Flanked by two monks at Chiang Rai bus station, I can't figure out why my bus hasn't arrived yet. Suddenly it dawns on me that my watch is still set to Myanmar Time, half an hour behind Thai time – and I have in fact just missed the bus. I take the monks' lead and meditate on my poor time-keeping until the next bus finally arrives.
The last town in Thailand before I enter Laos is Chiang Khong. Its a typical one-street border town, full of travel agencies selling boat tickets and photographs for visas.
I talk to Mim, who runs the guesthouse where I'm staying. She moved here from Bangkok with her parents when she was 18. At first she thought everything was boring and dusty and dirty. Now she loves the more relaxed pace of life here, and doesn't ever want to leave. When she visits her friends in Bangkok her friends think she's wearing dull, traditional clothes. She thinks they are wearing too much mascara. Mim is into her stride now and turns to the topic of ladyboys (kathoeys). Transvestites are fully accepted in Thai society, indeed Mim says many people are jealous of the beauty of ladyboys, and that they get the best jobs.
There isn't much to do here besides gaze at the mighty Mekong river which separates Thailand from Laos. All the restaurants and guesthouses line up along the river bank while the water slumbers by. Occasionally one of the slow bots leaves Huay Xai on the other bank heading south to Luang Prabang. I'd just been reading Huckleberry Finn, and it reminded me of Mark Twain's descriptions of the Mississippi river.
Read the next entry: Drinking Beerlao in Laos