After a good nights sleep at the hip, chic and new Sleeping Well Hostel - an $18 dollar room, (just a shoe box), we had a leisurely start to the day, enjoyed a delicious and Western breakfast and it was then time to head off to catch the bus to Chiang Rai.
We had established the night before, that there is a bus departing for Chiang Rai every 30 minutes, so we knew that time was not important. Our hostel host had told us the night before, that he could take us to the bus station in his car for 30TBH each, so we thought this would be a good option.
I lug our bags down the flight of stairs and we hand in the key, but our host was no where to be found. We eventually track down his wife and she told us that he had gone to another town, so no problem we will just flag down a tuk tuk.
We sat and waited while our guest house lady tried in vain to flag down a tuk tuk, but wouldn't you know it, not a one in sight, this is clearly not Cambodia I commented to Mrs Wombat. Eventually a run down old tuk tuk, with an equally run down old driver, turns up. Mrs Hostel lady tells him where we want to go and we load the bags and ourselves into this rickety old tuk tuk. The driver asked if we were going to Chiang Rai? We said yes, but then I qualified this by adding- 'the bus station', just in case he thought he was taking us the 2 and a half hours in his tuk tuk, all the way to Chiang Rai. Don't laugh, it happens! He nods enthusiastically and says 'yes yes' .
We arrived at the bus station, (using this term loosely), as it doesn't look like a bus station and he pulled up behind an old, red, dilapidated bus that looked almost as old as me. Horrified, I explained that this bus is not the correct bus, but our wizened driver assured us that we would soon be Chiang Rai bound aboard this death trap. The bus conductor lady, who turned out to be our 'hostess with the mostest,' also assured us this was the correct bus. In frustration we tried to explain that the Green Bus was the one we wanted. The Green Bus CO. has a good reputation for safety and nice, large, air conditioned coaches, which is what we were expecting, sadly this was not to be.
A very nice lady from a local market stall came around to talk with us, seeing the confusion on our faces and hearing the conversation, she explained that the Green bus was Express to Chiang Mai, and it had already left, so it looks like the old red one it is ..... I asked Mrs Wombat if she was happy to travel on this bus, she took one look at the sad and rusting old vehicle, had a good look, rolled her eyes, there was a lot of muttering and cursing, but with no other choice, we unloaded our bags from the tuk tuk.
I asked the tuk tuk driver how much we owed him and he said- '100 baht'. He has ripped us off, the cheeky devil, but as we didn't establish the cost first, have no where to go. Of course we should have known better! I paid him, we load our bags into the back of the bus beside the engine and pull up a seat next to the back door.
We settle on the back seat of the bus, back packs on the floor and spare wheel on the floor in front of the seat, Mrs Wombat asks "does that door close?" I looked at it and said 'no, I don't think so', she says 'I'm off, I'll pick another seat, I'm not sitting next to an open door' and off she goes. We asked the young conductor lady if there are any stops, she indicated we would be stopping in 2 and 1/2 hours. Of course we meant toilet stops, she meant arrival time.
The bus is slow and steady and stops frequently, letting people on and off just like any bus. The conductor lady comes for payment - 65 TBH (about $2.80 AUS). We leave the town of Chiang Khong and set off on the open road, winding through plantations of pineapples, rice, bananas, and dragon fruit. There are little stalls along the road side, just as there is in our own country, before they disappeared because of dishonest people not paying.
The windows on the bus are all open and the air conditioning is nothing more than the wind in your face and hair, when we slow down, the driver puts on the ceiling fans for a bit more cooling.
We started climbing the range at some stage and the bus became slower and slower and almost stops, but somehow manages to reach the top. Meanwhile the back door is still open and I watch the road go by whilst holding on tight. All in all, it was a lovely trip, we saw the countryside, the towns, villages and the people and I am not sorry, (at least now we have arrived), that we caught this old clunker of a bus. Whilst Mrs Wombat agreed, she would have traded her tired and worn vinyl seat for a Green Bus seat in a heartbeat!
Before long we have reached the outskirts of Chiang Rai, a city that we have been to twice before and some familiar landmarks start to appear. We turned into the bus station, but the bus station we remembered isn't there, just some muddy looking car park with a couple of dozen buses, 50 + tuk tuks and a 20-30 songthews (a truck type ute with seats in the back). As we pulled up, Mrs Wombat says "we're about to be mobbed by tuk tuk drivers' and sure enough, the bus hadn't stopped and these guys were in the door - it was, after all, open, saying "you want tuk tuk, where you want to go"? We politely palm them off and hop off the bus, the conductor lady has opened the baggage/engine bay door, and to my surprise, the bags are still there and not covered in oil!!! Huge relief, now for our transport to the hotel.
Bags are stacked up, with mobs of drivers rallying for our business, however, we have quickly discussed the merits of getting a songthaew over a tuk tuk. A driver eagerly appears almost in my face and after ascertaining which vehicle is his, we gave him our hotel name, but he doesn't appear to know it. Suddenly another bloke says he does, and off we go, with him carrying one of our bags to help us out. We dodge the busses, the mud puddles, the people and the tuk tuks coming and going, we climb aboard and we are at our hotel in under 5 minutes. He backed up to the door, we paid our arranged fare and then we take a good look at this new hotel. Such a great deal on a beautiful new place, score!!
Hi Chiang Mai is a new hotel with an indoor pool and a reception desk, just a little different to what we have been used to for the past few weeks. We confirmed our booking with the receptionist, were given our buffet breakfast vouchers - something we were not expecting as it was not included in the price and head for the elevator - yes ELEVATOR!!!! At this stage Mrs Wombat is busy congratulating herself, proud of the fact that it is $34 AUD per night, with buffet breakfast.
We are budget travellers, so this is like winning the lottery, the accommodation lottery!!
We got out at the 2nd floor and opened the door to our new burrow, which we get to enjoy for the next 7 nights, wow. Soft bed, extra pillows, quiet air con, TV on the wall, table chairs and a desk and good wifi, the shower also has a shower screen; it doesn't take much to excite this pair of budget travelling Wombats!!