Ushered On: How I Said Hello to Laos, My 50th Country

The sing-song voices of female attendants yelling out the destinations of their respective buses echoes around the bus terminal of Chiang Rai. Their whimsical voices adds to the rhythm of stomping feet, honking tuk tuks, and humming engines, placing me in a trance as I await the departure of my bus.

This is my fifth time coming back and forth to this station to take the odd bus to that odd destination. The women’s faces are familiar to me now. Their determination in filling their buses and the looked of content on their faces at having flagged down customers, has become more evident.

As I look around, I realise that there are a lot of women here. I begin to wonder if other bus stations in Thailand are as dominated by female attendants as this. “Did I neglect to notice this throughout my travels?”, I wondered to myself.

It’s nice to see these women present in what I have originally noticed, to be a male dominated profession. The presence of these women certainly makes the bus station a friendlier place – limiting the existence of renegade touts. Even the male bus drivers are pleasant, blushing in embarrassment at my speaking in English, rather than in Thai (a contradiction to what my face and the colour of my skin looks like).

When I tossed and turned at 4am, at 5am, and again at 6am earlier that day, I thought for sure that I would go back to my refugee jungle compound of Dokita. After three days, I was tired of traveling. Tired of the little differentiation between the three Thai cities that I had visited so far – Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai. Tired of spending money for no obvious fruition.

I wanted to go back to where my schedule was fixed. Where the issue of basic needs – accommodation and food – did not warrant a thought. And where the only thoughts that came were in the form of learning – learning a new culture, a new language, a new context. There wasn’t enough learning on this trip, I decided. I didn’t know anything about Thai culture that I didn’t know before. So I woke and readied myself to go back. Back to my world of limited choices with fulfilling days.

But upon arriving to the bus station, I found myself face to face with a bus bound for Chiang Khong – the border town of Thailand and Laos. Without a second to think, the female attendant called out and ushered me on. “Oh, what the heck,” I thought, as I squeezed through the door and placed my backpack on a seat.

This is it. With little thought and little preparation, I would be bound for Laos.

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