No plan goes according to plan

June 3- 10
View from our last hotel in Chiang Mai.
The most awful hotel we stayed at,
but the most beautiful view out of all. 

The thud of the clock’s every stroke is the only movement within the stillness of the drab, hospital room.

Time is eerie in a hospital—the fluorescent, stark lights unchanging, the faces of patients and individuals worn with worry. There was a father in the elevator, a girl's small hand snug within his tender grasp. She wore the pale, turquoise patient garb, soft features framing her young face. If you could pick through all a hospital elevator sees within the day, it would be like sifting through the thickest current of a range of emotions. 

Only as you step out from the hospital doors do you realize the world has moved on, nightfall replacing the late morning you'd arrived in. Though it's all the same to the patients on the other end, hooked to an IV as each drop swivels through the translucent tube under the skin.

Or at least, as is the case with Caitlan who's been stuck inside the Bangkok Hospital of Phuket for the past four days. Diagnosis: Dengue Fever.
I slumped into the backseat of the taxi, noting the faint glow of the moon up ahead.   

"How are you?" the driver asked, pushing aside his ruffled shag of black hair.

I sighed, charging off onto a spiel as Caitlan had entered that morning, her fever high, the two of us unsure as to the cause behind the symptoms. She underwent blood work, the nurses returning with her diagnosis. We'd read up on Dengue Fever when Caitlan first felt ill. It's one of two illnesses listed in the back of our Thailand travel books. The other: malaria.

Symptoms-- high fever, headache, gum irritation, dizziness, decreasing platelet count-- can develop anywhere between three to 15 days after infected and last between seven to 12 days. The fever is transmitted by mosquitoes; there's no cure nor precaution, save avoiding mosquitoes. It's a matter of riding out the fever while restoring the platelets. Caitlan, as a result, is hooked to an IV; The fever could have turned lethal had we waited just a few extra days.

"Long," I told the taxi driver. "It's been a long day."

He beamed, his hair bobbing as he nodded animatedly. 

"Good, good," he responded, looking pleased with his English.

And for the first time, Caitlan wasn't next to me to laugh for she's always the one to make fun of my never ending attempts to converse with our Thai taxi drivers. Who, all but one, can never fully respond.

Her fever had started in Chiang Rai, Thailand's northernmost province. It was day three of our stay (too long in both of our books) and we were en route to what we thought was Chang Saen.

Caitlan was dizzy, though that morning, neither of us thought too much of it.
Chiang Rai bus station
We’d returned to Chiang Mai after two nights in the hippy, mountain town of Pai-- setting off to Chiang Rai the following day. Chiang Rai is a sleepy town-- little to see, save the night market, a white temple and town clock that lights up on the hour at night with a musical ensemble that blares from city speakers. 

Chiang Rai's location allowed for a day trip to Mae Salong, a Chinese tea village up in the mountains. We arranged for a hotel van to shuttle us to and back. The cost had been an arm and a leg, so we opted for a DIY trip to Chang Saen-- the center of the opium trade and the city the closest to the Hall of Opium, a privately owned and funded museum.

There’s no obvious booth to buy a ticket at the Chiang Rai bus stop. Not, for that matter, that there are obvious places in Chiang Mai or Bangkok, but at least in those cities, there are enough booths with people able to help. The two of us moseyed along the numbered, nameless stops, a kind gentleman overhearing Chang Saen and pointing us toward a driver pacing by his van.

Vans in northern Thailand are 14 seat shuttles—with a stroke of luck, perhaps with a/c that works. They stop at their share of random locations along highways and side streets—and seeing as our driver assured us we were headed to Chang Saen, Caitlan and I assumed the last stop would be our requested destination.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” our driver said, a touch of a smile as we stepped out the van, a pristine view of the river in front, mammoth sculptures of elephants anchored by golden posts off in the distance. "This is Golden Triangle," the driver laughed. Chang Saen had been the stop before. 

There was a small information desk, manned by a few women who spoke fairly little English.

We needed to know what time the last bus would leave from the Golden Triangle. But the desk womens' English conveniently stopped after their line about the motorcycle they'd offered to rent to us in lieu of the oddly, nonexistent taxi cabs around. We spotted a group of tourists, I picking up that they were French. And so switching to the language that guided last year's experience abroad, I got us directions to the Hall of Opium, found out that the last bus to Chiang Rai would leave at 5 and asked after their whereabouts. "Fontainebleau," one of the ladies responded. It's a small, well-to-do town outside of Paris, known by the chateaux in the center of it.

I smiled. I’d been there, just over a year ago. It’s funny where life takes you—what carries through as the adventure unfolds and life all blends. 

Top: Golden Triangle
Bottom: Chiang Rai's white temple

A monk rode in the front our van that afternoon. He work bright orange robes; We'd learned that the orange of their robes references the story of the bark tree the Buddha used to dye monk shrouds. Monks wear one of four shades of orange (saffron, bright, dark and a red/brown). The colors once differentiated where the monks lived. Today, it's merely tradition.

The monk had a round face, a thin layer of prickled dark hair, salted by gray strands. He smile was wide, stretching all sides of his cheeks, two twisted front teeth poking in front of his gaping grin.

We had been chatting with a lady to our right, a young woman from Georgia who'd spent a year and a half working in an elephant research center in Bangkok and Chang Saen. She spoke Thai, translating the monk’s words for us as he turned to ask after our birthdays.

"Honesty," he said to me. "September, you are honest."

Chiang Rai bus station
Cailtan’s fever had peaked by the time we got back to the hotel that evening. We left for Chiang Mai the following day, stopping at Chiang Rai’s white temple in the morning before heading back to the chaos of the bus station.

It was our third time back in Chiang Mai, staying in a cheap daily/weekly/monthly apartment at the other end of the canal that cuts through the old city. The area was less touristy, less English and I sensed home to more expats. 

I paced through the narrow alley from the hotel and onto the busy road of the main street, headed to find a pharmacy to purchase a thermometer. I mimed sick to a lady on a bench outside her store. She responded—her English surprisingly perfect—directing me to the drugstore down the street. But none of the nurses understood my rendition of thermometer, and so I took to pen and paper, drawing out my request.

With Caitlan inside the room, I ate meals alone. I sat outdoors for breakfast, losing myself in the view of the morning rush as the city awoke. A father sat outside of his shop—he spoke in French as he played with his young, Asian daughter. A monk walked past, slow in his step as he ambled ahead. One of the girls who worked in the restaurant arrived on her motorcycle; She was dressed in her school uniform, the standard navy skirt inched just below the knee, tucked over a a plain, gray-blue, button-down shirt. 

A thin, scrawny man rode by on his bicycle, waving to catch my attention. He framed two fingers into a half circle, pulling the corners of his mouth.

Smile, he seemed to say. I did, laughing as he cycled by.

I came to Thailand for the adventure, though just as much in search of a story. But halfway through of our month away, I can’t quite put my finger on just what the story is. 

You can't plan things in life, nor chase a story you're in the midst of creating.

This could be my story if I lived here, I thought as I walked back to the hotel to check on Caitlan, her fever having spiked to 103 degrees Fahrenheit. A lady sat cross-legged on the bench by the hotel, her back to the sidewalk, her gaze fixated on the television screen at the end wall of her storefront. She'd been sitting in the same position the day prior. 

Carving a place in this Thai life wouldn't be easy, but I know with time I could adapt. The lady outside her shop and I would exchange a sowatdeeka-- hello. The family opposite the apartment building we're staying in would become familiar faces.

Though, as I mentioned to Caitlan once back in the room, what’s the purpose in lifting all we know as comfort into the challenge of finding a new place and recreating the routine of life away from the one we already have?

I think the clearest when away from my routine. I find my stories in my travels. And I feed from the accomplishments that rise from the challenges I set myself upon. 

Yes, that could be my story. Running away from life, following the Buddhist, honest trail to a new place in a Thai world. 


We caught a flight to Phuket that evening, headed south to Thailand's largest island and beach resort. We would have just over a week to explore the southern islands before somehow working our way up to Bangkok.

Which, at the time, neither of us were worried. There’s no plan to anything as life goes on—no plan to our trip, no plan to Caitlan’s fever. A fever that two days later would still linger at 103 degrees Fahrenheit—as we hailed a cab to the international wing of the Phuket hospital. Caitlan would be admitted and the slowest four days would settle-- each drummed stroke of the hospital room's horrible clock serving the reminder that no plan ever goes according to plan.

Top: Mae Salong tea plantation
Bottom: Mae Salong village

2 Response to No plan goes according to plan

July 13, 2013 at 9:22 PM

Love it , just had visit recently

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