You know, an umbrella-like-thing to protect you from the sun. I was barely 20 meters from the gigantic pink duck and here they were concerned about my 20-second exposure to the sun.
“Please tell me these are jet-propelled so I can return to planet Earth.”
I’ve done my fair share of turbo-prop travel and I love it. Especially when you hit turbulence and everything goes everywhere. I normally eat and drink at the speed of light, so I’m finished long before we hit the bumps. That means I get to watch those people (who stir their coffees so meticulously they drive the rest of us mad) subsequently lose their coffees, first suspended in the air as the plane drops, then BAM!, all over their laps as the plane grips cloud. Did I tell you I have a black sense of humour?
But the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and the flight was smoother than good beer on tap. Nok Air did a commendable job of steering the pink duck safely to Udon Thani. Thank God.
New Chapter, Take Me To My Limousine
I jumped off, headed into the Udon Thani terminal, looked around, saw a sign for Limousines, but kept looking for a cheap bus to the Laos border. After a couple minutes of searching, I found that the Limousines were, in fact, cheap buses. Of course. I jumped aboard the ‘limousine’ and without a single other passenger, the driver, me, and the 20-seat mini-bus headed to the Friendship bridge. I just hoped ‘Friendship’ wasn’t as ironic as ‘limousine’.
One Foot in Front of the Other
I checked out of Thailand without a hitch and bought a ticket for another ‘limousine’ to the Lao entry point. “Come on lady, one foot in front of the other, keep it going”. We were the first two passengers and she just would NOT get on. She kept looking around; first at the driver, then into thin air, then at me. My mouth said “Hello :)”, but my eyes said “Move it or lose it woman!”
She took a huge step over something and jumped into a seat. “Uh oh, what’s going on here.” She’d just stepped over a large plastic barrel filled with live fish. That’s right, fish in a goddamn barrel. But that wasn’t the only one. These barrels were strewn all down the aisle and in most of the seats. I looked around, just like the lady did, but like her, my request for divine intervention went unanswered, so I jumped over the barrels too.
We could barely fit 5 people on the entire bus, no joke.
Putt Putt, Splash!
The bus pulled out very slowly; we hardly wanted the fish to go everywhere. But of course they started thrashing around and spraying godawful fish-juice all over us.
These barrels were FULL of fish, so the water wasn’t clear like the Great Barrier Reef, it was nasty and green and smelt like death. And it was now splashing into the corners of my mouth and all over the place. The splattering ‘limousine’ and barrels of fish both continued, “Putt putt, Splash! Putt putt, Splash!”
Uh oh, We Have a Live One
As we picked up some speed, a lady from outside grabbed the door handle and swung onto the bus with a big smile. Passenger number 6. She wasn’t having any of this bus-full-of-fish business; she had somewhere to be and she didn’t mind riding with our gill-featured friends.
As we spluttered towards the first tollbooth a van pulled up alongside. Now, I’m not sure if the lady in the door knew these people, but in retrospect, it wouldn’t matter anyway, she was certifiably nuts.
Look People! I Caught One!
She reached down, untied one of the nets that covered the fish in one barrel, grabbed one of the poor bastards around its gills, and waved it at the van like Michael Jackson dangling his baby over a railing. She looked around to the rest of the bus laughing so hard she could barely see. She was swinging on the pole, half out the door, a fish in one hand, and in complete hysterics. It goes with out saying, I completely lost it too.
Dissatisfied with her luke-warm reception (from everyone but me; I was still bent over in hysterical agony), she decided to take it one step further. For a split second, I could see her eyes scanning the bus looking for something to up the level of pure madness. In my books she’d already achieved comedic greatness, but alas.
Now You See It…
Before I could compute her plan, she opened her handbag, scanned the contents, dropped the fish in it, then closed it up. She opened her arms, still looking at the van next to us in the tollbooth, silently exclaiming, “Now you see it! Now you don’t!”
She flicked around to look at us and burst into hysterics again. This time with an evil tone, “Muahhh Ha Ha Ha Ha.”
She flicked back to look at the van, opened her purse, mouth ajar with the most surprised shock, “Holy ?*#&!!! There’s a fish in my handbag!” I was madly laughing at her, she was madly laughing at me, and it was a real riot, it really was.
The fish was flapping around not knowing what the heck was going on, but if I were the fish, I’d be glad to be out of the godawful green fish water, I really would. But now the fish water didn’t even matter. What mattered was that this behaviour was highly inappropriate.
You Are Both Clearly Deranged
I took one deep breath, before hypoxia set in, and turned to my fellow passengers, expecting them to be in hysterics too.
Instead, they were all completely aghast. Not in a good way either. I went into recovery mode and quickly tried to blend my laughing with the sound of the bus engine. I also adopted a face of complete disgust too, since that was the order of the day. But I just couldn’t hold it. Out of respect for the deranged woman, and a visceral black humour that even I don’t understand, I laughed even harder.
I Love Laos Already
The driver finally looked around and said something in Lao that made her put the fish back. We both took another deep breath and held on tight to the hysterics. I thought I’d fractured a rib, I really did.
We alighted the bus, I zipped through the Lao border, and caught a taxi playing old 1980’s love ballads. Man, what an anti-climax. I thought back to the big pink duck, the matching yellow parasols, the fish in the handbag, the passengers aghast, the love ballads, and I just couldn’t help shaking my head with the biggest smile.
Laos already rocks.