Today’s post was supposed to be a “wrap-up” of the Great Ho Chi Minh Trail Ride. I intended to use the last day in Laos & Thailand to reflect on everything. There were to be glorious stories of “places to go, things to do, and people to see”… and of Bangkok massage parlors. As we know, the world has changed, at least temporarily, and I never made it anywhere.
As the COVID-19 virus started spreading, I figured I would make it to Laos in the nick of time to complete the trip. I mean, as long as I got there healthy, the jungles of the HCMT were probably going to be the safest place to be. I had a whole plan for getting there healthy: a bag full disinfectant wipes and sprays to sanitize a cocoon around me; a 3/4 face mask with N99 rated filters. I also obtained some MREs so I wouldn’t have to touch or eat anything brought to me by others.
I even considered the consequence of getting stuck there for a while. As you will see in a minute, I hadn’t considered all the implications. But I figured if I got stuck there, I would just ride it out. At the time, Laos didn’t have any cases of COVID – 19. So, if I got stuck in Laos, I thought it would just be a chance to go more places that had been deleted from the itinerary.
That even sounded like a good idea. You know… see all the stuff I was going to miss. And if some government or airline wouldn’t let me come home, then I wouldn’t have to justify it to my wife… I wouldn’t end up talking in a high-squeaky voice after I got back. Yeah… that’s the ticket.
Or perhaps I would get stuck in Thailand because our government closed down any incoming. Ok… that wouldn’t be so bad either. I would just rent a “street” motorcycle in Bangkok and tour Thailand. At the time, I thought another trip to Chiang Mai would be in order. Even if travel became somewhat restricted, I would just find a Bangkok massage parlor to stay in… not such a bad way to “hunker-down.” And once again, nothing to explain to my wife. Ummmm… I wouldn’t tell about the massage parlor part.
As things started to unfold, I even considered going a week earlier to avoid possible requirements to “self-quarantine.” My thinking was, “Just get there.”
All of this “schemin’” was only a bit more than three weeks ago. About the time I started packing my gear (I always wait till the last days to pack), I began receiving emails from the Thai and Laotian embassies. When traveling abroad, I always sign up for the “Smart Traveler Enrolment Program” (STEP) to receive travel updates and warnings. All the warnings were to “reconsider travel.” Ok… I reconsidered… and I’m still going.
Then the warnings became a little more concerning; “…airlines may cancel at any time, and countries may close their borders at any time… be prepared to stay for a prolonged period.” No sweat. I had considered that. A prolonged period in a Thai massage parlor seemed pretty good to me.
Within a couple of days came the messages from Laos border crossings were closed, but Wattay airport would remain open. Each day the warnings became more dire. Finally, the warning included “no travel from Thailand to Laos soon.” I could no longer deny the obvious. I “pulled the plug.” I realized that the measures governments around the world were implementing would mean no riding the HCMT… no Thai massage parlors. None of what I planned and hoped for was going to happen.
Since then, I continue to get updates from the embassies. Laos is “closed down” with no travel within the provinces or between the provinces. All airports are closed. I even tried to send a package to Don Duval in Vientiane, but no carrier can get there. The Embassy in Vientiane chartered a “last chance” flight out of Laos, and it departed on 12 Apr… at a cost of $1900 per-person to San Francisco.
Now about that Bangkok massager parlor. Here an update from the Thai Embassy:
“On 25 Mar, the Royal Thai Government declared a national state of emergency, effective 26 Mar, in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Thailand. Most restaurants, stores, and entertainment venues are closed… Several provinces have closed their borders…”
It appears that all hotels in Thailand have been directed to close and that all airports are either shut down or soon will be. As I continue to get daily updates from the embassies, I’m just glad I “pulled the plug” when I did. If I had made it to Thailand or Laos, I would have never have made it to the HCMT. I would likely have just turned around and come home, or be stuck there… and no massage parlor.
Today’s notice from the Laotian Embassy was:
Departure of Special Chartered Flight on April 12
A special chartered flight arranged by the U.S. Department of State departed Vientiane on April 12. The Embassy is not aware of any remaining option available to U.S. Citizens for leaving Laos via commercial means. The Embassy will not be arranging for another chartered flight.
I was scheduled to fly out of Southern Laos to Bangkok on the 13th. By then all flight out of Laos had been canceled. The following paraphrases a very long email from the Embassy, but this is the essence of what it said.
“If you can, get out now. Flights into Thailand are being suspended. Thus, there will be no airplanes to take you out. If you don’t get out immediately, then plan on remaining in Thailand indefinitely.”
Pewwwww! It’s a good thing I didn’t make it there. It would have been one thing to spend a few extra weeks in either Laos or Thailand… but that “indefinitely” part wouldn’t be fun. Everything in both Laos and Thailand is in lockdown. Only it is much more stringent than it is here. There would have been no exploring or travel of any kind. I’m not sure where I would even stay… indefinitely.
Fortunately, all of my airline travel expenses have been refunded. I canceled the hotel reservations early enough, so I didn’t have to pay any penalty.
If you read my last post, you already know the Great Ho Chi Minh Trail Ride is NOT canceled… only postponed. The current planning is to make the trip in mid-November. The way things are looking, I think the world will be mostly “opened-up” again by then. It seems to be the best time to go.
In the meantime, I’m going to resume posting stuff about Laos and the HCMT. There’s a lot more to tell about now that I have time to post it. Upcoming topics may include:
- The Kong Lor Cave
- Pathet-Lao Caves
- Southern segments of the HCMT (sometimes called “Tiger Hound”)
- The Bolaven Plateau
- Operation Black Lion
- Commando Hunt I – VII
- And more as time allows.
As always, comments are encouraged. Keep in mind that comments are moderated and may not appear to the general public for a little while. While almost any “on topic” and “civil” comments are welcome, keep in mind that this is not the place partisan political or venomous debates.