Another Day in Paradise

23 Feb

And so the next day … off again before sunrise.  I won’t see Luang Prabang in the daylight. In a remarkable reversal of the normal pattern of events, the tuk tuk driver hands me money and asks me to buy the ticket so he can go home.

And so onto the bus. For the first time since leaving Mexico in October, we’re driving on the right hand side of the road.

Nothing in the guide books has prepared me for the beauty of the journey that unfolds for us. The bus is old, and slow, and, to be fair, speed limited by the potholes that litter even Laos’ most major highways. But that’s OK, because the scenery is absolutely stunning. It’s partly the scale of it all – the beauty seems to disappear into the distance – and partly the size – mountains that rise out of nowhere, with a new surprise round every bend. And there are certainly lots of bends on this trip, winding round the mountains.

To Vientiane (32)To Vientiane (6)

The early morning sun shines a weak light on the mountains, producing an achingly beautiful, heartstopping view, a peak rising in the distance framed by a gray-blue light.

To Vientiane (48)

We pass little settlements built in traditional style out of reeds and leaves – and yet with a satellite dish quaintly mounted on a  tree stump outside. Pigs are tethered by the side of the road, and little makeshift gardens are fashioned out of sticks anywhere something might grow.

To Vientiane (40)To Vientiane (16)

A stop by the side of the road for the toilet is, quite simply, exactly that. A brief stop for lunch, where an angel takes pity on us, who only have a small amount of Laos currency, and gives us lunch at a knock down price. I’ve lost track of exchange rates, but I think we bought two plates of curry for 28p.

Finally into Vientiane, the capital of Laos. In my head, I imagine us getting off the bus, getting on another bus bound for Bangkok, and being taken through immigration. Reality is very different.

The bus station for Bangkok is the other wide of the border, around 40km away. First we have to get to Vientiane centre. Time for a taxi with a couple of very bemused Italians. Then I manage to find an ATM that will give me money. Then it’s time for a crazy tuk tuk ride to the border. Our luggage goes on a van while we walk through, across the Friendship Bridge. And, after driving the the bus station, we have no tickets. The system has failed us.

I’m not keen on spending the night on a bus station, so I have to quickly negotiate for the last two seats on the last bus for Bangkok – by which time the ticket seller has shut up shop…Luckily, I am taken to another ticket seller, and, 900 baht worse off, we have seats on an overnight bus to Bangkok. We’re back on track, if slightly stressed now!

And now we end up on a bus ride half way across Thailand…. first of all into Bangkok.. the bus is comfortable and we’ve got front row seats allowing us to stretch out. We get water, and dinner in little boxes – including a dim sum bun with something not immediately identifiable inside. After thinking about it for a while, I decide I am hungry and eat it without identifying it.

Arriving into Bangkok, early morning, we are shaken awake and thrown off the bus (well, it felt like that) into the bustling Northern Bus Terminal. A taxi ride into town and we are at the meeting point. It’s at this point that I realise that in the Veniane panic, I have lost my bank card. So into the internet cafe and sorting it out… I’ll blog about the experience on ‘ soon…

We’re eventually met by our guide, who leads us through Bangkok alleyways, down back streets and through shops (the short cut through the Muay Thai Boxing gym had me worried for a moment) and into the street to wait for the next bus. This one is definitely fully of backpackers on the way to Krabi and Phuket.

Off into the night. Again, the lights of Bangkok and Southern Thailand speed past in a blur… it’s fascinating to watch it all. The bus disgorges us at a little eatery in the middle of nowhere, full of little bags of Thai snacks and noodle sellers. AAnd then it dumps us, unceremoniously, in the middle of nowhere again, in a place where old coaches go to die. It’s about 5:30 am and it’s quite surreal,, surrounded by piles of old chairs. Eventually we are on a bus to Ao Nang, near Krabi, and our hotel… where I sleep for four hours. Three nights of little sleep have finally taken their toll….


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