Tuesday, 27 August 2013

And that’s what friends are for….


Crossing the Friendship Bridge from Udon Thani, Thailand into Vientiane, Laos is always going to be one of those long travel days….

We’d already had an early start that morning after our 06:15 rise and shine to experience the Morning Alms ceremony in Udon Thani.

My stomach wasn’t feeling too good and the shakes had started to kick in when the alarm started bleating itself into a craze. I couldn’t work out if it was a reaction to eating Western food for the first time in several months or simply eating too much Western food all at once. In all likelihood it was probably the latter of the two.

I decided we had better delay our hopeful immediate departure from Udon Thani for the border to take advantage of a catnap that I would hopefully awake from feeling cured and brand new.

A couple of hours later I awoke with a sprint to the nearest toilet. Damn it. Today was going to be a travel day from hell.

To get from downtown Udon Thani to Nong Khai, the last town before the border it’s a relatively pain free bus ride.

The next transfer is a Tuk Tuk ride from Nong Khai to the actual Friendship Bridge where you’ll hand over your passport in the hope it will return with a Laos visa in it.

Make sure you have a fixed price in your head that you’ve verbally agreed on with the driver before you jump on to the plastic seats and get settled.

They (the drivers) wait at the final bus stop like vultures ready to leap on the unsuspecting tourist with a priced fixed in their head on what you should pay for the 25-minute journey to the border.

We’d been warned by people that there is a few scammers out there, as you’d expect trying to make a quick buck out of tourists heading for the border. The tactic was that at each bus stop a few locals would step onboard and make their voices heard that, ‘this is the bus stop you need to get off in order to get to the border.’ The outcome of this was that it isn’t. The unsuspecting tourist gets off the bus, realizes that they are still 10km from the border. There isn’t another bus coming back past for another 30 minutes. The local who had boarded the bus, just so happens to have a friend who drives a Tuk Tuk, and they just so happen to be parked right here, are free and can take you to the border. Price is fixed at anywhere from 200 – 500 baht. The poor tourist realizing (well, hopefully seeing the leaves in the trees by now) understands the predicament that they have put themselves in and has to take up on the very expensive offer.

Initially I just thought this was all talk from one fellow traveler to another (but not over a camp fire instead in some backpacker bar), as we travelers are great at telling overly exaggerated stories sometimes*.

But as we sat on the bus and I grimaced over my dodgy stomach we did witness a few locals testing out this scam.

Unfortunately the bait wasn’t winning, we knew to get off at the last bus stop and not listen to their very convincing speeches that this was the bus stop to get off at if we wanted to get to the Friendship Bridge aka the border.

Finally arriving at the Friendship Bridge we were glad to see a fast moving queue of foreigners all desperate like us to get that Laos visa.

The elective mix of people was the usual sort. Hopeful looking middle aged Western men with the token South East Asian woman. The ruffled backpacker crowd with no distinctive nationalities, a husband and wife team who looked like they were about to strangle each other and than us, the sister and brother team.

I sat about looking grim as Tim helped collect the necessary papers. Following a quick chat with the officer, handing over our passports with the 1000 baht note slotted in like a bookmark we sat and waited.

Luckily no ‘eye spy’ games were necessary as about 5 minutes later two New Zealand passports were spotted waving out the window ready for collection.

Done. Laos visa.

Vientiane is about 22km east of the Friendship Bridge. It’s a fairly big city that
Is famously used by tourists as a bunkering down spot whilst they await Laos visa extensions.

We were to instead – very unglamorously use it as a stop over for the night to bunker down and rid myself of a dodgy stomach.

I’ll stop here as I can really share any worldly insightful stories about my time in Vientiane. Except that it rained that light like cats and dogs on steroids but the plumbing was still working.

Toodle pip x 

*Please note: this has no reference to what I am writing right here, as this is all true.