Day 140: News of HM the King arrives in Laos
Though the dice kept the drown grounded today, it captured the majestic landscape along the Ou River later on. Video: Isaac Stone Simonelli / Music: Ars Sonor
THE sun, like a molten hot bead of metal touched by a welder's torch, dips below the mount ridge on the other side of the Ou River. The plump papayas hang below a crown of wide, deeply palmately lobed leaves, the tree's trunk bare until the very top, not a single branch protruding.
My head is swimming, perhaps from staring at the sun for so long, perhaps from the banana fruit wine I started drinking from the bottle back in my rustic bungalow, perhaps from dehydration or perhaps from the news that His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, is on his death bed.
I had intended on staying with the Phuket Gazette until HM the King's death, as it would be the most monumental event in the last 80 years of Thailand's history. HM the King was the Father of the Thai people, which was not some self-imposed title that he used to bully citizens, but a deeply felt honorific that filled the hearts of the majority of his subjects. HM was also the longest reigning monarch alive.
Though I am not Thai, I developed warmth for the man and was in awe of his accomplishments.
There is also a more practical side of the mater for me, as all of my savings, including the estimated value of my motorcycle are all in Thai baht. Though I'm confident the baht will stabilize, there will of course be international and domestic concern that will cause the stock market to drop and the exchange rate to be adjusted out of my favor. If the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) does what I've presumed it's planning on doing since seizing control, the international concern will quickly fade and HM the King's death will have little impact on my meager finances. It is without a doubt petty of me to have such personal concerns when such an incredible and influential person has passed away, but that is nonetheless part of where my mind is at.
After disappointing helping of fried noodles that tastes like they came out of Chief Boy R D can, I'm back at my bungalow at Sunrise.
Caving in to my muddled, drowsy head and given a pass from the dice on getting the drone out for a sunset run, I crumple into the hammock on the balcony. The balcony overlooks Ou River, a couple tourists and locals wander across the massive Nong Khiaw Bridge that stretches from on bank to the other, high above the water. Beyond the bridge are limestone mountain faces draped with jungle vines and a smattering of massive, gray-barked trees.
Stephen Dubner from Freakonomics starts unloading the ideals of the third presidential candidate in this years high-profile election: Gary Johnson for the Libertarian Party. Happily tucked into the small hammock, I drift off.
Hours after waking, the dice continues its attempt to push acid on me. It didn't occur to me until the die forced me tracked down Hive Bar, which is damn hard to find despite being on the main road out of town.
“You want to join us?” a Welsh man, Liam, asks. The young bearded man and his tall blond girlfriend, Rachel, are the only other people in the well-lit bar that advertises Happy Shakes.
“Sure, why not,” I say, getting up from the wooden lounge chair sitting awkwardly alone in the middle of the bar, which I'd decided to occupy with my can of Heineken – they were out of cans of Beer Lao.
Liam launches in on a marijuana tirade. Hive Bar is apparently the main place to buy weed in Nong Khiaw.
“In Sapa, you can hit up Why Bar or Good Morning Vietnam. We bought at Why Bar, I don't know the price at Good Morning Vietnam though,” Liam says. “But it's expensive there, we paid like 20 dollars for this much. It's much cheaper here, right?”
“Yeah, I don't really know. I had some edibles in Vang Vieng, but I've not bought any. Oh, wait hold on. I should know the price. It's like 250,000 Kip for a bag,” I say, unable to remember exactly how big the bag was supposed to be.
“Wait aren't you buying some here?”
“Oh, mate, so sorry. She said you'd asked about buying weed and I thought. Oh man, I'm sorry mate,” Liam says.
I start to laugh.
Rachel, a beautiful, thin blond who as the tinniest baby voice, chimes in, “I heard him tell you that it'll take five minutes.”
Now I'm really laughing.
“No, no I asked about WiFi; a totally different drug,” I say.
“Much more addictive,” Liam says, not missing a beat.
We all agree.
“Okay, we can talk about something else,” Liam says.
“No, not, it's fine. I've got nothing against talking about weed.”
Nonetheless, the conversation drifts away from drugs, before it locks in on acid.
“Acid is the best drug ever,” Liam says. “Everything just grows and becomes more amazing and awesome. Like you'll see the bricks in the wall moving and there will be a portal and you can put your hand in it and it disappears into the wall and then you pull it back out. And then you put it back in.”
Liam's is beaming in ecstasy just recalling the beautiful, magical realism of when he's tripping on acid.
“If anyone says something about a bad trip, about being chased, they're lying,” he repeats several times. “I'm like an ambassador for the drug.”
“He's not a drug pusher,” Rachel quickly points out in his defense.
“Yeah, the thing with it is the longer you hold onto it the weaker it becomes. It's like if you don't want me, fuck you, I'll go away,” Liam says.
Now meeting a single individual who is obsessed and in love with acid at a bar I'd have skipped as soon as I saw that it was dead as a disco, is hardly much in the book on the law of attraction. However, the die seems to have been pushing for a long time: it did send me to Laos “to do drugs”, which at the time I thought of as just mushrooms.
Liam returns from picking up a large bag of weed. He and Rachel are besides themselves with how much they got for the price, which was a “tenner” – however much that is.
The pair is packing up and heading out when I return with a big beer.
“We've been on the road since 5:30am,” Liam says. They took a bus, a boat and then another bus from Hanoi, Vietnam to Laos today.
“Yeah, cool man. I'll catch you later. And hey, Ive got a friend in Luang Prabang who for a very bizarre reason as a bunch of acid. He's sworn the drug off, but bought some for some unknown reason. If our paths cross down there, maybe I can put you guys in touch,” I say.
“Oh man, you're the best. We can all do that and watch the lanterns glowing in the sky. Oh man.”
Rachel, who I don't think heard what Liam and I were talking about, bounces back to me for a big hug. It's a warm hug that comes with a big kiss on the cheek. It's lovely. I've been missing human contact a bit more than I realized.
Sipping on my beer, I open up some three minute speed chess matches online, but continue to make blunders. It's been nearly two years since I've dedicated any real brain power toward improving my game.
Back at Sunrise, a Spanish woman I know, Ana, is sitting with a group of people at the little restaurant attached to the bungalows.
“Isaac,” she says with her Spanish accent as she waves me over. “So I booked the tour tonight.”
“Okay, can I still book it tomorrow?”
“No, he says that they need to know before to order food.”
Shit. So the dice demanded that we go on the the 100 Waterfall Trek with Tiger Tours. I do mean we in this particular case.
This is the third time Ana and I have crossed paths. Ana, 43-years-old, has a few gray hairs mixed into her cute, short-cropped hair. I spotted her in at Luang Prabang Bakery, she'd joined a man in his early fifties at a small wooden table. There was something so picturesque about the two of them immersed in conversation at the small, heavy round table with the books and liqueur in the background.
The man turned toward me right as the shutter clicked, all three of us had a moment, before I returned to my writing.
The second time Ana appeared was in Crater Cafe. She'd lost her guidebook after falling asleep on the bus. As the cafe was closing up, she waved me down asking about travel plans in her attempt to recall where she wanted to go next.
“Here, add me on What's App and here's my email. Drop me a line, and if our paths cross again, I can maybe help out with the motorcycle for day trips or something,” I said.
I didn't hear from her; she ended up on her own misadventures.
As I pulled across the bridge of Nong Khiaw earlier today, she stood there with her mirrorless camera pointed up river into a mess of mountain peaks and jungle.
“Nice camera,” I said, pulling up next to her.
Ana gave me a great big smile. She apparently arrived after all sorts of trouble at 1am. Now, she's trying to figure out what trekking tour to go on and who to go with. Tiger Tours, currently being managed by a New Zealander named Harper, is the original tour company for 100 Waterfalls. They claim to have discovered the falls and be the only tour agencies that has written permission from the village nearby to conduct the tour, as they heavily support the locals. However, they're more expensive than other tour operators, which always is the case in developing tourism destinations: those that are following the rules and doing their best by the community are typically more expensive.
Hours later, I found her sitting at a table at Joy Restaurant, still grappling with indecision.
“Okay, listen. I make all my decisions, okay a lot of my decisions, based on die rolls,” I say.
She smiles and nods, but clearly missed what I said. I pull the die from it's case attached to me necklace and explain again.
“If you want, we can roll for it. Evens, we go on the tour. Odds, we don't,” I say.
Ana's smile wrinkles deepen as her eyes shimmer like a child on the verge of seeing how many gifts Santa Clause has left under the tree for her.
Still smiling, she picks up the die, holding it between her hands, palm pressed to palm, as if praying.
“No, no, no. You role,” I say after she offers it to me.
The die bounces onto the wooden table.
It's a two.
“So we go trekking tomorrow. It'll be amazing,” I say. “It's so simple this way.”
Now, however, I'm afraid I've failed the die and will have to scramble to find some alternative way of satisfying the die's will. Perhaps I can trek solo through the jungle I think as I cross the bridge, heading toward the Tiger Tour's office in Delilah's Bakery.