Back to Thailand, to find a home till March. We couldn’t have been happier to be back in a world where our life wasn’t in danger all the time while travelling. Our first stop was the border town Nong Khai where the innumerable amount of old, white Brits outnumbered the mosquitoes. We were astonished at the demographics and how drastically different they were to the rest of the country.
In this not-so-small town, there were more than enough restaurants, hostels, guest houses, and market spaces to house and feed a massive amount of people. And yet they were almost all empty. An entire river boardwalk with numbered stalls stood empty. Was it the promise of growth or the memories of a once flourishing town? So many empty restaurants and guest houses with almost all of them open and awaiting the potential customer. I wasn’t sure if many people stayed overnight before going to Laos or if this was a reminder of a forgotten war.
Our hostel the first night was called Mut Mee Guesthouse. When we arrived, we were told our room was overbooked and that there were no rooms left in our budget. If we wanted, we could rent another room, but they would cost about double. We politely said thank you but no and headed out to find another hostel. Luck was on our side. We found a really nice hotel for the night, with a five-star feel. Rest Time Hotel was about 3 miles outside of town, but well worth the long journey in the dark to find it.
The next day, we re-booked at Mut Mee since they were in town, received a number of good reviews, & were a little less expensive than our alternative. Upon our arrival, we were given a room and quickly set out for the market. Upon our return, the owner, an older white Brit, found us and confronted us about our stay from the night before. He had marked us as a no-show with the booking agency and that most certainly wasn’t the case. We explained that we did indeed show, but did not stay because we were told there wasn’t a room for us in our price range like we had booked. He then questioned us politely, yet passive aggressively, about who we had spoken to. Calling the employee over, we were now placed in a three-way conversation that was: one, not our problem; two, not appropriate to have with a guest; and three, most importantly, not professional by any means.
Apparently, the note to upgrade us to an open room was not entered into the system before we arrived. This was one of the hazards of the instantaneous online booking process. He lost out on a room for the night and then still had to pay the booking fees for it. This was neither our fault nor our problem, but the owner was looking for someone to blame. The owner had made the error, that was clear as day, not the front desk attendant. I felt horrible for the desk attendant. Fortunately, the conversation went no further and blame was not officially placed. The encounter was uncomfortable enough that we wanted to be gone from the town as soon as possible. Unfortunately, our train wasn’t leaving for another 30 hours.
Walking around town, we were met with the same bleak expressions and future of the town. The population was primarily comprised of old, white men who, unable to find a wife back in their country, had come to Thailand to “buy” a wife and life for themselves. The exchange is simple: the man comes with his retirement and, with the exchange rate, is perceived as wealthy. He then courts a woman, who sees him as providing a life for her and/or her children, and she agrees to be with him. Thailand’s views are mixed on this behavior. One thing is clear: Thailand doesn’t want the world to think that this small percentage of people represents their country.
We did, by chance, happen upon a wonderful ice cream shop in front of the local library, called Vanilla Café. The caretaker served her homemade ice cream and cakes. Truly the highlight of our time spent in this border town. Not only did she run the shop and the library, she taught English and baked cakes. She was a woman with many talents. We sat there for quite some time learning about the town and the people before catching our overnight train to Bangkok.