Morning came too soon as we climbed into our personal chariot with a driver and a dry tour guide. With no coffee and unsettled breakfast of fried foods, we tried to prepare for the long journey. We were headed to the Golden Triangle. The place were opium, amongst other drugs, fueled the economy from the mafia and gangsters. Long boats would meet in no man’s land between Laos, Burma and Thailand and gold bars would be exchanged. The area was perfect for growing poppies for the opium trade, with a steady climate and rolling hills. Poppies were grown under maze that reached 2 meters into the sky to help disguise the crops. This was a day to be full adventure.
The morning commute is enough to irritate anyone. Combine that with no coffee, poor breakfast, and totally trusting your self to being driven around by two people you’ve never met is sure to leave one slightly on edge if not completely annoyed. We pulled into a hot spring packed with tourists sporting every style of camera. Sellers came out of nowhere selling silver and “wanna be” gems. Ladies with small baskets of eggs pushed their way into the foreigner’s faces saying 100 baht, 100 baht 100 baht- five minute. The idea was to buy her eggs, lower them into the hot spring and pull them up in five minutes for a soft boiled batch of eggs. Foreigners were lining up at this opportunity, but we could see it for what it really was. These people were squatting gypsies trying to get you to willingly spend your money, so they didn’t have to reach into your pockets and get it.
CAFÉ! We finally found coffee. This seamed to make the world right side up again
The coffee had run it’s course, but the driver was not done driving…I sat cross legged for a while, then I pulled my feet up into the car seat for reassurance. In the morning the driver had said about three hours travel time, so I kept my mouth shut. The road kept going on, and road signs that I couldn’t read much of, said something 95 km. The van tipped side to side as we slowly made our way down the windy mountain road. This rocking motion seemed to exaggerate the sensation I was experiencing. But felling powerless, I kept my mouth shut and my legs crossed.
Our guide finally turned around and started to give some information, and history about the mission we were on. He talked of temples, opium and the Thai mafia. All I heard was my bladder screaming. The driver pulled into a parking lot next to some ancient ruins. As soon he opened the door, I ran for the first sign that said TOILET. A row of unisex squaty-podies lay in front of me. The first one was home to a mangy, wild dog. He looked hungry and like he had been in too many fights, fights that he might have started. I decided not to invade his space and ran for the next one.
We had finally arrived at the ticket booth, for the boat ride around the Golden Triangle. Finally our grand adventure had arrived! We rode on a motorized long boat through the area where two rivers and three countries came together. There was a very small, broken patch of island in the center with weeds over a meter high. If the river had a tide, this spec of mud would be washed away forever. About half way around this mud patch, we found out that this, this was the Golden Triangle. I can see mud in the middle of the river fifteen miles from my house, why did I need to travel half way around the world, take a five hour car trip and climb in a old boat to see sand covered with weeds?
The Burma border. This looked like any other market on any other street. There was a bridge that crossed a small river into Burma-that we not allowed to cross. Maybe I missed the point in the lesson about the Burma border, but I just didn’t get why we were here. It only made our drive home 45 minutes longer.
We stopped at a roadside mini-market/hotel/restaurant for a few minutes to use the TOILET, and walk for a little bit. Both of us were shocked to learn the place was called Cabbage and Condoms, with a sign sporting rainbow colored animated condoms. I heard a trembling voice ask “where have they taken us?” as I laughed inside for my own uncomfortable reasons. Despite what it appeared to be, it was similar to a Face to Face program back home in the states; providing information about family planning and AIDS to a third world country that could benefit from both.
Finally the hotel was in sight. I had never been so relieved to see a place that wasn’t really my home. The day required a shower, a change of atmosphere and some dinner. So we went back to The Hug, as promised.