Bus to the border

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February 6th 2019
Published: February 6th 2019
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Pakse to Ubon Ratchathani

We have woken early ready for breakfast before our bus trip across the border. We have exactly the right amount of cash for fried eggs, bread and a drink at the cafe. The rest of our cash has been spent at the supermarket stocking up on drinks and munchies since kip will be useless once we exit Laos.

All packed, we check out, only to find our breakfast restaurant, along with just about every other restaurant in the street, is firmly closed! Ah, it’s new year and most of these places are Chinese owned. It looks like we are either going without, eating munchies, or risking the Indian breakfast then?

An Indian restaurant owner beckons us in. He can do fried eggs and bread, plus lassi for me and tea for Ian. We do a mental calculation and yes, we have enough money!

Breakfast has arrived. The eggs are overdone and the bread is stale, but the lasso is nice. Ian reports the Indians do a good cup of tea too. Now we are joined by a Russian who wants to share our table. He is drunk and, we think, stoned too. We make some polite conversation then pay and beat a hasty retreat.

We return to the travel agent and at 8am we are packed into a share tuk tuk. We know the drill. As we are waiting to leave, more drum banging and dancing in the street - today’s dragon is yellow.

We are soon deposited at the bus station. Here, our passports are checked and our vouchers exchanged for bus tickets.

We are first on the bus so choose our seats. Ian has indicated that we need to be right of the bus to avoid the greenhouse effect. Temperature today is 37 degrees.

The bus departs very promptly at 8.32am...very impressed. It ambles on back towards Pakse town. We are in, what passes for, rush hour here.

Just out of town and we are on a good tarmac toll road. That said, there are still cows and calves wandering over it liberally. The drivers toot their horns and take it in their stride...just imagine if that happened on the M25!

We have arrived at the border. Now, what’s the procedure? Bags off the bus or on? We would assume off but everyone else seems to be going without. We follow the crowd, leaving bags on and we are swiftly checked out of Laos. I must say it is far less complicated than getting in!

Now, we need Thai visas. There is nowhere obvious for the visa on arrival. We walk down the dusty track, passing a few ‘duty free’ shops and arrive at a checkpoint. Our passports are checked and we are told to step across the road. Do we need to collect our luggage from the bus? They appear to be telling us no. A Korean chap from our bus looks like he might know what’s going on so we follow him.

We see a sign ‘To Thailand’ - it takes us to another checkpoint. Passports are checked again and we are waved through - what about our visa? I’m also still slightly stressing about the luggage as we walk along an underground passage but at least we have found the ‘Visa on arrival’ as we reach the far end.

Visa forms completed and issued - another simple and relatively fast process. Now we are walking through the ‘check luggage area’ - OMG I knew we should have bought our luggage!

We walk on through and see our bus. The customs men have offloaded the bags and point us back to the scanner room. Relieved to be reunited with all my worldly goods, we take our bags and complete the scanning process...not that they bothered about any of the hand luggage left by various passengers onboard. The customs men obligingly take the bags and lift them back into the luggage compartment. It’s only 10am and we are across the border!

The rest of our journey continues without incident - Ian sleeping through most of it.

We arrive in Ubon Ratchatani at 11.30am. We are back to being dumped at a bus station for outside town. A meter taxi to our hotel should cost around 50 Baht but, as usual with foreigners, the meter is switched off and the price has doubled to 100 Baht. The reason for this, apparently, is that we have luggage! That makes it £2.50 for a 20 minute car ride so pit’s not worth arguing and we are certainly not contemplating walking!

We arrive at our hotel which is like a travel lodge - modern with bright, funky furniture. We are welcomed with cold mango juice to drink...I don’t think you’d get that in a travel lodge. :-) Our room is on the second floor at the front and has comfy beds and pillows.

We decide to go out to survey the surroundings. First we need a bank. We withdraw some cash using an atm but also try our luck at exchanging our ‘dirty dollars’ rejected in Laos. I seriously don’t think there are any other foreigners staying in town. Everybody turns and stares at us when we enter the bank! We take a numbered ticket and wait. They have seating for customers in the queue - a great idea that the UK might do well to adopt.

My number is called. Of course I don’t realise this as I don’t speak Thai! The lady beckons so I guess it must be me. My notes are scanned through a machine and I need to sign a piece of paper and produce my passport. So it looks like the dirty money is fine here. Now she wants my Thai telephone number. I don’t have one! I give them my UK mobile hoping that will be OK, even though the SIM card is not currently in the phone!

There is a lot of discussion going on and now they want my passport back. Further scrutiny. What country do I come from? United Kingdom, Great Britain...OK. I am now beginning to wonder if there is something dodgy with those notes and that any minute now the Thai police are going to arrive! Then suddenly the drawer is opened and Thai Baht is being counted out. The money is handed over and I am asked to sign the photocopy of my passport. All done.

I could do with a haircut and locate a hairdresser. She is busy but I can be third in the queue if I want to return later.

We go off in search of lunch. There is a noodle soup shop buzzing with activity so we go there. A little old lady welcomes us inside and brings two glasses of water that have a distinct brownish tinge to them. We thank her but don’t dare to drink! Hmmm, the noodle soup is not the best we have ever tasted either. It is full of tofu which we find rather bland but the rice noodles and soup are passable.

We ask for the bill. The lady holds up four fingers to each of us. She whisks my 100 Baht note away, returning with 20 Baht change and an offering stick to poke into their spirit bucket. We see that all the other sticks have a 20 Baht note stuck between them. I wave my change at her and she nods with a big smile. I wedge the note in place and stuff the stick in the bucket. Well that was a very clever way of extracting a tip from us. :-)

We return to the hotel. I have decided against the haircut. The Thais really don’t seem to go in for western style haircuts so I am worried about the result. Maybe I will wait until we reach New Zealand!

It’s time for dinner so we try a restaurant just up the road from our hotel. I try to convey that I don’t want chillies in my food. Ah, no spicey, no spicey, I am assured. Our food arrives and nearly blows my head off...if this is no spicey then I would hate to know what is! Fortunately there’s also a 7-11 selling ice creams to cool my tongue afterwards.


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