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Lazy in Laos

February 2, 2010

So I’m nearly done the most elaborate scavenger hunt I’ve ever participated in.  Obtaining a new visa for Thailand has been a mission, but it’s been good to get away.  I’m going to spell out the journey so for those of you in Thailand now, looking for a little direction in obtaining a visa via Vientiane, now have something to compare against – because I have had very little idea what the hell I’m doing and once again, it seems I came underprepared.

On Ko Tao, I found a travel shop where I could purchase tickets for all my major transit routes.  I bought a ticket for the night ferry to Chumphon, a bus ticket from Chumphon to Bangkok and then a train ticket from Bangkok to Nong Kai, a border town on the Mekong River.  The night ferry was hilarious.  It was literally a beaten down cargo ship and to get to the barracks, you had to crawl along a gang plank along the side of the ship which nearly forces you over board when you have to pass by the cargo hoist.  We left at about 11pm and arrived in Chumphon around 6 the next morning.  Thankfully there was a mini-bus waiting there to take me to the bus station where I would leave from for Bangkok.  An hour or two later, we’re on the road and I’m pleading for sleep to come.  We stop once for food at a road side bazaar and I pick up a package of dates, along with my rice and something or other sauce.  The dates were great but I ate too many and had a huge sugar crash which lead to a big headache.  We finally pulled into Bangkok, but the main bus terminal is way on the North-West side of town and nowhere near the train station.  I’m not too concerned since I had approximately 6 hours until my train departs but I begin exploring my options.  A cab driver quotes me 400 baht.  I flat out refuse him and he says ‘ok ok – 350’.  That’s still nearly $12 and way to much for a cab ride.  I look about to see what others are doing and I find a girl with an inclination to take the city bus and has a map.  ‘There’s an idea’ I think to myself and together we go check out the local bus terminal.  I ask one of the other drivers and learn I need to take number 507, which goes past the train station.  A passenger on board tells me if the traffic is good, it’ll be a half hour.  We were nearly 3.  Unbelievable.  I thought seriously about whether or not one could make money selling bottles of fuel door to door in the standstill.  In the end it made no difference, I still made it to the station with loads of time and the fare was only 15 baht, or $0.50.  Upon reaching the station I set about some errands.  I had four photographs made for my visa applications and went about looking to exchange some baht into US dollars since that was required for a Laos VOA or Visa on Arrival.  $43 for Canadians, the highest premium paid by any country.  dammit.  The exchange counter in the train station only bought foreign currencies, never selling.  The banks had all closed by 3:30pm and I had missed the cut off by about an hour.  I knew I might have difficulties exchanging elsewhere so instead I staked out a seat in front of the exchange counter and poached travellers as they passed by, offering a better rate than the pirates at the exchange.  It paid off, I bought $50 US dollars for 1740 baht.  I caught my train, fell asleep soon and by 9 am the next morning I was in Nong Kai.  What a heap of confusion this was.  No one was sure how exactly to get across the border.  There was a train at the station but it went a ways past Vientiane and I didn’t want to deviate from the faint plan more than necessary.  I paid 40 baht for a 4 minute ride to the border.  There I was stamped out of Thailand, bought a 20 baht ticket to get ferried across the bridge and then went about my visa application at the next office.  Once that was sorted, I came upon the taxi pool and was pressured to take a cab into Vientiane.  I held my ground and took an open mini-cab which took about 20 minutes to get to town.  I wasn’t sure what to pay so I waited for someone who better knew what they were doing to pay first.  I made sure the driver knew I was watching so I could see what notes got passed back and forth.  I took my change and now wondered what to do.  The bus terminal had a bit of a market so I found a tourist who appeared to be on his way out and asked him for directions.  His name was Hans and was quite helpful.  I traded a couple cough drops for his torn-out Laos pages from Lonely Planet and I hiked it into downtown.  After some searching I found a reasonable place to stay.  A dorm room with air con and a heated shower.  Nice.  It was the first hot shower I’ve had since coming to Thailand.  I looked up the Thai embassy on the map on the wall and walked about 45 minutes to it, pausing at some of the sites.  Once I arrived at the embassy, I read a map on the bulliten board which gave directions to the consulate, which is where visas are issued.  I took a photograph of this map and continued my hike.  After about another 20 minutes I found the consulate, read the times of operation and headed back to the guest house for some Beerlao and to play the guitar they had in the library.  I arrived a half hour early at the consulate the next morning and there was already a queue.  2 hours later my passport was handed off and I spent the rest of the day puttering about town, visiting some of the temples and chatting with whoever.  I took a slow walk past an artisan street sale of some sort later at night.  Some really nice crafts and clothes, it would have been nice to pick up a couple things.
I came back to my room for some more beer and guitar and then stepped into the library.  Earlier that day, I had finished reading a note from my good mate, Drew, who also knows the pains of taking a phone for a swim.  Turns out, Drew is expecting fatherhood this very week!  There wasn’t much of a selection on the book shelves but I came across Fatherhood, by Bill Cosby.  I thought what the hell, and with Drew in mind I read the first chapter.  It wasn’t all that bad and I pretty much read the entire thing in one sitting.  One part made my laugh out loud, which I’d like to share.  On the whole, Cosby talks about the inevitability of frustration and confusion as a father but also about how important it is to be everlasting in your love and patience.  He jokes that even God didn’t have it easy.  When he made Adam and Eve the first thing he told them was “Don’t”.  Never mind the elephants and parrots, his first instructions to the higher beings was “Don’t”.
“Don’t?  Don’t what?” asked Adam.
“Don’t eat the forbidden fruit.” replied god.
“The forbidden fruit you say?” asked Adam, incredulously. “Really? Uh, where is it, exactly?”
and not 20 minutes later, God turns back around and sees Adam doing exactly what he told him not to.  A strict disciplinarian, God is, and he banished Adam and Eve from Eden.
So you see, not everyone get’s it right the first time, but I have no doubt Drew will be an excellent father.  Love and the best of luck to you and your family, good sir.  You’re certainly the most worthy of us knights and I look forward to meeting little Liam.

That’s enough for now.  I still have to collect my passport and get back into Thailand, but I’ll wrap up this all up in the next couple days.  Cheers

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