Posted by Garth on Monday, May 11, 2009

Left Bangkok on the evening of May 8th at 8pm on a sleeper train which was scheduled to arrive in Nong Khai at around 9am, May 9th.  Train ride was pretty uneventful, though I did bring along a bottle of Sangsom to help pass the time.  Upon arrival in Nong Khai I was accosted by tuk tuk drivers.  Figuring that no matter what I did I was gonna get ripped off, and that these guys probably have a process in place for getting farangs into Laos, I figured I'd just go with one.  He took me to a "travel agency" who basically fill out the Laos Visa application for you.  Less headache at the border I suppose.  Though, and I'd read this before but was still a little surprised, Canada pays the most of any country for a Laos Visa.  And it's not even like "Canada, US and UK" or something.  No, it's Canada only at $42 USD.  Then US and a bunch of others at $40 USD.  Which isn't much of a difference, but why do they have to single us out like that?  Did Canada sleep with Laos' sister and Laos just wants a little revenge?  Baffling.

Anyway, after doing that the tuk tuk took me to the Thai side of Friendship Bridge and I got my exit stamp from Thailand, thus invalidating the remainding 30+ days on my B Visa.  But since I figured I wouldn't be coming back within enough time to make the remaining time on that worthwhile, I didn't bother going to an Immigration office and getting an extension, which would have cost me 1500 baht and would really only be worthwhile if I came back with at least 15 days remaining.  So, after getting the exit stamp, myself and a bunch of other travellers sat around waiting for our bus to take us across the bridge.  When the bus arrived all the locals (i.e. Thai/Laos folks) scrambled and pushed and shoved their way onto the bus.  I wasn't really sure why until I got on there and realized that it was standing room only, and that was putting it mildly.  I'm surprised I didn't have someone sitting on my shoulders or hanging upside down from the ceiling.  But a few minutes later we were on the Laos side of the bridge and going through the whole Visa/passport stamp stuff.  Luckily it had all been taken care of by the travel agency, with the exception of a small form I had to fill out for the passport stamper guy (customs agent?).  Went smoothly, and I was supposed to wait for a different bus on the other side.  But I couldn't find the contact guy and tuk tuk drivers were accosting me, and I was tired and wanted a shower, so I just got some tuk tuk to take me to a cheap hotel with internet in Vientiane, about a 20 min drive from the border.

Finally arrived at the hotel and it was 600 baht a night.  Or about 150,000 Kip.  Don't get me started on this whole currency thing... Thailand was bad enough when it started at around 34 baht/CAD and dropped as low as 26.  But now I need to do these other conversions.  Basically one baht is about 244 Kip, and one CAD is about 6700 Kip.  Feel strange to take out 700,000 of any currency from the ATM.  At any rate, the hotel's internet cost 70 baht/hour (which is exorbitant - I was paying 15 in Bangkok when I had to use an internet cafe), and it was broken.  My first day there consisted of sleeping all day then drinking Beer Lao Dark all night... or at least until the bars closed at 11:30, at which point I took a tuk tuk back to the room and proceeded to do everything in my power to try to find food, which was impossible.  Not even a 7-11 or the like open.  The next day I slept really late, past checkout time, so figured I'd just keep the room another night.  Found some place called K-Plaza a little way down the road that seemed to be an electronics mall of some sort.  Very white and well lit.  And they had free internet terminals, so I was able to do at least a little catch up in the way of email.  Then back to the bars on the Mekong, one specifically, the Full Moon Cafe, which was offering 2-for-1 happy hour from 5-7pm, however which only applied to cocktails I realized once I got there, and I couldn't pass up more Beer Lao Dark, so a waste of a happy hour.  But they did have good prices on beer and excellent food.  When I was leaving I ran into the same tuk tuk driver who took me back to my room the night before and he hooked me up with one of his fellow drivers for that evening's return trip.  These trips were 20,000 Kip, which is about 80 baht, which I feel is a little expensive, but it's tough for me to haggle when I don't really know the value of the currency to locals.

This morning I woke up on time and checked out of that hotel and moved to a new one which I'd found while doing research with my precious internet time.  Same price (actually slightly cheaper - I think about 550 baht/night) and has in-room WiFi and a pool.  It's a little bit further from the Mekong bar district than the previous hotel, but still only about a 20-30 min walk.  Slept all afternoon while downloading TV shows at a blazing 13 KB/s... so didn't actually get one show completed, and even doing basic research on Vientiane is harrowing.  Went back to the Mekong bar area again cuz there was a Tex-Mex restaurant I wanted to check out.  Wasn't bad, but wasn't fantastic either.  Though I did enjoy the ham quesadilla - good combination and perhaps something we need to add to the Dos quesadilla options.  As I was leaving (decided to walk home as I'd only had 2 beers) I ran into my tuk tuk buddy again, so I figured I'd give him the fare and let him drive me (also cuz it was dark and I wasn't exactly sure how to get back to my new hotel).

So, here I sit in my new hotel writing this post.  I realize that I haven't taken any pictures yet, but I tend to be pretty bad about that.  I'll try to snap some tomorrow instead of sleeping all day... not sure why I'm taking these naps since I've been here... normally I'm not a napper at all.  Also need to check out some of the French-inspired breakfasts I've been reading about.

Things that I've learned so far:

  1. I feel helpless without internet, and only slightly less helpless with slow internet.
  2. I don't travel well alone, but then I think I came to this realization in the Philippines.
  3. I miss Phuket.


Rob Drimmie said...

Hey, happy birthday!

MoM said...

Yes, waiting for pictures. Sounds like you are navigating the system--even though you don't favour travelling alone--Phuket misses you, too.

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