Our alarm clock of roosters woke us up again near dawn and I immediately checked my legs for new bites. It appears the bed bugs and spiders had spared us this time.
We head down to the cooking area for some much needed coffee. After yesterday’s breakfast, the coffee was all I could think about and I downed three cups as eggs and toast were served. An old man stumbled into the room, slurring his Thai and carrying a tobacco joint. “He is village helper,” Chai explained. “He drink 24 hours every day.” The man sat next to me, resting on my leg and we couldn’t contain our laughter as he repeated the few English words he knew. “Okay…” “No problem…” he mumbled with a grin on his face.
Even Chai had a difficult time understanding him in this state of intoxication, but no translation was needed as he made hand signals and added “my friends” to the end of his sentences. He inched closer to me and poked at my arm until the family matriarch kicked him back out into the village. I had just enough rest the night before to make it through another day. The clouds were dark and thick and the ground especially muddy from the recent rains. A new guide, Chang has taken over and he doesn’t speak English so we follow him in silence, climbing past farmers in the field and along steep ridges to the top of a mountain. It begins to pour, and we find a hut in the middle of the valley to take cover.
Chai is waiting for us there with two other men drinking hot tea and offering whiskey. We decline the offer and continue on as soon as the rain slows down.
Minutes later, the rain picks up again until we’re caught in a torrential downpour. Buckets of water fall from the sky and the road turns into a river. My backpack is water resistant but I still worry about my belongings as it becomes drenched in the monsoon (fortunately my vitamins were the only ones who didn’t make it out unscathed).
The air and rain are chilly but we welcome any chance we get to feel clean water on our filthy bodies. The British girls grab their GoPro to capture video of the event and we wonder how fast Chai could build a raft out of bamboo to get us down this mountain. It’s one of my favorite moments yet in Thailand.
The rain came in waves all day long and our clothing, shoes and socks remained drenched as we forged on. At the bottom of another valley was an empty bamboo structure, and we removed our backpacks and shoes to rest. Thunder rumbled in the background as Chai and Chang cut bamboo trees and carried one over to show us another jungle survival skill. Inside the stalk was a clear jelly covered in maggot-like white worms. “We cook these for lunch,” he told us as he scooped them out onto a banana leaf.
The fire grew strong and bamboo stalks filled with water began to boil as we cooked noodles, sticky rice and worms. It was our last meal together.
Satisfied with my authentic Thai food meal, I hoisted my belongings onto my back and we set off for the final leg of our trip.The best scenery was saved for the end as we descended the windy trail between narrow mountain ridges.
I fell behind a few times to grab my camera gear and capture the views, as the image in my mind would surely disappear otherwise.
By this time in the afternoon, the storm had cleared making way for sunshine and clear views to Myanmar.We dropped down into another valley and I spotted a familiar landmark—a pink building used as a school house from the very first village we arrived at days earlier. We had made it—our trek was over.
We crawled into the back of the truck, letting out a sigh as we forgot how good it felt to sit on something padded. On the hour long drive to the hot springs we spoke of our anticipation of a hot shower, a night of rest on a mattress, and food we missed from back home. Three days was just enough time to clear our minds and leaving a lasting impression, but we were all ready to assimilate back into society.
When we pulled up to the hot springs, there was a line of motorbikes in the parking lot and through the trees we could see people in the water. I hadn’t even looked in the mirror for two days and was not prepared to be re-introduced to civilization as Jungle Jenna. Hoping I wouldn’t run into any friends I had met in Pai, I felt slightly more at east amongst others who looked just as haggard. Maybe people would feel sorry for us.
I soaked in the warm water for over an hour, scrubbing my brown stained skin clean and relieving the itch with river rock. The simple pleasures in life mean so much more when life is lived simply.
If I didn’t take time along the way to stop and write and capture these images, the details would have been fuzzy in my mind by now. This would just be another checkmark on the bucket list.
Now I can look at the photos and read these words and remember what it felt like—I can be there again.
But I know that for some of you, this is also serving a purpose that’s bigger than my own journey. So as long as I can inspire, encourage or teach in some way, I’ll continue to document. Of course I can’t share everything here, but every word written is as true and real as it is in my mind, and that is my promise to you.
I’ve been back in Chiang Mai now since Saturday. My 30 day visa has expired and tonight I’ll board a bus headed to Laos and then a boat down the Mekong river for two days.
I have a lot of things to say after being here one month. Thoughts I’m still working out in my head, trying to put into words. I haven’t figured out anything past 6pm tonight when I board the bus, or even looked at a map to see where I’m going. At this point I don’t care and am just ready to leave and start a new journey in a new country. That’s the beauty of this new life—I can escape when I need to and start all over again at any given time. Living fully in the moment because today doesn’t have to determine tomorrow.
More from Laos on the way.