24 Jul 2012

Kratie, Cambodia to Vientianne, Laos

In the morning after a filling breakfast of a banana, some bread with peanut butter and fruit juice, Kayleigh and I armed ourselves with a big iced coffee each and waited for our pick up.  When it arrived we thanked and said farewell to the friendly guy from the hotel who had booked our tickets for us and followed the driver to his coach.  Nope, not a coach.  Not even a van.  Just a big car.  You know those seven seaters for big families?  Yes one of those.  The front seats and the first row of three were already taken up by people who I can only assume were the driver's relatives.  We handed him our bags and in a display of surprising agility he climbed onto the roof of the car and tied our backpacks down.  We squeezed into the back row of three seats with two Irish girls who were also travelling (four people sharing three seats, practically first class luxury), and quietly basked in relief that we weren't being picked up further down the route in the now overloaded car!  It felt a bit like we were on a weird family holiday with a family we'd never met before.



Once on the road we recorded a short video diary entry for Mick, chatted to the Irish girls and eventually began to doze off.  Eventually we came to a stop at the side of a main road in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  There was a coach waiting and as always with the hindrance of language barriers we weren't sure if this was our coach or not.  The driver had taken our bags down and the Irish duo were heading to Vientianne as well so we took our chances and hopped on.

On this coach we were handed various forms and leaflets for our border crossing.  Kayleigh and I hadn't prepared at all for our visa and were just going to pay on arrival, this is the best way to risk getting ripped off but hey ho!  We discussed this with a Danish gent sat beside us on the coach and he was horrified that we were risking paying more than we had to.  To be honest it didn't bother me, when we eventually paid for our visas it worked out that we'd paid out an extra ten to fifteen pounds or so, not exactly a bank breaker!  Mr Danish then started asking what we would do if they took our money and didn't even give us a visa ... well, I didn't really have an answer and I didn't appreciate him trying to instill panic in us.  At the end of the day, what will be will be.  We had no trouble whatsoever in getting our visas at the border and I preferred paying extra for someone to sort it for me than trying to do it all myself.  We did, however, almost get scammed in another way.  One of the local guys came to collect our forms and then informed us what would happen at the border and after.  He said we'd be driven to a place called Pakse in Laos where we would have a three to five hour wait for our coach to Vientianne.  Hang on ... our main man back in Kratie had told us we were booked to get a sleeper bus, not a standard coach?

'No for sleeper bus you must pay five dollars, you can upgrade for five dollars.'

'We haven't got five dollars.'

'But sleeper bus is much better, more comfort so if you pay five dollars each I will get this for you.'

'We haven't got any cash, we can't give you five dollars.'

'But the sleeper bus will better for you, you should pay five dollars to upgrade.'

'We can't pay you five dollars because we haven't got any money.'

'It's not about money, it's about comfort!'

...

'We don't have five dollars.'

At this point he got a bit angry and stormed off.  His reaction only made us certain that he'd just been trying to scam himself ten dollars, and we genuinely didn't have any dollars on us having just paid for our visas!  Yeah, you'd think after our arrival into Cambodia we'd have learnt our lesson but noooo.  On the other hand, our lack of planning and preparation money wise had saved us from being scammed!

Eventually we got to the border, which looked more like a disused hut in a field with a random gate, and got through with no problems whatsoever.  We had to wait a while for our next pick up, I get tired of these waiting gaps.  I love being on a coach and actually moving, but I dislike the in between stage where you have to wait for however long it takes for your pick up to arrive.  I do find though it's a good test to put myself through, because there is absolutely nothing to be done to speed things up so you just have to accept it.  I find it's helpful to remind myself as often as possible that the only thing I can control in my life is myself.  Our coach arrived and we were shoved in with loads of other travellers.  After an intolerably uncomfortable journey and a bizarre but touching encounter with a local Laotian lady, we arrived in Pakse and were dropped off where our overnight coach would be picking us up ... in four hours.  We ambled up the main road in search of food, passing over a bridge on the way under which we could see countless flooded homes.  I couldn't tell if they were deserted or not, but they were definitely not in the most habitable of conditions.  It amazes me just how much stuff happens throughout the world that we never hear about at home.  We came to a restaurant about one mile away and had some delicious tandoori chicken with rice and about nine gallons of water (we were parched).  We then took the time to use the internet, Kayleigh actually did this blog post whilst sat next to me in a tiny little internet cafe in Pakse.

After killing a couple of hours with more fruit shakes and iced coffees we began making our way back to the coach office, where we brushed our teeth with a German couple and the coach office staff idly played games on the internet.  The coach arrived and it was a sleeper bus!  We knew the scam guy had been lying!  It was most exciting, I felt a bit like I was in a Harry Potter film.  The plastic floor was see through and underneath had a display of fake flowers in bright colours like blue, red and purple, among these flowers there were also a number of little yellow rubber ducks too ... I have no idea why but I loved them!  The bunk beds just about fitted two people side by side, and the driver had local dance music blasting out of the speakers - not ideal for people who want to go sleep but it didn't bother me at that point.  Kayleigh and I spent a good half hour marvelling at this amazing bus along with the other passengers and then it was lights out and I am happy to say I actually slept real slumberous sleep on the way!

Upon arrival in Vientianne, which is a beautifully relaxed capital city, we checked into another hotel, had a nap, and went out to explore.  Excited for what Laos had to offer but also sad in the knowledge that this was the final stage of our amazing trip, we made plans for our journey to Lunag Prabang, after which we'd head back to Bangkok to fly home.