Lao border crossing by train: success!

The border crossing was surprisingly smooth. Pictures include: crossing Lao border via 15 minute train ride, crossed the Thai-Lao friendship bridge, arrived in Nong Khai, Thailand, went through Thai customs and boarded overnight train to Bangkok. The Thai train was a surprise. The conductor was friendly, spoke English and was very helpful to all passengers. Aside from the lights not turning off in the car, the beds were clean and comfortable, and our car had air con. The beds tuck away in the morning, turning into two passenger facing seats, and fold down in the evening for sleeping. There were helpers to take dinner orders, people to periodically sweep the train cars, and one captain per car. Last photo, metro train station in Bangkok during evening rush hour.

20121130-211855.jpg

20121130-211929.jpg

20121130-211939.jpg

20121130-211950.jpg

20121130-212003.jpg

20121130-212014.jpg

20121130-212024.jpg

20121130-212225.jpg

20121130-212032.jpg

Vientiane

Every transaction feels like you are going to battle. I sometimes forget to bargain. For example, we bought train tickets to Thailand to cross the border at the price quoted from our guesthouse manager. This morning, I saw a person negotiate his bus price. He said the guy next door was charging x, and he wanted it for a lower price. I completely forgot to ask for a lower price since the train ticket seemed reasonable and I just wanted the transaction finished for peace of mind. I read in the guide book, the border crossing is challenging and train tickets sell out in advance.

I am not sure what you are supposed to haggle over and what not to. Food, room rates, Internet, tourist attractions are at set prices. I suppose everything else is fair game.

Today we visited the most important national monument in Laos, Pha That Luang, a symbol of Buddhism and Lao sovereignty. Oddly, it was at the end of their religious festival and the grounds looked like Lollapoloza. Trash, offerings, and merchants everywhere.

Pictures: a cool sign last night, the temple, offerings at the temple, a local food stall with condiments- ingredients to make your meal spicer, saltier or sweeter.

This afternoon, tuk-tuk to bus station, mini van to border crossing, (cross the border), overnight train to Bangkok.

20121129-144811.jpg

20121129-144751.jpg

20121129-144819.jpg

20121129-144803.jpg

20121129-144836.jpg

20121129-144844.jpg

20121129-144828.jpg

Clown car

Dear Rooster,

I hear you. Everyone hears you. Please go back to sleep. It is only four am. The sun does not rise for another two hours.

Thanks.
Liane

It rained heavily again this morning so we were unable to kayak, go caving or rock climb. Instead, we took a bus to Vietiane, the capital. I have never been in a clown car before but this was the closest to it. 28 passengers and 1 driver = 29 in the van.

Vietiane today and tomorrow then overnight sleeper train to Bangkok.
Pictures: sightseeing around town (temple and arc triumph)

20121128-180004.jpg

20121128-180015.jpg

20121128-180043.jpg

20121128-180034.jpg

20121128-180024.jpg

20121128-180055.jpg

20121128-180105.jpg

20121128-180120.jpg

20121128-180128.jpg

20121128-180137.jpg

Dodgeball in Vang Vieng

My brother says people describe the type of travel I do as budget and breakneck speed. I don’t think of it as breakneck speed, just moving quickly with limited time and funds. Today we were slowed down by the rain. It didn’t clear until mid afternoon, so I spent the morning sitting in the bungalow catching up on what my brother deemed administrative tasks – catching up on reviews for places I’ve stayed, dined at or seen. One site has three levels of reviewers: novice nomad, avid traveler and globetrotter. I don’t think those descriptions quite fit me, one person said I am walking the earth. I also don’t think of myself as avoiding reality, just trying to remake it.

Pictures: footbridge with a tractor pulling people, the view from the footbridge, elementary school girls playing a version of dodgeball.

20121127-172501.jpg

20121127-172508.jpg

20121127-172453.jpg

Mekong River boat ride

I am pretty sure I could have built the boat we took this morning. It was held together by wood, nails, and screws. I only would have needed help installing the motor.

The boat ride was nice. Lush, green scenery all around. The earliest found drawing of the Buddha statues in the cave were from 1865 by a Frenchman, but it could have existed prior to that date.

Pictures: my brother and I on the boat, banana leaf tree, Buddha statues, noodle soup for lunch, a tuk-tuk in this region and a moto making coconut delivery.

***
Had I known this afternoon’s bus ride was only going to consist of all turns along the mountains, I might have opted to take some motion sickness medicine prior to the ride. It felt like a roller-coaster ride for 5 hours, one girl already threw up in the car. I was wearing a seat belt and holding the handle for a few hours.

The driver is the most talented driver I have ever seen. He is able to overtake many other drivers on a single lane in the dark and he hardly slows down when in the dense fog. Not sure if I should be impressed or afraid but for now, I am impressed.

We made it to Vang Vieng and I hope to spend the remainder of the evening and maybe tomorrow not moving.

20121126-222206.jpg

20121126-222311.jpg

20121126-222327.jpg

20121126-222238.jpg

20121126-222254.jpg

20121126-222224.jpg

20121126-222215.jpg

20121126-222303.jpg

20121126-222319.jpg

20121126-222246.jpg

Banana leafs in Laos

Laos is considered one of the 20 poorest countries in the world but it doesn’t appear that way. $100 USD = $1,000,000 kip. I had to buy a new wallet to accommodate the ridiculous amount of bank notes. We are in Luang Prabang, which feels like a beach or resort town. There are no resorts or beaches but plenty of foreigners dressed like they are in a resort sipping coffee overlooking the river. The French colonial villas, green lush mountain valleys, and beautiful temples add to the feeling of a sleepy town.

Today we went to visit a temple that belonged to the royal family, built in 1560 and remained in patronage until 1975. I loved the murals in the chapel the best, they told the story of Ramayana. (see photo).

The Royal Palace was also interesting. The English translation of some of the items said, stolen/taken from x temple, or recovered from a destroyed temple, which makes me wonder why don’t other museums say that? Isn’t everything stolen?

Also of interest, Richard Nixon gave the Queen a plaque that read, we took the Laos flag on the mission to the moon and here are some moon rocks, dated 1975. Why was the Laos flag on board the shuttle to the moon? What strategic relationship did Laos serve in 1975?

Tomorrow we booked tickets for a boat trip up the Mekong River to see limestone caves, where 100 Buddha statues reside.

Pictures: bathroom sign noting female, dinner – eggplant and veggies steamed in a banana leaf, a bamboo pedestrian bridge in repair. The bridge is only in use during the dry season and probably washed away during the rainy season.

20121125-214042.jpg

20121125-214059.jpg

20121125-214052.jpg

20121125-214022.jpg

20121125-214031.jpg

On to Laos

We left Cambodia by air to Laos because the bus would have taken 24 hours. I am surprised by the level of corruption and deceit in this part of Asia. Maybe I am just naive. When purchasing the flight we almost bought tickets on a fake Lao airlines website. One web address had a dash and the other did not. They advertised the same flights but one site was slightly cheaper. We did not make the mistake of buying on the fake website because for some reason before checking out, I stopped and said this doesn’t look correct.

Upon flying, our small plane had to stop by Pakse to refuel, then we continued on our way. My brother says we flew a propeller plane but I think it was safe.

When we arrived in Luang Prabang, we went through customs to purchase Laos visa. We paid in Thai Baht instead of dollars and I am sad to say we were overcharged $10 each. I didn’t catch it at the time because I did not do the money conversion at purchase. It makes me angry and sad that people (in this case, a government official, customs agent) profited. Lesson learned. Be careful at all border crossings by air or land.

20121125-082723.jpg

20121125-082707.jpg

20121125-082715.jpg

20121125-082655.jpg

20121125-082730.jpg