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Mar 30th, 2015 Comments: 0

Laos & Thailand. Day 2

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For details of the places I visited in Vientiane and Bangkok, with GPS Coordinates, see my books Vientiane: 20 Must See Attractions and Bangkok: 20 Must See Attractions.

Like normal, there has to bee some wedding or party going on at the club close to my home. The music is so loud, that my windows vibrate and i can feel the thumping of the drums through my mattress. I have no idea how the people manage it at the dance club itself. But it seems an ego thing. The louder your music can be from the band you hire, the more money you have. And you just have to let everyone in two provinces know you are having a party and they are not invited. Thus i managed to get no sleep at all.

Just after 4 am, I down two cups of coffee, take a cold shower (i have no hot water in any case), then pack my stuff and make my way to the pickup point. The streets are deserted, save for a few dogs growling at me as i pass them. One or two chance an attack, but quickly retreat when i blind them with the headlamp i am wearing. The local Pagoda (monastery) is already starting up at 5 am when i pass it, and music is coming from inside as they start to chant. The chanting fills the road, and seems to bring locals alive. All over, small Khmer roadside shops start to open up for the long day ahead. Many are open from 5am to 12pm, every day. A few, closer to town, are open 24 hours.

20 or so minutes walking later, I arrive at the pickup point, that is by the travel agent. I sit down on a bench at the shop next door, and it takes about 30 seconds for 1000 mosquitoes to locate me, and the game is on. Silently i curse myself for forgetting to bring anti-mozzy spray.

I decide to walk across the road and buy a bunch of bananas. The owner wants to charge me $1 for the bunch and i laughingly wave her off, knowing that as soon as the sun comes up and the street gets busy, the price will drop to 50c.

A local tuk tuk stops and asks if i want a ride to the bus station. I decline, be he insists he will take me. By now, my pick up is 10 minutes late. I take my phone out, and silently curse myself again. I have no time on my phone. What happened, is i had a monthly internet package on my phone for $2.5 a month. However, I moved it to my iPad that also has a sim slot. If you do not pay for a month, the subscription does not renew, until you recharge your phone credit, very handy. However, if you let the month go by, and do not recharge your credit and renew for the next month, they do not allow you to cancel the subscription unless you renew for another month. When i did recharge the credit to call, the internet subscription automatically renewed and took all the money. I immediately cancelled the monthly internet plan, and got a text message a few seconds later that the plan was cancelled, but i am not getting my money back. So i lost the credit and the internet data i paid for, way to make money for them.

The tuk tuk driver offers to phone, and gets through. Jup, they forgot and are on their way to pick me up. A few minutes later, a minivan arrives. Nice and new minivan at least.  The van is half full as we zoom off to another pick up point. This turns out to be a guesthouse, where a number of tourists await their buses. They have breakfast and snacks at the place, so all good. I meet a few other people and make some new friends.


After waiting about half an hour, our minivan finally arrives. Our bags are piled under the seats. (Large bags and suitcases would not fit). The driver looks over the people in our group and decides that I must be the fittest of the people not wearing a dress, and asks me to take the back seat. Nice, all cosy in the back of the bus. The problem however is, that the fold down seats do not work, and I have to climb though the back door and over the back seat to get to my place. Nice, like going camping back home. However, we have to wait for who knows what, and by the time we finally leave, it is 7:30. I try to fall asleep, but the air conditioner does not work properly, so i am sweating buckets.

The road we take is the same as if you are going to Pre Vihear or Koh Ker Temple for most of the way. I am stunned at the change that has occurred since traveled on this road about eight months ago. By 9 am we arrive at the small ticket office for Koh Ker temple, and we stop for 15 minutes. To my surprise, they now have a nice restroom facility here.

From here, the countryside blurs past as my head zings from lack of sleep while i get a copper taste in my mouth. I love travel, ha ha ha. Somewhere in all this, i actually do manage to fall asleep. I awake at about noon just before we cross a large bridge. I check my iPhone and note we are close to the border. Nice, hope we stop soon as i need a restroom quick.

To my surprise, the road we take heads away from what the map says we need to take to go to the border post. Mmm, in South Africa I would have been worried, here, they probably are just going to drop off someone or some cargo for local shops. After about 20 minutes, we pull into a roadside restaurant. Go figure, have to take you to the restaurant or place the bus company owes. As soon as we stop, about 10 of us storm for the one restroom. Reluctantly with water in my eyes, i stand in line. When there is only one person, a girl, left in front of me and a guy in the restroom, i hear a “fuck” coming from the small restroom. I glance at the girl and she just shrugs her shoulders. A few seconds later the guy storms out without a word. The girl goes in, and about two minutes later i hear “eeaaak” and banging on the wall and stomping on the floor coming from the restroom. Just as i am about to ask if she is okay, the door is ripped open and the girls storms out white faced. mmm

Not seeing anything wrong, i decide to relieve myself. Just as i am happily shooting the enamel off the side of the toilet, something runs over my shoe and up my leg. Expertly i flick my leg and throw the thing off without missing a beat on my well aimed firehouse. I give a glance to the side of the toilet and spot the cause of all the commotion, a nice big cockroach. I crack myself laughing, knowing that the girl must have sat on the toilet to relieve herself, only to have a cockroach run over her naked legs or possibly even her bum as they do like to hide under the seat of the toilet. Here is a nice shot of the bugger for you. Always lift the toilet seat in Asia before you sit down.

As i exit the restroom, a girl darts in before i can say anything, so i just smile. I wash my hands at a tap outside, and just as I turn to go to the restaurant, i hear this blood curling scream followed by a number of words i cannot spell here. I walk away giggling.

At the restaurant, we have a staggering amount of options, you can get packets of noodles (3 flavors), or rice with or without and egg. I go with the super meal for $2, rice and egg. Most restaurants in Cambodia have only spoons and if you are lucky, a fork. Knives are for some reason scares, luckily i bring my own. People stare at me as i pull my knife from my belt holster, and i see them shift away uneasily, chickens it is only a small knife.

Time slowly drifts by as we wait for our bus. The place is a stop over and exchange point for the bus company, thus tourists come and go. Now, i have been around Asia a bit, and although i hold a “through bus” ticket from Siem Reap to Vientiane, i knew that we would have to change buses at the border or just before as one bus will not do such a long trek. Thus i am not alarmed at having to wait for a new bus, however a few other tourists are. When some hear i have been in Cambodia for over a year, they are like wow. Silently i am thinking, what’s the big deal, it is just another city in another country. Eventually at 2:23 pm, our bus arrives, and i have to say, i have seen better. We pile in, and i decide to take the front seat across from the driver. With a nice view of the road, i make myself comfortable with the extra leg room. I am not surprised at all when the door of the bus does not want to close, and the conductor has to hold the door closed while we drive. Somewhere, something tells me this is probably not my “through bus” to Vientiane.

Interestingly, we head back over the river, then take some very dodgy roads as we make our way to the Laos-Cambodia border. This border, next to the Poipet border, is the most corrupt borders you get coming into Cambodia. This one more than Poipet, as it is the only border post between Laos and Cambodia.

Cambodia countryside passing by as we make our way to the border.

An hour later, we arrive at the “border”. We are all ushered off the bus by a very agitated sounding guy, that i know is just part of their ploy. They do not want you to argue with them as they hustle money off you.  We are lead into a small Khmer restaurant with a few table where we are handed customs forms and asked to quickly fill out the forms as it is 3:35, and at 4 pm, the prices at the border go up. (true).

Laos-Cambodia border post.



I was thinking it was $30 for a visa, but each country has their own price, and coupled with the “exit and entry stamp fee” and the “service charge fee (the guy’s cut), my fee end up to be $50. It would have been $55, but i was smart enough to bring a passport picture with. It is supposed to be $1 if you do not have a passport picture, but that flew out the window long ago on this post and is now $5 fine. The exit stamp is all bull as no other border post for Cambodia that i have been through charges it, but corruption is corruption. I am by now so tired that i decide to just pay the money. Three tourists refuse to pay, and the guy informs them then they have to do their passports themselves. So off they go to stand in the lines while we sit under the shade and wait.

I ask where the restroom is, and am directed to the scrubs alongside the road. Nice, another camping experience. Following a small footpath deeper into the countryside, i soon come to a site where multiple stomachs have exploded. I carefully sidestep the numerous landmines and booby traps, and head deeper into the countryside where there was no chemical war and it smells better. Tip, always bring toilet paper on long bus rides in Asia.

After relieving myself, i head back and start to talk to some of the other tourists. Two, a couple, is also going to Vientiane, while all the others are going to 4000 islands. A few minutes later the passport guy comes back and calls out a name. I young female backpacker answers. The guy is now very angry because she overstayed her visa. So, she gets fined $5 a day, plus an additional $5 for trying to con them by not telling them beforehand she overstayed and according to them she must have tried to get away with it. Reluctantly she pays. As soon as the guy is gone, we start taking the mickey out of her. The girl actually takes the whole episode with grace. Overstaying is a common thing with tourists, as they think the visa is valid for 90 days, and it is, but you are limited to 30 day blocks, and have to have your stay extended every months for an additional $48 a month.

Not to long later, the guy returns again. They made a calculation error in her number of days that she overstayed, and she owes more money. Luckily she had more cash. Some of the other tourists had to borrow money as they did not expect the visa fees to be so much. Tip, whatever the visa fee is stated online, take at least double that in cash with. Eventually they guy returns, and hands each of us our passports. From here, we follow him and walk about 300 meters across the border, past all the posts without ever stepping inside any office. We are herded to a small bus that is overflowing with gear, and filled with blood sucking mosquitoes. Even opening the windows does nothing as just more from outside join those inside. At the back of my mind, something tells me this cannot be the bus to Vientiane as we have like 900km still to go.

Mosquito quarantine service area. mmmm.


Our next bus. The border post, Laos side at the back.


 Inside the bus, gear all stacked up next to the driver in front.

By now it is 5:13 pm as we pull away. We get about 200 meters when we are flagged down by three desperate people. Jup, they are the guys that went to do their own passports. They admit that after a lot of arguing, they only managed to get the fee down $6 (the guy’s cut) and still had to pay all the other fees even though it was corruption fees. A few miles down the road, just past the border post, the bus stops and we are all told to get off. Ah, i thought this would just be another shuttle bus. We are next to the only building (happens to be a local restaurant) for as far as i can see.

We wait a while, and as the sun starts to set, a smaller bus arrives to take the people to 4000 islands. I ask the driver of the bus where the bus for Vientiane is, and he says soon come, 15 minutes. So now me and the couple that are also going to Vientiane, are standing at a roadside restaurant in the middle of nothing, in Laos. We enter the restaurant where the owner happily greets us and then starts playing with a hula hoop.



By now, having only slept like 2 hours in almost two days, my head is zinging and i am starving. The lady has some chicken already cooked while more is on the fire. The chicken that is ready, is dead, like in you can put it on a truck and use it as a tire for at least 1000 miles. I ask her if i can have some of the chicken on the fire, and she refuses. I am like, but it is ready. No, she goes, it is not. This is my first of many experiences of finding out that Laos people, are extremely inflexible and do not easily negotiate. I almost get tears  in my eyes as i stare at the chicken on the fire turning to rubber.

If it does not bounce seven times when you drop it, it is not ready.

The time drags by, and i ask the other tourists if they had any idea or was told anything about a bus transfer at the border by their travel agent. No they go, but they thought the driver said 50 minutes not 15 minutes. mmm. They then ask me how long it is to Vientiane as they have a hotel booking. I burst out laughing, going, we still have like 14 or so hours and about 900 km to go. They were under the impression it was a days travel from Siem Reap, like in start at 6:30 am and end at 6:30 kinda day. I go, no, the travel time alone is 24 hours, but with bus changes and waiting, it is probably going to be more like 36 hours from Siem reap to Vientiane, i was actually wrong myself, as it would take even longer in the end.

As darkness surrounds us, i get a little bit more worried. Four locals come to sit down, and order soup. I scan the soup and decide that as hungry as i am, i am not going for it. Eventually a large tour bus arrives, and stops a distance from the restaurant. This is kinda strange as i would have expected him to stop and pick us up. I leave my large bag with my clothes with the couple and take my small backpack to go and ask the driver where the bus is going and where our bus is. My heart sinks to my shoes when the driver laughs and says there is no bus to Vientiane. The next bus coming by is 8 am in the morning. He is going to Pakse. So now i am stranded in Laos, with no hotel and a bus ticket that is not valid.

One of the locals that came to eat at the restaurant comes up with the couple following, bringing my bag. He informs us to get on the bus. I go but the bus is not going to Vientiane, it is going to Pakse. Yes he goes, you can get a bus from there to Vientiane. I am like i am not paying for another bus. The guy informs me he is a driver as well and takes people to 4000 islands and we have to get on this bus or we will be stranded. He and the other bus driver then get into a bit for an argument. Eventually the second driver again informs us to get onto the bus, it is our only chance, and will be free. We can change buses in Pakse. So reluctantly, we hop onto a bus while having no idea what this town is we are going to, and if my real bus is not maybe 10 minutes behind us and getting us on this bus is a scam to have me pay again for a bus ticket when i get to Pakse. Well, just part of the adventure.

The bus however, is not that full, and at least i can get some sleep. The bus also has a toilet on board, although it is the same as the one that was on the bus to Kampot from Phnom Penh, so you only use it just before you crap in your pants.

The miles fly by, and by 9:45 pm, we eventually pull into Pakse. The bus pulls into a tour bus station, and as we get off i look around for our second bus. Nothing. I ask the driver where the bus to Vientiane is and show him my though ticket. He goes, “tomorrow morning, 7 am bus leaves, get new ticket.” Crap, so now i  have to overnight in a town and then repay for a ticket to Vientiane, nice. After some arguing with tuk tuks, we eventually find one that will take us to town for 10 000 Kip each. (as normal in Asia buses do not stop in town so that you have to take a tuk tuk).  US$1 is around 8000 Kip. The tuk tuk is actually just a small truck with two bench seats on the back. We are dropped of at the edge of town next to an expensive hotel. I try to pay the driver with US$, and even though i offer him $2, he refuses to take it, Kip only. Not having any, and not being able to exchange any from any of the other tourists, i head to the hotel across the road and exchange some $US at a loss. The hotel charges $22 a night, and although they are fancy, it is way above what i am prepared to pay. I head back and pay the driver, then check on my iPhone for hotels. There are around 9 hotels and guesthouses around us. I walk down the road, and am shocked to find that they are all full.

Returning to the now left over tourist that did not book into the expensive hotel (the couple and two other women), i inform them the other hotels are full, but i note on my phone map there are two more hotels up the road, i will scout them out. They agree to wait and i head up to the first one. Yes, they have rooms, with a single going for $10. Happy, i head back, only to find the other group checking into the expensive hotel. at $22 for two people, and paying in pounds, it is a steal for them. I think i have been in Asia too long.

I head back to the hotel and say okay, i will take a single room, but i want to see the room first. The guy agrees, and takes me to a nice room, that actually has two single beds in. I try the wi-fi, and it does not work. No he goes, no wi-fi in the small rooms, only the big rooms for $15. I am like, well it is 10 pm at night, i will be out by 6 am, how about i get the big room for $10. No the guy goes, $10 for the small room, wi-fi in the corridor, or $15 for the big room near the wi-fi sender. I go, okay, $12. No, the guy goes. Wow, in Cambodia i would have been able to negotiate the guy down, but it seems in Laos they absolutely do not negotiate. So i decide to go see what else i can find. About 100 meters up the road from the hotel, i spot another hotel, in a side street. In Cambodia, things would just start to come alive at 10 pm, especially so close to so many hotels that are fully booked. Here, it looks like a graveyard. At the corner of the side road leading to the hotel, is a small restaurant, and the only one currently open. As i walk past the waiter asks me if i want food. i say a bit later, i first want to find a bed. He just shrugs his shoulders as i walk on. The hotel turns out to be a family run business, and does have a room, $12. By now i am so tired that i just agree, but again want to see the room before i pay.

We go up to the room, and it smells. I refuse, and they are like, okay, we give you another room. It is far better, and has two single beds as well, and the wi-fi works, although crappy. I take it, put my gear down, and follow the receptionist down to pay. As i try to pay in $, they have a problem and have to call the owner to get change. A few minutes later, the guy i thought was the waiter, turns up. He owns the hotel and the restaurant. I pay my bill, then head to the restaurant, only to find it closed. Well done. Walking up and down the street past the hotels and backpacker places i saw where people were having food earlier, i now find everything closed. Very nice going. So i head back to my room and dig into my emergency stash. (always have emergency food). A nice bowl of dry oats.


I try the internet to see what hotels there are in Vientiane, and cannot get a connection. Outside the hotel, a storm is picking up and the wind is howling. I go downstairs and wake the receptionist that is sleeping on a makeshift bed next to the desk. He informs me that actually only the corner unit has wi-fi, and will move me as it is the same room size. So, eventually, i get a room with wi-fi.

By now it is almost 12pm, and i have the sneaky suspicion that i need to be at the bus station well before 7 am. So i decide that i will head out at 6 am and take a tuk tuk to there. (just over 2 km up the road). However, as i did not pack my travel alarm, i know if i fall asleep now, i will never hear the iPhone (happened before) and will sleep right thought. So reluctantly, i watch YouTube videos and work on my books as i try to stay awake. Unfortunately, that does not help, and somewhere while watching American ninja on YouTube, I fall asleep.

Stay tuned to find out what happened next.

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