Chapter 4: A Christmas Bite

We were riding in convoy up a highway north of Chiang Rai towards the golden triangle. Where the border of Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos meet. Wearing jeans, a hoodie, and my raincoat over top, it was still cold. I never expected to be so cold in Thailand. The windchill factor of riding a motorbike at 80kmh made it feel all too much like home.

I had met an American guy in my hostel the day before. He was trying to organise a driver to take him to see a couple of the sights around the area. I had interrupted his conversation with one of the staff members to ask if I could join on this adventure. The plans eventually changed to taking motorbikes instead.

There ended up being four of us, an American, a Brit, an Australian, and a Kiwi. We hadn’t spent more than five minutes together and now we were off to explore the sights. This is the true joy of the solo backpacker life. When the opportunity arises to explore with some fellow travellers. You go for it.

During our day together we discovered that we all had the same plan, to be in Chiang Mai for Christmas. In a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas due to their Buddhist heritage, it seemed like it would be the place to go. As it turned out, a lot of the people I had met along my journey throughout Thailand had the same plan.

Christmas Eve was more or less a normal touristy day of checking out a nearby garden. In the evening I headed to the night markets to catch up with some of the people I had met and wander around. As like any other Asian night market, it is a little chaotic. Not because of cars or bikes, but because of the sheer number of people. If you’re in a hurry you are going to be late. There is no way to forge a quick path through the crowds when everyone is stopping every few metres to look at the different t-shirts or artwork on offer.

After hanging out with some new friends, I decided it was time to head in. I wandered through the dark streets of Chiang Mai Old City back to my hostel. I stopped a couple of times to take a few pictures of locals on the streets and the beautiful buildings. I wandered down a sketchy looking, unlit side street, and discovered there was a spot with a good view of the temple which was bathed in light and looked like it was on fire under the night sky. I stopped to take a picture and as I was standing there, trying to get the exposure compensation to work on my phone, out of nowhere, I felt something grab my leg.

I turned, shocked, and confused as to why someone would grab my leg like that. It wasn’t a person, it was a dog! Still in shock, it took me a few seconds to realise what had happened. The dog looked at me confused too, it didn’t make a sound, it didn’t growl, it didn’t give me any warning, it just stood still in front of me, waiting for my reaction.

I retreated, bailed, I got out of that street as quickly as possible and tried to see if I had bite marks on my leg. I pulled my shorts down in the middle of the street, I didn’t care if people could see, I was more concerned about what could eventuate from being bitten by a dog in South East Asia. I couldn’t see any bite marks or even bruising but still, my heart was racing a million miles an hour.

I hustled back to my hostel and went immediately for the showers and scrubbed my leg almost to the point that my skin was going red. I thought maybe I had dodged a bullet but I had to see a doctor to be sure.

Christmas morning and the anxiety about the possibility of contracting rabies was the only thing running through my mind. I got an uber to a nearby clinic and as I got in, my driver said, “Merry Christmas.” Confused, I asked her what she had said, even though I heard perfectly, my brain was in another world, “Merry Christmas” she said again. “Thanks” I responded, “Merry Christmas to you, too!”

I was bracing myself for the worst. I had seen and heard some not so great things about medical facilities in Asia. What I walked into, however, was world class. It was clean, the staff were very attentive and helpful, there wasn’t a waiting room full of coughing people. It was a relief.

I explained what had happened and I very quickly saw a doctor. He had a look, couldn’t see any skin breaks or even bruising and said I would probably be fine. No need to get the shots. A little taken aback I left the clinic still feeling anxious about the possibilities. I decided to get a second opinion and found another nearby clinic that was open.

Again, this clinic was nothing like the horror stories I had heard about this part of the world. I was also seen really quickly. No waiting half a day and filling out forms. It was all too easy. Easier than home in fact.

This doctor said much the same. There was no evidence of a bite and suggested that I shouldn’t need the shots but that it was up to me.

There, of course, was no harm in having the shots. It would give me immunity if I were to get bitten again in one of the many other countries I was yet to visit. The only downside is that it would affect the plans I currently had.

I consulted with a doctor friend from home who stressed that I absolutely should start the five shots immediately. So it was settled.

I got the first shot then and there. It was just like any other shot. The nurses were very sweet and made sure I was okay with everything and even gave me step-by-step commentary on what she was doing. I was given a card and some documentation to fill out as I got the remainder of the shots.

When I left the clinic, my anxiety levels had returned to normal. It was a bit of a hindrance that I would now have to be near a clinic for next 4 shots. It certainly bet the potential alternatives of dying from rabies.

It’s funny how in the flash of an eye everything can change. You could say that it is a metaphor for life. You do not know what tomorrow will bring. A dog could bite you down a dark alleyway in the back streets of Chiang Mai and have to throw all future plans out the window. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can quite as easily lead to something new or even better.

It’s easy to focus on the negatives in these situations or even on worst case scenarios. Certainly, it could very well have been a life or death situation if the bite was worse than it was. Who knows, had I listened to the local doctors and not got the shots, maybe I wouldn’t even be here right now.

At the time, I was annoyed that I wasn’t going to be able to cross the border into Laos. However, It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. As I made new plans to head to Malaysia where medical facilities were more reputable and easier to come by, things were happening behind the scenes that would change the rest of my travels remarkably.

That’s a story for another day.

Next week: Sweet Pai for New Years.

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