Saturday, May 25, 2013

On the Road to Luang Prabang

After breakfast of just a fruit plate and Nescafé at the Happy House Guesthouse, Sukhothai, Jaran gave me a ride back to the bus station. This time I rode in a side car instead of their Toyota car and a cost of 80 baht.

When I got to the bus station, I learned that there were no buses that went directly to Nong Khai. Instead, I first had to take a bus to Phitsanulok which would take about an hour and cost 35 baht.

Notice there is no A/C on this local bus.






Since the bus was not leaving for an hour, I stopped by a nearby cafe and had a bowl of chicken and noodles for 35 baht.








When we arrived in Phitsanulok bus station, I was able to catch a bus going to Udon Thani, but not yet Nong Khai. Fortunately the bus to Udon Thani had A/C and cost 200 baht, and would take 7 hours. the landscape was now changing from the acres and acres of rice fields to more hills and forests with occasional rice terraces.


It turned out that the buses to my next destination, Nong Khai! was at a different bus station. After a bit of looking for a shuttle bus, it became apparent that I would need to hire one of the tuk tuk drivers to get me to that bus station. After an exciting 15 minute ride in the rain in one of these motorcycle type tuk tuks at a cost of 80 baht, I arrived at the bus station and the next bus to Nong Khai was almost filled. I got my most unfavorite seat behind the bus driver, and the short ride to the Nong Khai bus station was just 40 baht.

I arrived at the Nong Khai bus station after dark and proceeded to walk about six blocks to the Mekong River where there were clusters of guest houses and waterfront restaurants. Found a beautiful guesthouse with beautiful wood floors, A/C, hot showers, and wifi---what more could you want-----FOOD.

After checking in, I headed down to the waterfront restaurants and had a Mekong fish meal in sweet and sour sauce with sticky rice and vegetables---so good after that bowl of chicken and noodles in the morning.

After breakfast at the Darika Bakery for 100 baht, I caught a tuk tuk to the Thai-Laos border for 80 baht.

Checking out of Thailand Immigration was a breeze and getting a Visa on Arrival to Laos just required a passport photo, filling out paperwork and payment of just 1500 baht---much cheaper and more certain than what the US charges which is $200 whether you are approved for a visa or not. US Citizens throughout the world are very privileged travelers compared to other travelers.

I tried the Lao ATM machine at the border with no luck. I then exchanged some Thai baht for Laos Kip.

This Laos money really stuffs your wallet with an exchange rate of 7650 kip to the $1 USD.

I could not find the shuttle bus to the bus station and it turned out that I needed to get t the northern bus station to catch a bus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. A persistent taxi driver told me he could get to that bus station so I went with him. It cost me 600 baht--- they use all kinds of currency in Vientiane. after 45 minutes he dropped me off. when I poked around it turned out I was at the Capital Bus Station and there were no buses for Luang Prabang. I looked at the map and saw I was not half way to the northern bus station.

While I was pondering all of this, a friendly--- they are always friendly---tout told me I could get to Luang Prabang by taking a mini bus instead of the regular bus at a cost of 200000 kip---about$25 USD. The trip would take about 10 hours. I was worn down so I said OK. The minibus turned out to be a fairly comfortable way of traveling. Half the people were European travelers and the others were Laotians.

When we were about half way there, we pulled into Vang Vieng, a beautiful village surrounded by these large mountains and is a great destination for adrenaline junkies with all types of sports activities. the driver told me I was to get out here and wait about an hour for another mini bus to complete my journey to Luang Prabang.

While waiting, I had a lunch of an egg sandwich. thanks to the French influence their baguettes were soft and crunchy. It was a satisfying delicious lunch. I tried the ATM by the school and it was broken.

During the second phase of the drive, it began to rain fairly hard and turned portions of the highway int a muddy stream. On one corner a motorcyclist and passenger were approaching us and the fell over and skidded on the ground toward our minivan. Fortunately our driver stopped and the two riders just slide int the side of our van at the back wheels and did not get run over.

We arrived at the bus station in Luang Prabang in the dark and rain and as usual a friendly tout was offering a place to stay for just 120000 kips per night with A/C, hot showers, TV, wifi and near downtown Luang Prabang. The Tida Guest house was about a mile from the downtown and other than Fox and sports channels, the only English station was some Australian station. I moved to downtown Luang Prabang after three days.

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