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Published: January 19th 2019
We are awoken to an announcement on the tannoy - we just catch the tail end which is telling us not to leave any of our belongings on the train. It’s only 5am so it can’t be our stop yet. It turns out to be Khon Kaen, so nowhere near...the conductor had told us 6am for our stop, though our tickets say 6.45am. Anyway, it looks like we’re all awake now and there’s a bit of a queue for the loos. Oh well, I suppose I might as well get dressed. There are three loos and two wash basins at the end of each carriage so I don’t have to wait long.
It’s 8am and we have arrived at Nong Khai - the end of the line. Those of us left on the train all appear to be heading the same way - the Laotian border. A helpful guard assists us with getting our luggage off the train and tells us there is another train link into Laos. We queue for our tickets which appear to be a combination of train and minivan...vastly overpriced, but convenient!
Next we queue to have our Thai exit visas stamped and then move
along the platform to board a somewhat dilapidated train in no-man’s land. The train waits whilst everyone completes the exit process then we chug on for l10-15 minutes, crossing the Mekong and entering into Laos.
Once more, we all pile off the train. We are directed to window number 1 where blank ‘visa on arrival’ forms are handed out. We fill them out and hand them over along with our pre-prepared photos. Mine is rather old and somewhat faded so I am not sure if it will be accepted but I know they will take a new one for a fee. It appears that my photo has been stapled in place so I assume it’s ok. Now we are waved on to window number two.
The lady behind window two appears to be doing nothing and snaps her window closed. It’s tinted glass so we are not sure what’s happening. Meanwhile we are forced to stand and listen to loud garish music. Eventually the window snaps open and a passport is thrust out with the photo page held open. The lady in front claims it and the window snaps closed again. Another long wait and the window re-opens
- two more passports are thrust out - they are ours.
We proceed to the minibus to await the remaining passengers - it’s clearly going to be a long process!
Minivan full and our driver announces...you have all bought tickets to central bus station, it’s a long way out of town, you want to go to your hotel, you pay me more! Here we go. Another sting but at 50 Baht each (£1.25), we can’t be bothered to argue.
One lady has refused to be stung and is dropped in a vague place in town...not at the bus station. We pass the bus station a little further down the road - another ploy to disorient tired travellers we assume.
It’s been fifteen years since our last trip to Laos and the capital, Vientiane, has changed beyond all recognition. The sleepy little town is now a city with tall skyscrapers, modern stores, restaurants and leisure facilities, plus there is loads of traffic. Well that’s progress for you.
Our hotel is pleasant - olde worlde, highly polished solid wood floors and antique furniture abound. We have been allocated a third floor room which is quite a hike
and we have to take great care on the polished wooden staircase which is like a skating rink - there is a strict ‘no shoes’ policy here. We have a corner room with a double balcony and not particularly pretty views.
It’s now midday and so we go off in search of money and brunch. It’s Saturday and only one bank in town is open. It isn’t too hard to locate and now we have a bunch of extremely confusing bank notes to get our heads around...one pound equals over 11,000 Laotian kip, that will take some mental conversion.
Now for lunch. We seek out our old favourite, the Scandinavian Bakery - it’s still there and still serving it’s excellent breakfast of juice, fresh bread, croissant, fried eggs and hot drink. This fills a gap before we do a reccy of the area.
It’s really very hot so we opt for a siesta followed by a stroll along the Mekong, with a look at various statues and temples on the way. We sort out a local SIM card for our phone and also book our onward travel tickets on the sleeper bus to Phonsavon.
This evening we eat at a nearby restaurant. We order overpriced spaghetti bolognaise, which arrives as in tiny portions, washed down with beer and mango juice. We conclude that Vientiane has become a real tourist trap and can only hope that the rest of Laos has not followed suit!
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