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Long journeys, Borders and Culture Shocks

LAOS | Monday, 3 April 2017 | Views [542]

Our night bus to Nong Khai border crossing.
Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Our night bus to Nong Khai border crossing. Chiang Mai, Thailand.

We boarded the bus and were shown to the top deck and taken to our seats. The seats were pretty huge. They were about a seat and a half of a regular coach seat, if not wider, they reclined to about a 45 degree angle and had a foot rest that came up as you reclined. We were given food, fried rice and sweet sausage, another custard bun 🤢 and a bottle of water. Then they gave us a fleecy blanket each. We can't explain how relieved we were when we realised this might actually be a bearable journey.
After all the horror stories we had heard we can say the journey went without incident, apart from the lights being turned off and the individual lights not working (I should of known!) and waking up at daft o'clock in the morning because I was falling off my seat, looking down the centre of the bus and seeing us hurtling towards the edge of a cliff with no sign of the bus turning...... until the very, and I mean VERY last second, so sharply that I practically ended up sat on top of my poor sleeping husband, who obviously was completely oblivious to the near death experience I had just lived through and found it hilarious that I was so panic stricken 😂
By the time we arrived in Nong Khai we were tired but preparing for the next hour of chaos. And chaos it was!
As the doors to the bus opened at the bottom of the stairs the tuk tuk drivers were literally jumping over each other's shoulders to shout at us. The drivers barely made any effort to move them, the locals and monks departed the bus swiftly and were largely left alone by the tuk tuk drivers, then the first 'western' looking traveller began to descend the steps and the drivers went mental. Shouting and pushing, waving pieces of cardboard in his face. This was going to be a battle!
We got down the stairs and pushed our way through the rabble. Our bags where pilled at the side of the bus but as we collected them we noticed they had been opened. We quickly checked them to make sure nothing had been taken. Luckily we had been sensible enough to put all money/passports/valuable electronics, in our smaller backpacks that we kept with us on the bus. We had read these things can happy but we were still amazed at how they had brazenly rifled through our bags while we sat just above them!

So, we got our bags, got away from the crowd and bartered with a tuk tuk driver to get us up to the actually bridge for the border crossing. Once we got there we were greeted by another hoard of drivers all shouting and waving. A lot of them offer to take you direct to Laos and 'help' you with your visa paperwork, taking a huge additional cost, or taking you to another 3rd party who does the same. We headed straight to the building where we cued to have our passports stamped for departure and handed in our departure cards. We then paid 15 Baht each (about 35p each) to board a bus that would take us to the other side of the bridge to the Laos border control. We arrived and had to fill in 3 pieces of paperwork, provide a passport picture and pay $35 each. You can pay for the visa in America dollars or Thai Baht but it's much cheaper in America dollars.
They took our paperwork, picture, payment and passports then we just had to wait for the window to open again and be given back out passports with a sticker inside. We then had ANOTHER battle with taxi and tuk tuk drivers. Honestly these people have no shame and no consideration for you or the other drivers. The literally circled us, we could not move! By this point I was exhausted and getting frustrated with the pestering so I lost all patience with them. I'd gone from politely saying "No thank you." To not so politely saying "go away".... you can imagine!!
So we agreed a price with a driver and headed to a cab, as we put our bags in the boot we asked him to confirm the price, suddenly it had doubled but he was trying to be vague with his wording so we wouldn't notice. I swiftly whipped my bag back out of the boot and we walked away, back to the rabble. We must of been feeling brave because the husband 'announced' a price we were willing to pay and we waited. It took a few minutes for the arguing to settle but finally a driver agreed! We had to wait a few minutes while he gathered a few more customers for his tuk tuk 'bus' but we were on our way in no time.
Unfortunately that didn't mean things were going to be easier now...! We arrived in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. As a capital city you expect some hustle and bustle and the only other capital we had experienced was Bangkok, so how would this compare?
We were dropped at the 'bus station', a dilapidated building, with ancient looking buses, some without windows, or doors. This was central though, so it's perfect, right?


We couldn't find anything, we walked in the heat with all our stuff for what felt like ages. No bars, no restaurants, no cafes, nowhere at all for us to stop and get our bearings. After trying 3 different directions we landed on a shopping mall/market building. We found a cafe and got drinks and access to wifi. We sorted a place to head for and set off again. About 20minutes walk but it seemed like miles.
We had definitely had enough when we arrived and the hotel room was more expensive than we had thought it would be, so we plainly told the man at the desk that we weren't paying that price, we told him what we were willing to pay and waited for him to agree. It took some stern faces but he did give in and gave us the key to our room. Although he got his own back by giving us a room on the top floor, nearly 60 steps to climb every day!
We showered and changed and our friends I mentioned in previous posts where also staying in Vientiane. We contacted them and they showed us around the areas they had already explored and we headed for some food.

After a wander around a very quiet city we headed to bed to recover from the long journey! Let's see what Laos has to offer.


Tags: border crossings, buses, culture, laos, overnight, shock, sleeper bus, travel, tuk tuks, visas

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