Sunrise on the train to Nong Khai
Wow writing up out Laos/Thailand trip seems to be a bit daunting at the moment. It was such a long, amazing trip with so many fun adventures it will take a while to get it all down. Tons of photos, two small journals filled with words, lots to get through. It was an amazing trip though. I loved Laos so so much. I miss it. Even though it was WAY too hot and humid for me I still miss being there. It is just such a different way of life. So laid back, so peaceful and just absolutely beautiful. If anyone is headed to SE Asia I highly recommend Laos. Thailand is okay - there are some nice beaches and such, but Laos...Laos is where it's at. The people, the food, the scenery, it was all amazing. We definitely will be back to explore more of the country. So on to our adventures!
We left Berlin on a Friday night heading to Bangkok via Abu Dhabi. The flight was fine, though my legs did not fit in the seat which is always lame. 6 hour flight, super tired, but couldn't sleep as I couldn't get comfortable at all. Oh well. Also we flew with Air Berlin and I couldn't find anywhere on their website where you could request special meals, only where you could purchase meals in advance. So we brought lots of food with us for the trip and then found out there is someway to do so. It took forever to find the info and put in the request for the flight back, but it is there. Odd that it is so hidden on their website.
Abu Dhabi is not somewhere I ever really thought about going. I never really thought about it at all. I knew it was in the desert, but not much else. Well I wasn't expecting everything to be so brown. Brown houses, brown land, brown plants, brown buildings, brown for as far as you could see as you were flying in. Very odd. Like everything is camouflage. The airport was nice though and very clean. They have so many people working there whose job it is just to clean. There were three ladies in the restroom who quick cleaned the stall after every single person, with a deeper clean after every few. It made it so it took forever, but oh well. There were also people who would just wander the gate area looking for garbage and shining the metal fixtures and just making sure everything was perfect at all times. I have never seen so many people just cleaning constantly before. There was also a hallway of local artwork which was interesting, but I was also so tired by the time we got there I didn't spend too much time looking at it.
The second flight was another just over 6 hours to Bangkok and much nicer. I actually fit in the seats! Still no sleep, but much more comfortable. We arrived in Bangkok about 6pm Sat and were trying to be quick like bunnies to get through the border control and to the Don Mueng airport train station to catch our overnight train to Nong Khai and head into Laos. I was looking online and it said the train leaves at 8:50 from Don Meung and is about a 45 min drive from the airport where we arrived so it should be plenty of time (we had our tickets already). Normally people go into downtown to catch the train and that leaves at 8 and would have been a lot tighter (we might have missed it honestly). So we are going through border control and they want to know the address for where we are sleeping and we said on the train. The guy looks at our train tickets, looks at his watch like you think you are going to make it in time? then I guess he decided that we might and stamped out passports and we were out of there. Even though we were in the slowest possible customs line it still didn't take very long to get through there. We could have taken a bus to the train station we needed, but because of the border control guy we stuck with our taxi plan. That was fun - they drive on the other side of the road there which I didn't know. Lots of tolls, lots of traffic going into town, but not much going where we were going.
First class cabin on the train
We got to the train station with plenty of time. I think we got there around 7:30 and it was really warm. I still had all my warm clothes on since the flights were freezing, so way too many clothes. There wasn't much at the station and we were both pretty tired from traveling so we just had to wait for the train. It was late, but we had our first class cabin to sleep in. A lot of people online said you should just go second class as it is more social and whatever, but I was just like I don't want to be social! I will just want to sleep! Second class is just beds lining both sides of the car where first class was private cabins so hopefully quieter. It was pretty nice, free water, comfortable enough. I didn't sleep that well, but I am not sure why. I kept drifting in and out of sleep, and they wake you up at like 5:45am (the train got in at 6:45am). The guy came through yelling Nong Khia next stop! So it made it seem like we needed to get ready to go quickly so we didn't miss it. Only we still had like an hour to go.
After they get you up they come through and change the beds back into seats for the rest of the train ride. Once you get off the train in Nong Khai we had lots of tuk tuk guys trying to get us to go to Laos via them, though I wasn't sure how that would work as we had to go through immigration and such. So really the easiest thing to do, what I read we should do, was buy train tickets to get into Laos which include a bus ticket from the train station to Vientiane. There really is not anything there by the train station, just tuk tuk drivers and people getting off the overnight train.
Orange sticker means we are catching the bus to Vientiane
Once we had our tickets we went through Thai border control again before getting on the small transit train and finally making it to Laos! It was a lot of traveling to get there, and we could have stayed overnight in Bangkok and taken the train the next night, but then that seemed a waste of a night. We are going to be sleeping anyway, why not sleep on the train?
Laos on the left, Thailand on the right
The train ride doesn't take long - maybe 15 minutes. Once in Laos you have to go through their border control and pay for your visa and everything. It's pretty quick as there were only the few people who were on the train with us, and the bus (really a van) waited until everyone was done going through border control to leave.
The train station in Laos - there really is nothing there
The van into Vientiane took a little longer - maybe an hour to get into the city. It was in the van that I really realized that I am too tall for this country. I have to lean down to look our windows, the headrest is in the middle of my back, some of the later vans my legs don't fit in the seat, just a bit too tall. On the way into town there were tons of small convenience stores lining the road and I just thought why are they all along this road? There wasn't much out there, but then we went by a temple with a lot of people doing whatever and a Pepsi and beer bottling plant so they must get some business. It was just odd as they all had the exact same things.
In the van we were just with other travelers and weren't really sure where we wanted to go. It is not a big city, but we wanted to get our hotel and drop our stuff off and figure out our plan for the day. This one lady in the van was really annoyed with the driver. He stopped on the one main road and asked where everyone was staying I think...I'm not sure as I didn't hear him, but the one lady wanted him to drive down to the arch as she said that is the center of town and where everything is and blah blah blah (which it turns out is not true and would have taken us farther from accommodations and stuff). She was not very nice and eventually just yelled at he driver to take her to the bus station which was like a block away. So at the bus station we all got out and we asked the driver where our hotel was exactly as we couldn't find the road on the map and he was just like get in - I will take you there. He didn't speak much English, but we figured it out. He was really nice and I felt bad since that lady was so rude to him. He took us to our hotel and we got checked in and had a rest for a little bit. It was nice to just not have anything we had to do. No transportation to catch, nothing to do until we wanted to do something.
Finally around 11 I was so hungry we had to venture out and get some food. Oh man. Up until then I thought it is warm, but not too bad. We stepped outside and headed towards this one indoor market to get some money and food and I was immediately dying. Like WAY too hot and humid. Instantly drenched in sweat and just...it was crazy. The weather everyday said cloudy and rain, but we only had 2 days of rain on the whole trip. The rest of the time was sunny so yeah I didn't trust the weather. It was over 90F (32C) and the sun was shining down on us and I just thought what did we do? We made a huge mistake...this is going to be a long 4 weeks. I said to Raymond I just am not built for the heat and he looked at me, looked at the sweat pouring off of me, and was just like apparently. He didn't look that bad. He just had a few beads of sweat on his forehead. Just like everyone else we saw...It was bad, but luckily once we left Vientiane it wasn't as horrible. Like I got used to it or something. But I still remember that first day stepping outside...
We tried to find this one place by the market which was by where we were staying, but we couldn't find it. Really we didn't see much food by the market so we went and regrouped and found a different place close to where we were that had a lunch buffet. I know Raymond doesn't look very happy in the photo above, but it was pretty good. Lots of different flavors that I hadn't had before, lots of veggies and spices and it was a pretty good lunch. Really I was so hungry I would have eaten it even if I didn't like it because I just needed food.
After lunch we decided to go for a little walk down to the park along the water. Yes, at noon we decided to go walk in the hot sun. Not our smartest decision.
The main road where the van dropped us off at first with Patouxai in the distance
This was at the park which was nice, but oh my goodness it was way too hot to be walking around.
View over to Thailand
We quickly realized that now was not the time to explore. Really by the time we got to the park I was just like must get somewhere cool and took a few photos really quickly then plotted the quickest way back to our room. Above is Nam Phou Place which around sunset and after is a lovely fountain and lots of people eating and such. Notice how my photos don't really have anyone else in them? The one of the statue has someone, but really we saw very few people on our afternoon walk. If we did see anyone they were sitting in the shade doing nothing. Yes, that is the smarter thing to do. After that first day we always had an afternoon break to sit out the hottest part of the day. It was after lunch-4 or 5 just relaxing unless we were traveling or doing something else. It was kind of nice.
After a nap in our room we headed back out into the heat around 5. I'm not sure why I thought the sun would set later, but it sets around 6pm. Really it was light from about 6am-6pm. It just wasn't what I was expecting, but better for exploring when the sun is not beating down on you.
This just doesn't look safe, but how all the electric lines were...
That Dam again
All of the above photos are from the park by the night market. See how many more people there are? It is like the sun starts going down and everyone is outside. The last photo is a pop up exercise class - there were a lot of these all over the place. It was still WAY too hot for me to consider exercising like that, but no one else seemed to mind. It was really nice sitting by the water watching the sunset and the people until we got too hungry. Oh and you can see the steps in the one photo - there are not very many. It is not very high up, but as we were sitting there some guy with a paraglider ran and jumped off the steps and glided for a second until he hit the ground. Strange as...it is not very high.
We went to dinner at a place by the night market that was super tasty. Noodles and veggies and super sweet green iced tea drinks (when it is hot I love super sugary drinks that I can't stand otherwise). The market was fun, but apparently I didn't take any photos of it except the bike parking (everyone calls motorcycles or scooters or mopeds bikes). There were soo many bikes! It is like most people have them and they just load a ton of people on them! Driving around the country it is not uncommon to see two adults and like 6 kids all somehow piled on the scooter and driving along. It is a little crazy how many people they manage to fit on them. Next time I definitely want to rent a scooter and travel around that way
The market was fairly large and had lots of clothes and bags and fun stuff to look at. And everything was so cheap! I didn't get anything, but it was my kind of prices ;) We kept walking along the water on the way back to our room which was nice and cooler than walking through the city. Still hot, still humid, I was still completely gross, but really pretty. Before we arrived we saw there were morning and night markets, but no day markets listed. It all made so much more sense once we were there. Have the market in the morning before it gets crazy hot or around sunset when it is a bit cooler. Good times. Oh one other thing about walking around the city - it is not very big. Easily walkable even if it is a billion degrees. However I don't think most visitors walk much as every tuk tuk that goes by slows down to see if you want a ride. We didn't use them to explore as well we like to walk. I can see where it would be nicer to take them to everything, cooler, but I don't know. I like walking. It is just what we do. So there we have day one. I really thought I would get more into this post, but it is already getting long so I will put day two in a separate one. Look for that coming soon!