Had a little jaunt out of Saraburi this week, in fact, out of Thailand altogether! As my working visa was coming to an end this month I had to get a new one sorted pretty swiftly what with the parentals visit next week, after all it'd be a bit rude leaving the country when they're here having come all this way. I asked in my local immigration office whether I could just get a tourist visa from the Embassy in Bangkok, but no-no, they told me to 'pop' to Laos.... a mere 10 hours away!
Obviously having forgotten my train experiences to and fro Chaing Mai I booked myself an overnight one to Nong Khai, the town bordering Laos, for Monday. Went for the cheap 300b option of a seat, again forgetting the sleepless nights I'd had on previous seated overnight journeys when I'd vowed only to ever get a sleeper in future. And if I thought those journeys had been bad, this one went off the scale!! Boarded the train at 9.30pm, expecting a similar train to before, with airplane-style seats, blankets, a little trolley service... ohhh, more fool me! I was in the 'second class' part of the train, which shared the third class carriage, and was basically the local train I go on to and fro nearby Ayutthaya, just with a few hard leather seats with dodgy recline functions thrown in. Literally thrown in.. they were movable, as sudden jerks of the train confirmed!! A Thai woman had already taken my window seat and I didn't want to make a fuss as she looked a bit shifty, so I bundled my bag onto the overhead storage shelf and took her aisle seat. It took me all of five minutes to decide I'd feel better with my bag safely tucked in front of my seat, what with a few dodgy-looking people in the third class seats opposite eyeing it up, so casually got up and moved it to its new safer location. And put my feet through the straps. Trolley service there was not. Instead the normal train hawkers with their baskets of bbq chicken, drinks, and portable kettles and instant noodles came up and down the aisles elbowing me... ALL NIGHT. So what with the constant shouts through the night of 'naam (water), nom (milk), beeeeer (at that hour!), Pepsiiiiii etc.', the windows being locked open flying a whole array of insects into my face, the horrendous noise of the train on the tracks, the flourescent lights which were left on all night, my neighbour curling up on half my seat, the guy behind me coughing up his lungs, and me cuddling my handbag... not really all that much chance of a good night's sleep to be had. The only thing I was grateful for was the sarong I'd packed which doubled up as something to shield against the endless breeze/bugs coming through the windows and partly cover my eyes from the hospital-esque bright lights. After what felt like a lifetime (looking at the time thinking it must be at least nearly dawn and it being only 1.30, then 2.30, then 3.15 being the story of my trip!) I finally arrived in Nong Khai. Happy days. Got myself in a songthaew to the bus station where I'd read I'd be able to get a bus to Vientiane in Laos. Once there I was told I in fact needed my Laos visa in advance in order to use the bus service. Instead I'd have to tuk-tuk to the border, which it turned out was just around the corner from the train station, get a mini-bus across the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge (sweet name!) and then get a minibus or tuk-tuk at the other side. Was a pretty painless procedure, involving a few forms and 1500b entry to Laos (total rip off as it's only $35, which is 1000b, damn not exchanging money!) Then while I was waiting for my Laos visa I bumped into a guy who teaches in a nearby province to me and said I could share his minibus as he was going to the Thai Embassy too, so I ended up sitting in a little green minibus in between two seats, right on the seatbelt thingy, for a lot longer than I'd have liked to.
At the Embassy everything was pretty straightforward. Bit like Argos. You fill in a form, take a ticket, go the correct counter when your number flashes up and hand it in. I thought that was the end of it, but then had to wait a good hour or so for a receipt, bonus though as turns out tourist visas are free now, which eased the blow of the fee I'd paid at the border. Met a nice Russian-Italian-French dude who'd just derobed after eight months as a monk. Had a nice chat, then his hefty Russian-American friend, a combination of the two most annoying nationalities in my mind, rocked up and dominated the rest of the conversation. After the lengthy wait for our receipts they said they were getting a tuk-tuk to the same area as me so we should all share, which made sense instead of getting back in the minibus. Left the Embassy, got chased by the driver who'd taken me the short distance from the border and demanded 200b! I pointed out he'd taken me half way and I'd only had half a seat, and begrudgingly settled at 100b.
Decided to stick with the Russian duo, and the annoying one (can't remember the Rus-Ams name, so he shall be dubbed this for the remainder of the blog) said we should walk further down the road for a tuk-tuk. So we walked, and walked, then got to a junction. My map said we should go left, the annoying one said 'the universe' told him we had to go right. I should've known at that statement that he was going to continue to piss me off. And that he did... about half a km down the wrong road he decided to stop for some fruit, then a drink, then said 'maybe' we were going the wrong way and should look at the map. Grr! Headed back to where we'd started, him stopping to look at a tree, then some sugar cane, then get some chicken liver on a stick. A good forty minutes of walking in, with a heavy overnight bag and about 36 odd hours without sleep, I asked why we hadn't just got a tuk-tuk for 20b each!! By this point we were nearing the centre of town, I could almost feel a nice bed beneath me, but they wanted to climb to the top of this big monument. So I waited, patiently, ish. When we set off again the annoying one was looking at all these pricy hotels, informing me that whatever the staff said we were not getting a room for three, *nudge nudge wink wink*. Since leaving the Embassy I'd discovered he's spent a year in Pattaya, making 'movies'. Enough said. With cheap and cheerful guesthouses in sight, and my tiredness making me a bit narked off, I bluntly told them that although I'd enjoyed meeting them and being dragged around for an hour in the heat of the midday sun with a heavy bag after no sleep, I was going to find somewhere on my own... and had I done that in the first place I would have been asleep already!! And off I went.
Found myself a nice little guesthouse by the river for 260b a night, paid up, and fell straight into bed for a few hours. Woke up around 3.30 and figured I should see some of the sights while I was there, so wandered around the nearby temples, in one of which I got blessed by a monk. I'm always getting blessed by monks, do I look like I need it?! Around 5ish realised I hadn't eaten since the night before, except some strange sugary cake I'd taken on the train, probably another reason why I stayed awake all night. Went to a little roadside place, sat in their front room, and had amazing chicken fried rice, the only thing I knew how to order in Laos as it's the same as in Thailand. Having not paid attention to the road/name/appearance of my guesthouse when I'd arrived in my dozy state, had a wee bit of trouble finding my way back. When I did eventually retrace my steps (the long way round) and arrive back, I decided I was still hungry and it must nearly be time for dinner. Strolled along the 'promenade', name's a slight embellishment, and found a cute little riverside restaurant on stilts with colourful triangle cushions on the floor, my kinda place (unlike the place I saw the following day called 'Pinky Beef Pot'). Arranged myself on my cushions, ordered sticky rice and som tam, which I figured I could eat at my leisure as it's cold to begin with, meaning more time to sit there drinking Beer Lao and enjoying the views. Started to feel a bit of a loner when the French couples at tables either side of me started having a conversation across me, so stuck in my headphones and played some chilled out Coldplay and Damien Rice. When I de-earphoned to order another beer (50p a bottle, who wouldn't) a guy a few tables away called me over and asked if I'd like to join him. Took him up on his kind offer as he would no doubt be much better than Damien. And that he was. We sat there drinking and swapping stories for ages, honestly felt I'd known him for yonks, although I expect I spoke far too much, as I tend to when I meet new people as it's such a rare opportunity.
Decided we'd check out the 'Mekong Festival' which I'd seen them setting up earlier. We got there just in time to get some more beers in before a French band started up on the little stage. I think they were called Class de Funk, but more like Crap de Funk! They were hilarious (although I don't think they intended to be!), dressed in afro wigs, flared pants, and huge sunglasses. Played some truly cringeworthy songs, including one about cluster bombs, which is a very serious subject but difficult to take seriously when they're singing 'what's that raining down from the sky... it's cluster bombs' to a funky beat. Had a great laugh taking the piss out of them and playing the 'it's your boyfriend' game, obviously Ed did very well at it being able to pick out every other guy there as a 'boyfriend' as they were mostly fat/old/generally ugh! There was quite a bad Jon Bon Jovi look-a-like who was pointed out on numerous occasions once I revealed my love for him, saw him again at the end of the night embarrassingly trying to chat up some local ladyboys. Danced away when they DJ started up, although he was pretty pants, giggled at the random girls in sumo-rice-farmer outfits, tried to avoid my bag getting pinched by the local kids milling around! The night ended with one of the band members making weird squealing noises (trying and failing to be Enya I think) on top of a huge podium with a funny baker's hat on. I did for a moment wonder if the side-effects of my malaria tablets were kicking in and I was the only person who could see her. Obviously after all the beer my bladder was full to bursting, and the toilet situation there was rather... interesting. It's ok for guys as they can just go into the long grass on the river bank, I suppose I could've done the same, but with my fear of creepy crawlies I opted for the wooden shack. I've used squatters on many an occasion since being here, but this was one with a difference... bascially a dustbin over which there was a wooden plank with a hole in the middle, and another dustbin with sawdust in it to scoop in after. Manoeuvering up onto the plank was an ordeal with trousers round my knees, and someone barged in on me, luckily once I was scopping in the sawdust otherwise the whole dancefloor would have got a prime view of my squatting-botty!
Was such a fun night, and so nice to have great (and did I mention extremely goodlooking!?) company. Kind of wished my visa took two days to process instead of one so I could have gone back for a second helping of Crap de Funk the next night instead of having to travel home. Went to bed at what felt like 4am but was infact only 12.30 or so, and got up in time to see the last few sights before I had to head back to the Embassy. Picked up my visa ok, another 60 days in Thailand for me, and went to the bus station... NO MORE TRAINS!! The bus I got on took me across the border and about 3 hours into North-Eastern Thailand, to Khon Kaen, and I was sat next to a guy who chewed his gum louder than I thought was actually possible. There I stocked up on seaweed crisps and coconut-coated peanuts and boarded a VIP bus which would bring me back to Saraburi. It was like a little bit of travelling heaven, took about five hours, but I was given water, dinner and cake, a big blanket, and was sat in a hugeeee seat, like a first-class plane one, with a massage function. Got back to Saraburi around midnight, not bad at all.
Was up bright and early Thursday to go to BKK and sort out my visa for Vietnam (utilising the extra days visa leave I'd asked school, keeping my head down as I walked through town towards the vans as I was supposed to still be in Laos). Fingers crossed everything's ok with the Vietnam one as I filled in my point of entry wrong... couldn't read the map as it was too high up and the tall American guy who said he'd help me told me a place which isn't even a point of entry. I should really learn not to listen to Americans!! In the van back I was sat next to a Thai lad who coyly pulled a David Beckham autobiography out of his bag and sat with it on his lap, cue to put my headphones in to avoid being dragged into an awkward Thai-English conversation about football! So it's been quite a week of visas really, and bar the ordeal getting to Laos my time up there was a lot more fun than I'd ever expected a visa run could be. Mmmm... Beer Lao :)!