On a couple of occasions, this has gotten me out of a jam. It seems the online sites block off some rooms or cars, so there is a chance you can pick them up even when other sites are marked as full.
This happened last weekend. It was a holiday. And I wanted to go for a drive in the mountains. All the rental cars were reported sold out in Chiang Rai. But I found a car on Booking.com. And, because cars were in short supply they offered me an upgrade. A big 4×4 Toyota. A bit of overkill for two people in town, but great for tackling the hills.
We headed up to the Myanmar border. There’s a road there that bobs and weaves and ups and downs, back and forth over the border. In Myanmar, it’s a bit of a hinterland. It used be opium growing territory. It probably still is. And the porosity allows for transporting all sorts of illicit goods and people.
The Thais administer the road and because it’s holey they cast a pretty keen eye over everyone passing through. They’ve got a couple of checkpoints at either end. They’ve got cameras.
And because it is on edge of a frontier, this is the interaction that happens when I channel my inner hapa-Clark Griswold and his caucasian partner and we drive up to an army-guarded gate in their big, empty, shiny rent-a-truck.
Hapa-Clark: “Hi-dee-ho there officer” Smiling. “Sawadee-Krap”
Army Guy: (to partners) “Farang!” this is a term for foreigners. They come bringing cellphone cameras. (To us) “What are you doing here?”
HC: “Just out for a drive.” Rolling down all windows
AG: Peering into an empty back seat and bed “Out for a drive? Where you from?”
HC: “Why, we’re from America! But we live here!”
AG: “Where are you going?”
HC: Using brisk and flamboyant hand gestures to indicate direction. “We’re taking the long way back to Chiang Rai, down past Doi Tung and Mae Saelong.” Chiang Rai is, in fact, nearly directly behind us.
AG: “Can I see your passports?”
HC: “Ahh.hhhh Funny thing officer! I left mine back in the hotel! Gosh darna! heh heh. I’ve got my driver’s licence though!.” I hand him this. It is, in fact, a motorcycle license and not a car license, but I make no mention of this.
Mrs. Hapa-Clark: Rolling eyes. “I’ve got my passport. Here you go.”
AG: Perusing both. Holds them up for a second Army guy to take photo with phone. He also takes pics of both the front and back of the car. He radios something and then the gate lifts up “Welcome to Thailand!” He smiles.
Beyond the gate, I’m not sure what they’re worried about. There are scores of cars of touristing Thais. Coffee shops dot the vistas competing with each other for the Insta-moments. On one peak, sandbagged and fortified trenches have been dug in overlooking the border. Pill boxes and gun emplacements point north. It, too, is now a coffee shop.
The truck came in handy in managing up steep climbs. I was glad for the upgrade. Going where only a couple hundred other people have already gone that day.