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Andy’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 16 Dec 2006

Location: Nong Khai, Thailand


After spending far longer in Thailand than originally planned, though not at all frustrated by this (flexibility is the key to travel), i was moving onto country four of my journey.

It took Ruth and I 600km and 13 hours to reach Nong Khai, the border town in Thailand. It was a journey far more enjoyable thanks to our form of transport; this was my first experience of sleeper trains and i was pleasantly surprised. Though soft sleeper involves a private cabin, hard sleeper is quite satisfactory and we were shown to our bunks which were lined either side of the carriage.

The decor was straight from a sixties public sector catalogue. Leather seats, medical ward strip lighting and a colour pallette revolving around dark browns and lurid greens. But the carriage was comfortable with adequately sized beds, clean sheets and even a partition curtain to save fellow passengers the objectionable sight of my gaping, dribbling mouth which usually makes an unwelcome appearance on public transport.

Unfortunately we had chosen a non-aircon carriage assuming the windows would be open to provide a cool breeze. Initially this was the case but when the lower seats were converted into beds the windows were shut and it soon became stuffy and hot. Fans on the ceiling twirled uselessly in circles just skimming the edge of our beds. A mouse with flatulence could have provided more airation. Pardon the crude image.

Below us were two thai women. One looked the spitting image of Julie from Friends which was “just kick you in the crutch, spit on your neck fantastic”. The other had brought a small dog on the journey who refused to settle and periodically threatened to mark my rucksack as his territory. Luckily she placed some newspaper down (over my flip flops) which the dog could relieve himself on. This was left unchanged all night and mingled with the foul miasma emanating from the toilet.

But after a few celebratory beers and games of snakes and ladders we managed to get some decent shut eye rather than the neckache and disjointed sleep that overnight coaches and awkward positions induce.

Arriving at Nong Khai well rested we made our way via tuk tuk to the border where Ruth had to pay 1000 baht for leaving two days late. After a short bus across the mighty Mekong river we approached Laos immigration only to discover the 30 dollars we had both withdrawn in Thailand was inadequate for the visa. The authorities had raised the price to 35 dollars - plus one extra dollar as it was a Sunday. “Anything else?” i wanted to ask. An extra dollar for wearing a green t-shirt? Five for each bracelet i was now sporting? Ten because of the spinage i still had stuck between my front teeth from the night before?

I refrained of course and simply inquired if i could pay by visa.

Of course not.

“Any ATM’s then?”

“Yes, yes.” - I was pointed round the corner…

…to a man who informed me it was impossible to use VISA on Sunday.

Back on the bus, back over the mighty Mekong and back to the Thai border. But of course the ATM was within Thailand which involved passport control and the issuing of a whole new visa. In the end i snuck back in with the help of a sleepy border guard and my infamous skills of stealth and deception (i.e. climbing over the small barrier).

Eventually then we were issued with our visas and entered Laos. Hassle, but then
this is one of the least developed countries in the world.