The visa run is the bane of all expats staying in Thailand for an extended period. The days of being on overstay are long gone, with the recent crackdown by Thai immigration. Good guys in, bad guys out, and all that – of course I’m a good guy 🙂
As the time had come to renew my visa, I once again had to make the trip to Savanakhet, Laos. I decided to drag the wife along, as promised, and make a small trip of it, so she could see the sites of the Laos capital, Vientiane.
Le Hôtel de Horreur
We flew out of Don Muang on Friday and by early afternoon were at our hotel. I thought we had picked up a good deal on Expedia for the flights and accommodation, as unlike last time, there were no dirt cheap flights available. It would turn out to be the first of many poor decisions I had made in planning this trip.
The guesthouse was terrible – no easy way to say it. If you visit, just wing it, as there are plenty of places to stay in a similar price range. Ask to see the room first. Check if the place has a lift, and if not, how many flights of stairs you will need to navigate each time you want to return to your room.
Dusty room on the top floor. Sheets weren’t clean. No fridge. No glasses. No hot water. No way we’ed ever go back! We had to purchase a new towel (at the night market) to use because the ones on offer looked like old used rags. The only good thing was the AC, but that didn’t make up for the rest of the crap we had to endure – such a disappointment.
We thought about changing hotels but didn’t have the spare cash. Lesson learned. Hopefully.
Touring the sights in Vientiane
She likes temples – I like beer and food. The temples on this occasion were actually quite good! The beer and food never fail to disappoint.
On the Saturday we went to the Scandinavian Bakery for breakfast after stopping in at True Coffee for a caffeine fix. Really good, lives up to it’s reputation. Then we walked via That Dam to the Patuxay monument.
After that it was a tuk-tuk ride to Pha That Luang, to take in the Golden Stupor and the statue of King Setthathirath. One of the surrounding temples had a nice reclining Buddha thrown in for good measure
I really enjoyed it, and the wife managed to pick up some traditional Laotian skirts for a bargain basement price of THB 80 each.
The weather was accommodating with a lovely blue sky thrown to boot.
Next was Wat Si Saket, after which a cleansing ale with Tintin was most welcoming.
On Sunday we grabbed a bite to eat at Le Trio Coffee, and purchased some freshly roasted coffee while there as well.
Then made the trek to Wat Si Muang, which again was interesting. Ran into some other Thai people along the way and stopped for a fresh coconut (as you do!) before purchasing flowers for a temple offering. I toured the grounds and took pictures while the wife attended to merit making duties inside. Teamwork!
Savouring the food
For mine, there is some great food to be had in VT. We have the French to thank for that, indeed.
Here are some highlights:
- The breakfast at Le Banneton. The croissants are to die for! We had the breakfast set at 55,000 LAK which was fantastic. Real orange juice, great coffee, baguette, ham, eggs and a croissant. Superb value!
- Spring Rolls at iPho. I know – who raves about spring rolls? The ones here are sen-bloody-sational, trust me. Order them, mix the garlic and chilies into the sauce and then wrap the deep fried rolls with some lettuce amd mint. Dip away, then into the mouth. Order a bottle of ice cold Beer Laos and the total will be about 200 THB. Thank me later.
- Grilled lamb kebabs on Chao Anou road. I called this road ‘food street’ due to the many offerings available there. We found some great bbq’ed lamb (let’s hope it was lamb!) kebabs. 20,000 LAK each. the wife thought they were divine
- Thai/Lao/Viet offerings at another restaurant, also on Chao Anou road. Packed when we visited on Sunday afternoon. A huge plate of Spring Rolls (not fried, like the ones previously mentioned), some Som Tam and crispy pork were all had for a pittance.
Bar wise this time we found the infamous ‘Bor Pen Yang‘ (which I correctly assumed was the Lao translation of Mai Bpen Rai), and this is a great spot to watch the river and night market while listening to some funky tunes and knocking back a few bottles of Beer Laos. Don’t expect a non-smoking section, however.
Pitstop in Udon Thani
Come Monday morning the wife and I parted ways as she had to head back to Bangkok for work (good girl!)
I walked to the central bus station in VT, purchased a ticket to Udon (LAK 24,000 ~ 100 baht) and waited for the 10.30 AM bus to arrive.
I’d initially planned to get the bus from Vientiane to Savanakhet, but changed my mind at the last minute. I don’t handle long haul bus trips well any more and should have taken this into account when planning the trip. It cost an extra 3,000 THB (including a new visa for Laos – USD 30) but did turn out to be the more comfortable option, which involved getting the bus from Vientiane to Udon Thani, crossing the Thai border at Nong Khai, then making my way down to Mukdahan before crossing into Laos again at Savanakhet.
Land border crossings are a novelty these days, but seem to have a slow and painful element to them. Especially when doing so with a bus full of other passengers. Be prepared. These days, most forms can be downloaded and filled in prior to arrival, which can save you a tremendous amount of time. You’ve been told!
By the time I had reached Udon, I didn’t feel like travelling any further, so checked in to the Irish Clock for the night. Great room for the price (750 THB). Recommend it to anyone.
Hit a couple of bars, the names had changed since my last visit. Too many beers later I was hitting the hay (alone!) before an early start the next day.
I have a mate who used to work at the casino there, and that made the trip much more worthwhile. As he has moved on to greener pastures (literally, as Savan is a dustbowl) the place doesn’t hold any attraction anymore. Been there, done that.
I left the hotel in Udon at 6.30 AM. As luck would have it, I managed to jump on a bus that was just departing for Mukdahan. Two hundred baht and six and a half hours later I started the slow walk to the border post, not the best way to save money, but a protest against the exorbitant prices charged by tuk-tuk drivers.
Why should the last 5 kms of your journey cost more than the first 500. Why?
Getting lost in the spirit houses at Thai Watsadu was part of the fun and I thank the folks in a loaded tuk-tuk who took pity on me 1 km from my destination 1.
A dose of gastro and having a lie in bed for a whole day made this a truly forgettable 48 hours. I got the all important visa, and that’s all that matters. It’s a two day process that involves a lot of waiting, covered in detail by many others on the inter-webs.
FWIW, having done it a few times now, I think the best way is to fly via Nakhon Phanom and get a van to Mukdahan, then cross into Laos. If you only want to stay one night (or saving money is a priority) then there’s no way of escaping an overnight bus to/from Bangkok.
Onwards to Ubon Ratchathani
I broke up the trip back to Bangkok with an overnight in Ubon. The van trip there from Mukdahan, for the unusual fee of 111 baht, was woeful 🙁 The driver was excellent (I’m not fan of using vans but they sometimes can’t be avoided).
The problem was seating – I was crammed into the back seat with 3 other guys and it was 2 hours of pure discomfort. At least I had my iPod (I know, old-school..)
Had been planning to spend two nights there but ran out of time. Oh well. Great little hotel, The Outside Inn, and a friendly greeting by the owner Brent.
I didn’t expect to find Mexican food here, and it was really good! After dropping my kit in the room I put away a pint of Chang and a Verde Salsa Burrito before retiring for the night. After some scrambled eggs on toast the next morning I was in a taxi headed for the airport which was only 10 minutes away.
Was surprised that they had metered taxis in Ubon. Makes a huge difference on the pocket.
Will return again.
Home sweet home
An early morning Nok Air flight out of Ubon had me back home by 11.30AM. It was great to be back, knowing I won’t have to go through that process for another 15 months at least.