Tuesday, February 27, 2007 Laos Lao Peoples Democratic Republic / Thailand Thailand

Return to Bangkok

And Arc de Triomphe (Patouxai), allegedly built from concrete donated by the US to build a new runway at the airport. It is sometimes known by the locals as 'the vertical airport'. [IMG_1265]
Vientiane's Champs-Elysées (Lane Xang Avenue) [Enlarge]

Getting from Vientiane to Nong Khai in Thailand is a multi-stage process: Transport 24 kilometres from Vientiane to the Friendship Bridge; walk through the Laos border; minibus across the Friendship Bridge (pedestrians not allowed); walk through the Thai border; tuk-tuk three kilometres to Nong Khai. Luckily there is also a bus service which runs all the way from Vientiane to Nong Khai, so we decided to take that rather than piecing together separate transport for each stage. We had borrowed someone else's Laos guidebook and found that there were three buses a day, and the next one was due at 10:30 from Vientiane's Market Place bus station. We checked out of our hotel and walked the few blocks to the bus station. It was stiflingly hot and muggy, even at 09:45. Low cloud meant the humidity was even higher than usual. A leisurely walk with our small bags left us soaked in sweat. It got better: when we reached the bus station we found that the timetable had changed, and there was no longer a 10:30 bus! The next one was at 12:40. A local taxi tout helped us to clarify our options. We could get a local bus to the border—he pointed out the local bus crammed full of people, shopping and livestock—or we could get a tuk-tuk. His tuk-tuk. Neither of these options was appealing, especially since they would only get us as far as the Laos border at the start of the Friendship Bridge. We chose to go with our own, third way: wait for the 12:40 air conditioned bus. We found a nice cool café round the corner to have breakfast.

After a couple of croissants and a leisurely read of the previous day's Bangkok Times we wandered back at the bus station. The clouds had lifted and the air was less humid, but it was still blisteringly hot. Nevertheless the bus was on time and we were at the border post in no time at all. Every border crossing we've done has been different and not one of them has gone according to plan. We'd read up on what we needed for the Laos/Thai border and arrived at Laos immigration with our pre-completed departure cards, passports and a crisp 20,000 kip note to cover our exit tax (GBP 1.07 / USD 2.07). The guards took the departure cards, stamped the passports, then decided to waive the exit fee! There was a booth marked "exit tax" or something similar, but the person inside just waved us through. We have no idea why.

Back on the waiting bus we crossed the Friendship Bridge back into Thailand. Ever wondered what happens when you cross a land border from a country where they drive on the right to one where they drive on the left? The road turned into a dual carriageway, then each carriageway curved round like a bow tie before turning back in on itself. The two halves met in the middle at what was basically a cross-roads. You make sure nothing is coming from the other direction, cross over and the road goes back to being a single carriageway with you on the other side. Simple.

And then we were back in Thailand. It didn't take long for us to know that we'd made the right decision to stay the previous night in Vientiane. Nong Khai doesn't have a lot to offer. We took a tuk-tuk to the railway station to buy our tickets for the night train back to Bangkok, then another tuk-tuk back into town to find somewhere to eat an early dinner. There are restaurants in Nong Khai, but we somehow managed to miss them. Eventually, right at the end of the street on the river front we came across Tony's, an English pub, guest house and restaurant. There was a blackboard outside boasting at the size of the pies, the greasiness of the all-day breakfasts, the milkiness of the hot tea, etc. In England we would have walked straight past the place. But we were out of options and we had a twelve hour train journey ahead of us. Glenn went for the house special, the steak and ale pie with mash, peas and gravy. Isla, ever adventurous tried the sausage and mash. How wrong first impressions can be! The home-made steak and ale pie was the best that Glenn had ever tasted, and Isla was delighted to find that her mash was lumpy, just like her dad makes it. Just goes to show that you never can tell unless you try!

We got a third and final tuk-tuk back to the train station and boarded our train. We had treated ourselves to a two-berth first class compartment back to Bangkok. It had a washbasin and was clean in all the places that mattered, like the bedding. We left Nong Khai on time and shut the curtains on the night. Two hours into the journey we asked the steward to make up our beds and we went to bed. We discovered that it is much easier to sleep on a night train than a night bus. The rocking was very soothing and with our ear plugs in even the train's horn was drowned out. We woke up at 05:30 on the outskirts of Bangkok with the GPS reading 21 kilometres to go, and we arrived into the station exactly on time.

We were even earlier arriving at the Prince Palace Hotel than we had been last time we got to Bangkok, and again they had no double rooms available yet. We must have looked a bit crumpled and travel weary because after a few minutes of sitting in the lobby to wait for someone to check out, the receptionist called us over and said he would upgrade us to a suite and we could have the key now. Result! After exploring our suite (OK, it's not all that big—it's just that we're used to budget accommodation, so humour us) we took a quick shower changed our clothes. We were ready to hit the town and face our next challenge… the China visa.

Map of Day 094

Day 094
Vientiane to Bangkok

This map shows the route we took in this post. Click it to see larger maps of our whole route at flickr.

Maps are taken from the CIA World Factbook.


Jimmy K. said...

Very Very good reading! As a Yank, I have some questions. What is a Tuk-Tuk, Tout, Steak and Ale Pie, Sausage and Mash? How are you doing with your budget, above or below what you thought it would cost to this point? Have you seen any Europeans or Yanks, working in the countries you have visited? What do you miss from home, that you didn't think you would miss?

Glenn Livett said...

The UK and the US: two nations divided by a common language! :-)

So many questions, and our internet time is going to run out in the next ten minutes! We're moving on from Bangkok today, so may not have a connection for a few days. We will do a post answering all your questions as soon as possible, we promise.

Glenn & Isla