I spend $4 all the time without thinking about it while likely walking away without anything much that leaves an impression on me, except for maybe the impression all those $4 specialty doughnuts have left on my hips. But, the $4 I spent to stay the night at the Funky Box Hostel in Chiang Khong while en route to Laos just might take the cake (or doughnut) for the best $4 I have ever spent.
For starters, I am not particularly a hosteler. I had just left Chiang Rai, staying at the Le Meridian, and found the housing options to be quite limited in the tiny border town of Chiang Khong which sees a lot of barely a night stays from travelers making their way to the slow boats. After reading a ton of reviews raving about nights spent at the Funky Box and The Hub Pub, the hostels adjoining bar, I decided to give it a try. The risk was low, the options were few, and if it turned out to be terrible, it was only for 12 hours.
I hoped on a local bus in Chiang Rai…like quite literally hopped on as the bus was already pulling out when I arrived at the station. The bus pulled into an alley around 6pm and dumped off the remaining passengers, mostly locals and a few travelers and I headed towards a row of waiting tuk tuk drivers.
None of the drivers seemed familiar with the Funky Box and all gave me confused looks until a young driver came over, looked at my reservation print out and yelled out “Hub Pub”. Suddenly, everyone knew where I was going. I hopped on a tuk tuk and five minutes later, arrived at yet another alley. It was getting dark and I was eager to not keep ending up in alleys.
As the driver stopped and motioned that the hostel was up ahead ‘somewhere’, I heard a voice call out ‘you’re in the wrong place!’ Great. Thanks faceless voice. Super helpful. Then, an English guy emerged and asked, ‘you looking for Funky Box?” Yes! Someone has heard of this place. The guy then offered to show me where it was. He grabbed my bag from the tuk tuk and we walked about 100 feet up the road to the Hub Pub.
That’s when things got awesome.
Enter Alan Bate: A former big-time cyclist from the UK and Guiness World Record holder who tired of the fluff and superficial and followed his heart. After getting sick in Laos on an around-the world- cycling adventure and being transported to Chiang Khong, Thailand for treatment, Alan fell in love with the area. A few years later, he realized Chiang Khong was where he was meant to be. He sold off everything and moved from the UK to Chiang Khong and open The Hub Pub and Cycling Museum and the adjacent Funky Box Hostel with his wife.
It’s not everyday that you meet a solid human who really gets it…you know like really understands what is important in life and is able to see past the glitter and facades and live the life that makes them happy. I saw that in Alan and really admired him for making the life that he wanted.
There was no one else staying at Funky Box that night. But, there were a few travelers hanging out at the bar and the English guy who had met me in the alley. We ordered some food from his restaurant, which he brought over t us, and we all sat on the porch, drinking beers and chatting about our travels and just life in general. At some point, we ended up inside the bar watching each other’s favorite Youtube videos on the main TV…and drinking more beers. Alan also showed me around the really neat cycling museum he’s put together all on his own. The night was so subtle, but it turned out to be one of the best I had in Southeast Asia.
I retired early to the super clean sleeping quarters that I had all to myself. The accommodations were great and certainly more than exceeded what I was expecting. I just happened to be visiting during the coldest weather in 15 years, so I was freezing all night but that’s hardly Alan’s fault.
Alan’s perspective on life got my mind percolating and thinking about how tied to convention we all are as people. What if all did we we really wanted to do? What if we all followed our heart instead of going through the motions?
I’ll never forget Alan and my time at Funky Box. If you ever find yourself in Chiang Khong, don’t even think twice about looking him up.
Funky Box can be booked on Agoda and Hostelworld and you can find Alan and The Hub Pub on Facebook here.
Update: It seems like The Hub Pub and Funky Box is for sale. I’m totally saddened by this but it seems Alan is working on another cool project. Try to visit while you can! They are still open for now.