I’m sitting in the Mae Sai bus terminal, trying to not drip sweat onto my laptop. The humid, pre-rain air doesn’t help, it’s so moist that I’m not sure if I’m perspiring or collecting dew.
This isn’t how this was supposed to go.
Two days earlier, our Thai one-month visa expired, so we decided to make a road trip out of driving up to the Thai-Myanmar border, crossing over, getting stamped out of Thailand, into Myanmar, then walking back across to Thailand to get a brand new visa. It’s known as a border run, and it’s a rite of passage for the thousands of travelers.
It’s a nice drive. Our Thai SIM card holds up and we’re able to check Google maps the entire way, a novelty that makes it feel like cheating a bit, but we don’t mind. Besides, we’re always getting lost, showing up an hour late, red-faced and panting. “Sorry! Sorry! Lost again.” Google maps isn’t cheating, it’s the only thing preventing us from ending up Laos.
We make it all the way to the border town of Mae Sai, we don’t get lost, we’re happy, not fighting, the baby is chatting away on my lap, and everything is good.
We decide to stay the night in Myanmar, which we can’t seem to stop calling Burma, and it isn’t until about 7 PM when everything in town shuts down, that we suspect that this might have been a bad idea. There’s nothing to do!
Oh right, I remember, it’s a border town, and once the border closes, the tourist-supported infrastructure does too. It’s too late now, so we’re stuck in our hotel room, watching Burmese TV, which is actually Thai TV with the audio sync off by about a full second. It was so bad that when I was watching Prince of Persia, I said to Drew, “Honey, I think the Burmese government dubbed this movie with British actors. Why would they do that?” Oh, that’s just how Jake Gyllenhall talks in this movie. Ok, right, all sorted now.
Yes, that was the highlight of our evening.
The next morning, I can’t convince Drew to stay. He’s creeped out by the faux-Myanmar experience, the touts and tour guides and the way it shuts down at dusk. It seems like such a waste to pay $16/pp to enter the country and not see anything. But as we’re filling out our Thai immigrant forms Drew says, “I’m so nervous, what if we can’t get back into Thailand because the border closes for the weekend and we’re stuck in Burma?”
I stonewall. “No, that’s impossible.” It’s usually best to only have one of us freaking out at a time. Believe me, I have my moments, but this is Drew’s day. Freak away, honey, I’ll be here keeping ship on course. When they stamp our forms, Drew mouths, “THANK GOD” and I shake my head at him. I usually try not to act overly surprised or happy when immigration officials lets into their country. “Yay! You let us in! I can’t believe it!” – is exactly the kind of thing that gets you pulled out of line and placed into small windowless room for the foreseeable future.
I checked our passports: 15 more days in Thailand! Success. Now, just to find the motorbike, and drive home… just gotta find where we parked it…. Wait…
The bike is gone.
Seeing as this is Drew’s day to freak out, he decides to have a little panic attack and I go into military mode, acting like a drill sergeant trying to prevent an 18-year-old recruit from bursting into tears and asking for his momma. “Walk down the street, look for it down there.” Nope. “Look on the main road,.” Nope. “Okay ask those people.” Nope. “Now ask the business owner there.” Maybe. They suggest we ask the hotel owner across the street. Why? Who knows. Like chastised children, we obey and ask a confused hotel owner about our bikes. Nope. He suggests going to the police station.
Drew is freaking out, HARD. He wants to walk the perimeter of the enter town and search every street and just stay right here, he says, he’ll be right back.
I do my best second-half-locker-room speech and it went something like this: “This is okay. If the bike is stolen, it’s gone. If it’s not stolen, it’s towed. We just have to figure out if it’s towed, and no matter what happens we can just take a bus home. It’s fine. We. Will. Figure. This. Out.”
Drew steals himself. Okay. Let’s do this.
We find the tourist police and ask. Drew describes the bike, they make some calls, and then tell us to sit. I assume it’s good sign when he motions for Drew to jump on the back of his motorbike and they roar off down the road together. I play Bejewelled on his iPhone. Yawn.
Drew returns triumphant! He’s riding the bike, all smiles and I think he even winked at me. YAY! Life is good!
“Hop on honey!”
Not so fast. You see, the kind Thai Tourist Police Officer wants to take a photo. Of us. No wait, with him. And the bike. We pose for photos and Drew and the officer even do the staged handshake over the bike, like we just won a contest.
The fact that they were the ones who towed the bike to begin with – and were simply returning the property they had confiscated – didn’t hit us until we were back on the road.
“Wait, wouldn’t an easier way to help tourists be to just not tow their bike at all?” Shush, honey, it’s all going to be okay.
Clunk. Brrrwhish. Chppppppp. ppp. pp. p.
We glide over to the side of the road and the engine light is on. The bike won’t start. We kick the bike onto its manual start – which lifts the back up the bike off the ground – and I kick-start the bike from one side while Drew holds down the gas, break and ignition from the other.
Now the kick-start won’t even move – the entire thing is frozen in place – which means the engine is frozen. Did we just seize the engine?
By now we’re outside of Mae Sai on empty stretch of road save the stands selling strawberry wine. There’s a rice paddy, fields and the mountains beyond. It’s 90 degrees out, midday and our bike won’t start.
I eye Drew carefully. His eyes are bugging out but I can’t tell if it’s the heat or if he’s going to have a stroke. I decide to proceed carefully.
“It’s going to be okay.” I say, swinging Cole onto a hip and leading the way back into town.
“We’ll just walk into town and get a mechanic.”
Let’s just pretend that Drew didn’t go on a wild rant here but instead just said, “Yup, sounds about right.” Okay here’s a small taste, “You have got to be freaking kidding me…”
Anyway, my ability to mime broken-bike-needs-repair to Thai people needs some work. I danced around truck dealer’s showroom trying to mime me driving a bike and then made like the imaginary bike and I fell over and went BOOM. Puzzled looks. Hmmm…. Zero points for Team Gilbert.
We kept walking. And walking. I put a scarf over Cole’s head, trying to protect his head from the sun, and when he pushed it off, I held it aloft like he was a tiny prince and I was waving a palm frond over his head.
Drew was grumbling.
“That’s it!” I said, which actually is something I say all the time, when it’s not actually “it” but for some reason I seem to keep using that phrase.
“We will go get a hotel room, we’ll get a mechanic, we’ll stay overnight, we’ll catch a bus home if we have to and this will all be okay.”
Drew is looking down at his feet and I think for a moment that I’ve gotten through to him, that by the sheer force of my will, I have converted him into an optimist at this critical juncture. I was almost proud of myself until I noticed what he was looking at – his sandal. It was broken and when he lifted his foot, it slid off uselessly.
“This will all be okay.” Hung in the air between us.
Drew bent down, picked up the sandal and continued walking. Limping, really. An uneven gait, down the highway, in the blistering heat, with one sandal and one barefoot – it was pretty funny actually, but I was wise enough to keep my mouth shut.
A mirage appears! Okay, so it’s just a Tesco Lotus, which is like the Thai Walmart. Drew hot-foots it across the baking tar field of a parking lot and we buy him new sandals, a new shirt (he had sweated straight through his, so much so it looked like he just came of a water fight) and some chicken nuggets at KFC.
With renewed energy (and spirits) we find a hotel room, put the baby down for a nap, and Drew heads out to see about a mechanic.
In a torrential downpour.
Hahahahaha. By now, my poor, poor husband is just flat out sick of me, and when I told him to go back to the Tesco, hire a tuk-tuk driver to just chauffer him around – no matter what the cost – he stubbornly decided, no, he would do this himself. I wasn’t there for the next part, but he tells me he walked back to the bike and dragged it down the road until a Thai couple, on their own bike, stopped to help him.
I wish I had seen it. The young woman got on our broken bike, Drew climbed on the back of their bike and the guy, drove, with his feet straight out in front of him, pushing our dead bike down the road as he drove, she steered and Drew watched amazed.
I love Thailand.
Diagnosis? The engine was seized. It’s a brand new bike, so apparently there was no oil in it, except the small amount they add at the factory. So we had just driven the bike right into the ground. Oops. Even though it’s a rental, we considered the 5,000 baht repair bill to be a quite reasonable lesson in checking one’s oil before a long trip (a $170 lesson). Only problem: the bike won’t be ready for three days. “Screw it, let’s take the bus home,” I announce and Drew just smiles.
For our next visa run, we might just fly.