I don't want to say that my entrance into Thailand was run-of-the-mill as far as border crossings go, but what is normal is quickly disappearing for me. After the minibus ride to the border I was stamped (literally) with a stick-it note that said something in either Thai or Laotian and then pushed through the border crossing. Once inside I was ushered toward a canoe equipped with a giant outrigger motor (the border here is divided by the Mekong River which is quite wide at this point). The other passengers watched with tight-lipped horror as I stumbled onto the vessel, threatening to upend it by the sheer weight of my backpack. Once across the river I was back in Thailand. A man on the other side read my sticker and then put me on the back of a motorcycle (By now it's no sweat to balance myself on the back of a small bike while taking sharp turns at speed. I feel confident that I could survive the fall). I reached the sister hostel to my Laotian digs and after much discussion in Thai about my stick-it note I was told that another minibus would take me the rest of the way to Chiang Mai. Unfortunately, it was leaving at 6pm. Right now was around noon so I had quite a bit of time to kill (to make matters worse, I was told that the bus did not arrive in Chiang Mai until 10am the next morning). I wandered through this strange border town (all border towns are strange, no?) which seems like it should have been mugged by tourists due to the vast number of restaurants and hotels offering visa services to Laos. I had been craving an American meal and I am elated to find a sign advertising handmade pizza. After the delicious lunch I returned to the hostel I am not staying in and snuck a shower from an unused room. I have gotten good at traveling (or stealing depending on how you look at it).
My compatriots in the minibus are two Chinese girls and four brits who have been rambling around together for a few months. Being alone, I elect to sit in the front next to the driver. Throughout the night, I eavesdrop on the brits (and the Chinese girls too I suppose - can you eavesdrop when you don't understand what's being said?) and listen to them recant their adventures. Pangs of jealousy spike through me as I hear them laugh about shared experiences. I am never traveling alone again.
I am not too surprised when we arrive at 10pm at night instead of 10am the next morning (again a sign that I've adapted to Asia). Being that it's night, I elect to stay in the hostel that I am left at. It's a bit pricey, but my mood is lifted when I am told that there is a McDonalds nearby and it's still open. I'm not sure if I ran, but I definitely felt like I was flying to the warm embracer of golden arches. It's been said better by many, but it bears repeating. McDonalds feels like home. At the moment I was proud of our foreign policy that had brought about this result. Here was America, freedom, extra value meals, transfat and civilization. My quarterpounder tasted like mana and the fries like memories.