5 Hours

If my previous posts haven’t been clear enough indicators yet, the blessings in Pai were aplenty. Beautiful friends, stunning adventures, breathtaking moments and starry nights that turned into slow moving mornings. Another one of these blessings is that I made a best friend and travel partner.

We met by chance, of course, and hit it off immediately. We dubbed ourselves granny and granddad of the group, we discovered the magic of drinking rum-pineapple-sprite, we laughed until our bellies and cheeks ached. Within a few hours we had decided that we would leave for Laos together.

“My visa is up on the 19th, so I need to leave the country before then. Would that be okay with you?”

I could have stayed in Pai forever, but I jumped at the chance. This felt like another one of those “this just doesn’t happen” moments.

We spent the next days together with all our friends, then said our goodbyes and headed down to Chiang Mai.

On the morning of December 18th we set out from Chiang Mai in a minibus. After a quick stop in Chiang Rai to visit the Wat Rong Khun temple, we ended our day in the border town of Chiang Khong. We were all checked into a guesthouse where we’d spend the night. For now, though, after spending the entire day in a bus, it was time to drink some beers and get to know our fellow passengers.

In comes Sally. An older traveler from Canada, she was back in Southeast Asia to retrace the steps she’d taken in the region over 40 years ago. She regaled us with stories of her first trip, and of what the banana pancake trail looked like before it became as well-traveled as it is now. Before it was even dubbed the banana pancake trail, in fact.

We drank beers and looked out at the Mekong river. Thailand on this side, Laos beckoning to us from the other.

“How long have you two known each other?” Sally asked.

“About a week?” I offered.

“8 days now,” Louis added. “We met in Pai.”

“Oh wow I’d never have guessed it. You seem like you’ve known each other so much longer than that,” Sally said.

We look at each other and smile, because what else is there to say? We’ve had this talk several times before. We’ve looked back at that first day in Pai and laughed at how quickly we knew we were friends. We’ve looked at the days since and marveled at how well we travel together. How we respect one another’s space. How our laughter is endless, and our silence is comfortable.

“You know, when you travel it’s a special thing to get to the 5 hours,” Sally says.

Interesting, continue.

“You meet lots of people and you can get along with them well enough, but you rarely reach the 5 hour mark. Before that time you’ll have run out of things to say, out of patience or anything else, really. So you part ways the way travelers always do. But not with a 5 hour person. It’s a special thing to find 5 hour people.”

Oh Sally, I couldn’t agree more.

The evening continues with beer and laughter –mainly laughter at the terribly hard bed we are subjected to. One sleep until we cross the border.

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