Comfort corrupts the righteous traveler. In measured doses it can be a good thing, but after too much pretty soon it all starts seeming normal. You become accustomed to a new standard, which makes it difficult to return to the kind of travel that takes you interesting places, places where there is the possibility of the unexpected. And all of the best experiences are unexpected.
Chiang Mai is well known among travellers and expats as a comfortable place to hole up for a while. Good accommodations, scores of restaurants with some of the best food on the planet, and enough exotic culture to let you pretend you are not hanging around just because it is easier to stay than to move on.
By the time we left Chiang Mai we had been there three weeks. We had a good excuse, as my dentist and crew took time off for a year-end holiday. It gave us plenty of time to do what we’re best at–hanging out, eating, drinking and wandering around. But we were ready to leave the comforts of Chiang Mai and start exploring some less-developed territory. With my dental work finally done and our Thai visas about to expire, we headed for Lao.
We crossed the Mekong River, which divides northern Thailand and Lao, over the Friendship Bridge, built in 2013. The new bridge and official buildings are pretty spiffy compared to the old boats that carried people across the river and scruffy border facilities we encountered last time we crossed there. The bridge is an important commercial link between northern Lao and Thailand, but the old crossing felt more adventurous.
Our plans are a little vague at this point, but we have a couple of weeks to explore northern Lao, the mountainous area nestled between the borders of Myanmar and China. The area has a colourful history of opium smuggling, and is populated by numerous hill tribes. We’re not sure what to expect, but from here on things will likely be less comfortable and more interesting.