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I spend a lot of time in Asia, mostly traveling from one point to another. My trips seem to start at Bangkok or Shanghai because airfare there seems to be cheap. Lao has long been one of my favorite destinations although I think I could not stand to live there as it is too far from medical help if one is truly in need, and too far from any shopping or night life.
A few days ago, a friend and I left Bangkok traveling north to Nong Khai on the night train. I like to take the night train as I sleep quite well on a berth on the train and I can feel the gentle rocking of the cars and the faint click-clack of the steel wheels rolling along the rails. It is a rather romantic thought as long as one keeps his eyes closed and lets his mind think outside of the realm of rather aged and somewhat dirty cars that one finds on the night train from Bangkok to Nong Khai.
We left Bangkok at 8:00 p.m. and arrived at Nong Khai at the usual time of about 10:00 a.m. Never mind that the 8:00 train is scheduled to arrive at 8:00 a.m. because it just doesn’t quite make it that early.
We took the short Tuk-Tuk ride to the border and managed to get our “visa on arrival” as promised. Then we took another Tuk-Tuk on to Vientiane, Lao. We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel along the Mekong River. I like it there as one can still use his Thai cell phone there. We went to the Vietnamese Embassy and I got a visa for Vietnam. The cost was only $55.00 including the same day expedite fee of $5.00.
The next day we flew to Luang Prabang. It is a 12 hour bus ride over impossible roads and my stomach just did not feel up to the 12 hour ride. I opted for the 35 minute plane trip instead. I have taken the bus so many times that it is pretty old now and much safer than before. Back five years ago, the trip by bus was a real adventure. The VIP busses were not much then and because there were robbers on the road, a man rode on the night bus with a machine gun to protect passengers. But gone is the illusion of adventure, the ride is just ass jarring and long.
Our goal was to travel to Vietnam by going from Luang Prabang to Udom Xai and from Udom Xai to Mong Qua and then on to Dien Ben Phu. I swear, nothing went right on this trip. We left as scheduled for Udom Xai but the bus pulled over about 4 hours out of Luang Prabang and we were informed that the constant rain had caused mud to slide down the mountains and across the roads making passage impossible.
We elected to take a one hour Tuk-Tuk ride to Nong Qeo and to try to find a slow boat to take us the following day to Mong Qua. The night at Nong Qeo was about as uneventful as possible. It rained most of the night and there was no TV and no Internet for distractions. We stayed in an upscale room with beautiful views of the river. The only good thing was a fantastic hot shower. When looking at the photos, look at the bridge. That bridge was a part of the Ho Chi Menh Trail during the Vietnam war and was constantly blown up by the Americans only to be built again by the Vietnamese and Chinese.
Our boat left at 11:00 a.m. the next morning and arrived at Mong Qua at about 6:00 p.m. It was a long ride on a small boat with a hard (but dry) wood floor and even harder wooden seats. I spent most of the trip on my back trying to sleep.
Today was the roughest day; we got up at 4:00 a.m. and crossed the Nam Ou river in a small boat to catch the bus for Vietnam. There is a ferry and a bunch of small boats used to take people across the river there as there just is no brideg. It was a bit of a fright to get in a small boat with a small gas motor and cross a fast river at night with only a flashlight to guide us. At 5:00 a.m., it is truly dark.
We got on the bus and started what was to be a 14 hour trip across the mountains after a very big rain. The bus got stuck three times so that the passengers had to get off the bus and then pull the bus via a long rope to get the bus out of the mud. I have done a lot of 3rd world traveling, but this is rare indeed. Photos included for anyone that doubts the story.
We arrived in Dien Ben Phu at 7:00 p.m. We were exhausted and hungry as our food for the day consisted of a few pieces of fruit and junk food. Oh, I said “we” many times… we is my friend ICE and I. Really, her name is Nam King in Thai… translated to “Ice.” She is the girl sitting on the bamboo raft.
I have included quite a few photos. Please note that the intellectual property rights are held by Robert Peterson. Should you want to use them for any purpose, please obtain permission to do so. Bob@theLaPhotographer.com