Sunday, October 26, 2003

Goodbye to Thailand and onto Laos

Kirsten and I spent our final day in Bangkok hanging around Khao San Road preparing for our trip into Laos. I bought a new digital camera to replace the one I lost on the train. Mostly though we just wasted time as people do on Khao San Road, watched some movies, wrote some postcards and wandered the streets browsing the stalls.

Traveling in Asia has taught me that departure times are merely a suggestion. So we intended to arrive at our meeting spot 30 minutes earlier than scheduled. But when we got there we were informed the time of the bus departure had changed and we were late. Kirsten and I were herded down the back alleys to our minivan with Nadine following along behind us.

I really wish I could have had more time to say goodbye to Nadine. But instead it was rushed and chaotic. She was the only person I have seen from home in six months and I was sad to end our journey together. We've always traveled so well together. She would definitely be my Amazing Race partner

The minivan drive to the bus station was the typically terrifying, but after a few weeks in Asia I have become used to the swerving and running of red lights. Once at the bus station we still ended up waiting over an hour for our bus to depart.

The bus ride was brutal as there was very little room although they did hand out mini bottles of water and snacks possibly as a form of compensation. Thankfully there were blankets because the bus driver was maximizing the air condition setting. As people left the bus Kirsten and I would snag their blankets and shroud ourselves to keep warm. The Arnold Schwarzenegger dubed into Thai held little interest so I mostly without much success to sleep.

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Our route through Thailand

When we arrived in Chang Kong we bought a ticket that included transport in the back of a pickup truck to the pier, a boat ride across the Mekong river to Huay Xai in Laos and then a two day slow boat ride to Loung Phabeng. Much to our relief the border crossing was painless. Admittedly this had much to do with its contrast to our Malaysia/Thailand border crossing.

Kirsten and I had headed to Laos with the perception that we would be venturing into an area not as frequently traveled by backpackers. But instead we found a couple dozen other backpackers all completing the same journey down the river that day.

The slow boat was undeniably basic with its two rows of narrow wooden benches along both sides of the boat with an aisle in between. If you are lucky there might be a thin cushion to sit on. The pace was leisurely and the scenery beautiful.

We stayed overnight in Pakbeng, a tiny village halfway to Lounge Phabeng. The accommodation was simple. Our room cost $2 USD and included two small beds with mozzie nets and a fan. The bathroom out back was my first experience with Asian style bathing. No running water, instead I stood next to a large basin of water and used a bucket to pour cold water over myself.

The second day on the boat was extra cramped. More passengers this time and along the way we stopped to load up the boat with supplies being shipped to Luang Phabeng including strange and smelly varieties of fish. We spent most of the day trying to find a comfortable space to squeeze into and just get into that travel zombie state...not quite asleep and not quite awake

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