Mae Sai is the northernmost town in Thailand and sits on an important border crossing with Tachileik in Myanmar.
In the daytime Mae Sai wouldn’t particularly strike you as a ghost town (okay maybe ‘ghost town’ is a bit dramatic) with roads crammed full of cars and motorbikes waiting to cross the border and streets lined with food vendors and market stalls.
But at night time, Mae Sai is a different beast entirely. Deserted and eerily quiet –not even a shadow of its daytime self.
This was the first stop on our three day scooter trip around Thailand’s Golden Triangle; an area at the intersection of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar famed in the 1920s for being one of the main opium producing areas in the World before poppy growing was made illegal in 1959.
We had driven through Sop Ruak, the ‘centre of the Golden Triangle’ but it was a bit too touristy for my liking so after looking around we decided to carry on driving. However, after checking into our hotel in Mae Sai later on I admit that I was wistfully remembering all the gorgeous-looking resorts on the edge of the Mekong that we had passed in Sop Ruak.
But anyway, there we were, in Mae Sai.
We checked into the Wang Thong Hotel, the most central we could find. It was a grand hotel with high ceilings, chandeliers and a marble lobby…but not many guests.
We were taken out of the hotel, past a swimming pool (which was completely devoid of any water) and into a separate building. The room was fine for one night – very basic but it had everything we needed. We showered, took a nap and then decided to head out for some food.
By now the border had closed. And so had everywhere else it seemed. Gone were all the cars and people; the shops had all closed, restaurants had shut up shop and all the street stalls had packed up and gone home. And it was creepy. It really did remind me of the film Silent Hill – as though we’d try to escape in the morning only to find we could never leave. Stuck in Mae Sai forever!
We searched for about an hour but each restaurant we tried was closed or had just finished serving. We found a total of two street stalls, both of which looked very open and both of which told us they were no longer serving food. It clearly wasn’t our night.
Aaah well…we’d spotted a karaoke bar near to our hotel. That would do. We’d go for beer instead of food (always a good idea!) But no…even that wasn’t meant to be. When we got there we walked down a tiny claustrophobic staircase into a damp, stone basement room no larger than a prison cell.
This was not the karaoke bar I was expecting! For one, there was no one singing. In fact, there was no music whatsoever. There was a bartender behind a tiny makeshift bar and another person sat in the corner, both staring at us intently and clearly wondering what we were doing there. As was I for that matter. Needless to say we quickly made our excuses and left.
At least the hotel was serving food. And it had beer, albeit flat, stale beer…but beggars can’t be choosers right?
The dining room was huge and probably used to be impressive but was now very run down. It seems we had now left Silent Hill and stepped into the Grand Budapest Hotel (the old, empty Grand Budapest Hotel, not the thriving, busy one from the beginning).
As we were eating, the owners’ daughter got up on stage and began to belt out old-school Western love songs. Besides us, the only other people there were the owners of the hotel and two very drunk Frenchmen who certainly were not listening to any singing.
And so she ended up singing solely to us. Or more specifically she was singing to Dom, seeing as my chair was facing away from her. And, to my great amusement, she continued to sing to him for the next 30 minutes, even trying to get him on stage at one point to sing a duet with her. Dom was getting more and more uncomfortable and I was in a fit of hysterics, the singer oblivious and continuing her serenade.
Eventually though, after being joined by one of the drunken Frenchman who proceeded to talk complete gibberish to us for quite some time we decided to call it a night and head to bed, ready for Day Two of our trip around the Golden Triangle.