A few weeks ago I had to go to Laos for my Visa run. It was my first time travelling alone and I wont lie, I didn’t want to go. I was feeling stressed and anxious over it, and having only just settled into my new job I didn’t really want to take 2 days off. To my surprise though it turned out to be a really good trip! It was nice to get some ‘me’ time as the past few months have been very full on and iv’e not had any time to myself. I met some great people, made new friends and it pushed me out of my comfort zone, which is never a bad thing.
On the way there I booked a 1st class room on a sleeper train. After hopping on (or climbing is more accurate) onto the train I found my cabin. It was much nicer then I had imagined and I ended up having it to myself! The room had a sink, mirror, cupboard and even a TV. Wanting to get the “full experience” on a sleeper train I decided to try the food and walked down through the second class section and into the little restaurant – this was an experience! I think I was the only western person on that whole train and everyone seemed very excited about it; the locals helped me ask for a spoon and fork (ha) and sat with me whilst I ate my pork buns. They were interested in where I was from (everyone loves it when you say your from Manchester) and took photos of me! It was a good chance to practice the little Thai I have picked up and learn a few new words/phrases. On the way back to my cabin I got talking to the steward on my carriage and again, was keen to get a photo with me! He put his hat on me and insisted on taking lots of selfies to show his family.
Me & The Train Steward. 2nd class carriage. Pork buns.
In the morning I was woken up by a tannoy announcing we would soon be arriving at Nong Khai, a small sleepy station just before the border into Laos. At this station I needed to buy a shuttle train and bus ticket to take me into Vientiane, the shuttle train takes you across Friendship Bridge and into Laos to an even smaller, sleepier station called Thanaleng. At this station you have to go to the immigration desk to get your Laos visa. Thailand have become more strict with visa runs as a lot of backpackers and expats work illegally in Thailand. On my form I stated I would be in Laos for 3 days and then traveling to Cambodia (so it didn’t look like a visa run). They were suspicious of me though when collecting my passport and asked me a lot of questions; Why are you only in Laos for 3 days? Why not longer? What are you doing in Laos? You have friend here? Where are you staying? Why no stay with her? Where are you going next? Where were you before? You like Laos? You been before? Ok! I hope you enjoy Laos and come back again! Bye bye!
Once through immigration I got the mini bus into town. I got talking to an old Laos local (who know lives in Bangkok) who paid for the mini bus driver, Per, to take me to the Thai Consulate. After dropping everyone else off I was the only one left and Per parked his minibus and told me we had to walk around the corner to the consulate, but, as a female traveling on her own with no phone you can understand why I felt slightly worried… (Where the hell was he taking me? I don’t trust anyone!). Outside the Consulate it was busy with people coming and going and on my way in a man asked for my passport, which in that moment I assumed was to send me to the right place inside. The next thing I know, hes walking off with my passport. I ran after him to the little makeshift tent he had where he started to fill out the visa application form I needed. I quickly realised he was going to charge me for this service but considering I had left all my paperwork and photocopies at home, I didn’t mind too much and 100baht to me is nothing but to him would be a lot. Once this was done Per came inside with me and showed me where to go and waited outside for me. I joined the queue to apply for my visa and after 1 hour I dropped my passport off, was given a ticket number and told to return tomorrow.
After Per dropped me off at my Hostel I was again feeling anxious as this was my first time in a hostel, I booked it because I knew it would force me to meet people and go out, instead of staying in and lounging by the pool! The room itself was nice, there were 12 beds in the room and each bed had a little curtain, a light, hooks and in the room were lockers to store your valuables. As there was no one else in the room I decided to head straight out, even though I was exhausted, I was starving and needed to eat! In Laos there are lots of really nice French cafes and bakeries and just down the road was an amazing French cafe. I ordered a smoothie and a savory crepe with smoked salmon, spinach, cheese and lemon stuffing (it was sooo good!). Following this I wanted to visit the Buddha Park just outside of Vientiane to make the most of my time. I headed to the bus station but struggled to find the right bus stop; eventually I asked a tuk tuk driver who sent me in the right direction and finally I made it onto the bus. Unfortunately, it was 45 minutes of dusty bumpy roads – so much so that it made me feel travel sick (I don’t get travel sick, ever) and I as I was so desperate for a wee I honestly believed I was going to wet myself every time my bum came off the seat driving over a bump in the road. Fortunately, I finally made it; found a toilet and enjoyed a few sweaty hours walking around the park. It was smaller then I had imagined but was so peaceful. I was in awe of the giant and beautiful Buddha statues all dotted around the park. To get back I headed over to the bus stop where I saw 2 young people sat down with an ice cream, deciding to copy them I went and bought one to cool down and then they offered me a seat when we got talking: Bronwynn, who is South African was living in Laos and Moussa who is French was backpacking around Asia. They both took me under their wing and let me tag along with them for the rest of the day! Together we went to visit some temples in Vientiane where we got caught in a huge storm – to escape it we seeked shelter in one of the temple’s. Whilst there we got talking to a man who worked there, asking if we were interested in Buddhism me and Moussa said we were, straight after this Moussa walked off leaving me alone and being recruited into Buddhism! Although I do find it interesting, at the moment i’m not seriously looking at becoming Buddhist but I didn’t want to be rude – so the next thing I know i’m being taken into the worship room and taught how to pray to a Buddha! It was really interesting learning about their beliefs and seeing the Monks working. Moussa was talking to a group of them for ages, and I don’t know what he was saying but they were in stitches! Whilst waiting for the rain to ease off we sat at the top of the stairs of the Temple; as much as I love Bangkok, it’s so crazy and hectic that it made a nice change to stop, take everything in and watch the world go by. It was refreshing to be in a quiet city where the pace of life is slow and tourists are few and far between.
Buddha Park & Temples
The second day I ventured out on my own to the morning market which was an adventure in itself – I went to the wrong market and ended up in KhuaDin Market instead (across the road from the morning market). I really liked this market because it was very, very local; I was the only tourist there so it was really interesting to walk around and it mostly consisted of fabrics with an amazing variety on offer. I accidentally wondered into the meat section of the market which was not very pleasant; the stench was overbearing and people were sleeping on the counters next to the meat, whilst other people were swatting the flies away with large fans; you can only imagine the kind of meat that was on offer! I couldn’t spend much time in there because it smelt so bad and the meat didn’t look too appealing. Following on from this was the fruit section, which, oddly, had an overbearing smell that wasn’t very appealing either. Within this section was all the fruit you could possibly imagine piled high in bundles. When I finally did find the right market I was actually not very impressed by it. They had everything you could think of; fake bags, electrical’s, souvenirs etc but compared to markets I have visited before it was very small and as soon as you look at something, even vaguely, you get harassed and the staff wont leave you alone – this really puts me off and actually stops me from buying stuff, or even looking at anything!
Fruit & Meat section of KhuaDin Market
In the afternoon I got picked up by Per and taken to the Thai Consulate where I had to collect my visa and passport. Once there I sat and waited for my number to be called out. After waiting 40 minutes I joined the queue to get my passport where I bumped into an Israeli guy I had met the day before. He was before me in the queue and noticed that lots of people were in front of us who should have been behind us. Asking to see their ticket numbers he quickly realised that they had jumped the queue so he got me and together we jumped in the front, payed our 1000 baht to get our visa and had our passports returned to us.
Monument & the view!
As I had a few hours before I needed to be at the airport Per took me to the top of the Monument to see the view over Vientiane and pointed out different landmarks. It was great talking to Per and learning about his life; He never has a day off and has never visited another country. Every morning he drives to friendship bridge to take people into town and the works as a private taxi the rest of the day and earns his living of this. He was very keen to learn about England and what life is like there and how things are in Bangkok! He was so helpful with getting my visa, showing me where to go and telling me what I needed to do, I would have been a lot harder without him helping me!
My luxury ride!
This trip has forced me out of my comfort zone and has made me more confident in knowing that I can do things on my own. To my surprise I enjoyed traveling on my own and would happily do it again, it forces you to meet people and work things out on your own – not having anyone else to rely on. Naturally, after moving to Bangkok with Rob I have relied on him a lot and its been easy to shy away from situations and let Rob deal with it instead. It’s a scary thing, moving half way across the world to a country that speaks another language, but I absolutely love it and the adventures that come with it, the new friends you make and the new language i’m learning. I wanted to live in another country to experience these things and I wouldn’t change anything for the world.