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Learning in Asia Experiences and life lessons while teaching in Thailand.

36 Hours in Laos

THAILAND | Wednesday, 3 December 2014 | Views [624] | Comments [1]

Things in Thailand are different than in the Western world. There is a common saying: “Mai pen rai,” which means “no worries/not a problem.” This saying is used quite liberally here, so much in fact that in order to assimilate into the culture seamlessly you must adopt a ‘mai pen rai’ kind of attitude. I am saying this to preface the fact that my first month of teaching in Thailand I had been working illegally on a tourist visa – mai pen rai! I think I have adopted a Thai way of thinking because thoughts of deportation did not cross my mind; I had faith in 'the system!' Joking aside, I am glad that I came on a tourist visa because this gave me an opportunity to do a visa run in Laos and obtain a (legal) working visa.

I left Sakon Nakhon on Sunday afternoon, travelling 5 hours by bus to Nong Khai via Udon Thani. The bus to Udon was a big one and the ride went smoothy. On the way to Nong Khai I had to take a minivan bus that was filled to capacity, every seat was taken and most available legroom was occupied by various parcels and packages to be delivered in addition to the human cargo. This bus system was a bit different as all patrons knew where they were going and the bus would drop them to their desired locations. I, unlike my fellow commuters, had no idea where I was to stay that night and didn’t know how to say ‘hotel’ in Thai. Lucky for me there was a man on the bus that heard my struggle with the driver and told me, in surprisingly good English, that he lived next to a guest house near the Thai-Laos border! This chance meeting restored my calm as when we arrived in Nong Khai he led me to the quaint Mut Mee guesthouse that was owned by an older expat named Julian. The guesthouse was right on the Mekong River and you could see Laos across the water. I arrived at sunset and unpacked my knapsack in my simple room and then head out to take some photos, explore the lazy little town and indulge in the local cuisine.


At 6am the next morning I had to meet the Visa agency at the 7-11 near Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. Getting there was interesting… I was drive-by harassed by a very persistent lady-boy riding her bicycle. Once I evaded her, I learned that I was waiting at the wrong 7-11 for some time while I was being harassed by Tuk Tuk drivers that seem to always assume that all foreigners (farangs) are in need of a Tuk Tuk. Just my luck, I needed one. Not worrying that I furthered the farang-Tuk Tuk stereotype, I took a ride to the border at met with the agent who promptly told me to stand in a line to get my passport stamped. He then took my passport and then pointed in a direction where a bus was waiting. As is the norm when it comes to public transportation in Thailand, the bus was filled to capacity. I was basically hanging off of the side of the bus, however I found myself to be more nervous about the fact that I had left my passport with a man who was nowhere to be seen and was most certainly not getting on the same bus as me. There wasn’t much I could do because soon after boarding the bus, I was headed for Laos.

After a 10-minute bus ride crossing the Mekong, we arrived in Laos and I was relieved to see the man who had my most important of documents. He walked the Visa Run group through all the required steps and then we all shuffled on to another bus that took us to the Royal Thai Embassy in Vientiane where we applied for the appropriate Visa. The entire process was quick and painless and we were done by 11am, giving us the whole day to explore Laos' capital.

Vientiane is surprisingly small and underdeveloped considering it is a capital city. No complaints from me though because this allowed me to explore the majority of the city on foot in about 5 hours. The first attraction I saw was the Patuxay momument that was made from concrete donated by the French to build an airport runway, but after the Franco-Lao relationship went sour (probably always sour seeing as Laos was colonized), the Laotians decided to build a monument resembling Paris’ Arc de Triomphe. I appreciated the Laoitians' sense of humour. I then walked south towards the Mekong, stopping at a market selling Indo-Chinese crafts, mainly silk and silver, both which Laos are known for. The next stop was the original home of the Emerald Buddha, the modest and charming Sisaket temple. It was a small temple and the newer buildings were similar in design to Thai Buddhist temples, but at the center of the more modern pagodas was the originally maintained temple. I went inside and paid tribute to Buddha, and on my way out I struck up a conversation with a young monk who told me more about Buddhism, monkhood and his own upbringing in Northern Laos. After our exchange I walked down to the river and then meandered back towards the hotel, arriving at Patuxay just in time to witness a magnificent sunset.

My time in Laos was short, but sweet. I really enjoyed the relaxed feel of Vientiane. It was walk-able, quiet and friendly. I also liked that it was not overdeveloped, I didn’t see a single skyscraper or even high-rise for that matter. Where I am living in Sakon Nakhon, it is more developed, but in a downtown business-density sort of way, no high-rises here either. I like the quiet and calm that comes with less development. The slow pace suits me. This brings me to a quote that I had mentioned to a friend before leaving and coincidentally saw on a sign again during my night in Nong Khai:

 “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” –Lao Tzu

In the West we live by the clock, mindful of minutes and seconds, rushing the essential and beautiful parts of life to dedicate the hours of our lives to the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Life in Southeast Asia has taught me to slow down and savour all that is important in life, and I am glad because life is undoubtedly worth digesting slowly. We make time to make money, so why not take time to taste the food that nourishes our being? I think a good way to start is by appreciating all the good things that happen in each day. I have made a habit of expressing my gratitude for all things in my day and this gradually and naturally extends to life as a whole. I hope this simple and effective practice can help you slow things down and appreciate the wonderful gift of each moment we are given in life.





Tags: calm, lao tzu, laos, nong khai, peace, slow pace, sunsets, thailand



"and obtain a (legal) working visa." , incorrect, there is no such thing as a working visa, you obtained a Non-B which can then be used to apply for a work permit, only when you have the visa AND the WP are you legal !

  Lloyd Jan 4, 2015 7:43 PM

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