Since I live in the middle of Thailand, getting to Vientiane is a bit of a trek. Luckily, some of my colleagues were going halfway there, so I could tag along.
We rode our scooters 45 minutes to nearby Lom Sak, then took the 5 hour bus to Khon Kaen. The colleagues were spending the weekend in town, so I hung out with them for the evening, and went on my way the next day.
The tuk-tuk could only take near the hotel because the roads were closed for Bike for Dad. Bike for Dad is a huge campaign to honour the King’s 88th birthday. Yellow Bike for Dad shirts are sold and worn everywhere. The ride is to show support and love to the “Father of the Thai nation”. We caught some of the ride because it was between us and our hotel. It was an incredible event, happening all over Thailand, with streams of happy people riding along in yellow jerseys.
In the morning I took another 5 hour bus to Vientiane. I still haven’t adjusted to these border crossings. I am used to the Canadian/American borders where you show your passport to one guy, walk through and then you’re done. Here you must exit one country and enter the next in a two stop process.
First the bus stopped in the border town of Ngon Khai, Thailand. We disembark from the bus, show the Thai officials our passport and departure card, walk through the gate and get back on the bus. Then we drive a few minutes and enter Laos. Get off the bus, again. Now I get to do new paperwork and fork over 1800 THB ($70 CAD) for my Lao visa. Luckily there was no line, and it only took a few minutes. Then through immigration for another stamp, and back on the bus. Another short ride and we have arrived in Vientiane.
Somewhere we crossed the Thai-Lao Friendship bridge, but I missed it. Maybe because I was looking for rainbow flags and the personification of hugs. Maybe because my nose was stuck in One Foot in Laos. How comically appropriate.
Hurray! I have arrived! It’s sunny, 30C, I’m sweating, and it looks just like Thailand. Instead of hearing “Sa-wa-dee”, I hear “Sa-ba-dee”.
Like everywhere else, I am immediately inundated by tuk-tuk drivers, pay way too much for a short ride, and end up at less-than-perfect accommodations. My own fault, though. I failed to research local tuk-tuk scams, and did sub-par work on sussing out hostels.
Lucky Backpacker Hostel proved to be as good as advertised and better than my first impressions had me believe. It was cheap – about 200 THB ($8). But it wasn’t until after I paid for my first night that I realized it was a mixed dorm with sixteen beds and three showers for the entire floor. In the end I had a great sleep. The beds were comfortable. The sheets were clean. A/C was great. And those three showers had nice hot water and were always empty. When I signed in and scanned the ages of my roommates I thought “Right, you are too old for hostels.” But as I left with my pack on my back, a fabulous woman with silver hair and a pack on her back waved to the hotel staff and said “I’ll be back in a few weeks!”. Still, I wanted my own room.
Soukchaleun Guest House was my next home. After rejecting a few other options (a sheet on top of springs does not a bed make), I was really happy to stay here. Soft bed, clean, nice bathroom and a fan for 400 THB. Lovely staff booked me a bus home including transit to the terminal. I would definitely stay here again. It was cheaper and nicer than the other options I checked out on the same street. And they were all in central Vientiane, where the tourists like to hang out.