|The team arriving in Nong Khai|
|Alvin was thrilled with our 20 baht per passenger fare|
|Train staff gave us a trolley without asking for porter fee|
|KC driving us to Thanaleng!!!|
|The great train robbery...where is the bandit on horseback?|
|In Laos, even cows know the left hand driving system!!!!|
|There's no such thing as overloading!|
|On our way out for lunch in Vientiane|
|Lunch at PVO|
|With Sister Nui|
|Dinner at Cuisine Lao|
|That Dam aka Black Stupa|
|Chao Anouvong Statue|
|Palais Presidential, back view|
|Mekong River, overlooking Thailand|
This morning, we met for breakfast at the train's cafeteria. Located 3 coaches away, the walk was surprisingly long.
Passing the second class coaches, they looked similar to the ones we had on our FSTR Tour last year. By dawn, most beds had been turned up, except for a few, still with detachable curtains and their occupants in Lala land!
The sleeping arrangements in both class categories offers similar comfort. However, there are no storage space in second class and for security sakes, it is best to share your space with your luggage. There are no guarantees luggage left on the narrow aisle will follow other passengers alighting during the night!!!
Coffee served at the cafeteria was good. Brewed from freshly ground coffee, it was a steal at 50 baht per cup of cappuccino, standards comparable to Starbucks', if not better! The downside to it was the long wait!!!!
Arriving in Nong Khai, we worked together to bring the bikes and baggage down from the train. Alvin and Wendy, having alighted with whatever they could carry, scuttled off to get our train tickets for our next journey. We were all in a hurry as we thought we only had a 30 minutes window to catch our train for Thanaleng. In actual fact, there was no cause for panic as the sleepy town observes "rubber" time to accommodate everyone.
A small immigration booth at the station opens up twice a day to accommodate rail passengers. Security was so lax, George and KC managed to push the trolley loaded with bike boxes along the yellow line buffer zone on the platform, to the other side before returning to get their passports stamped!
Once we passed immigration, we had to cross the railway tracks, to the next line where our train was waiting. It only had 2 coaches, all of it third class settings with most windows stuck shut. Rotating fans made up for the lack of air circulation but nobody can complain as the fare was only 20 baht per passenger; bikes and luggages ride for free!!!
It was fun riding on this old train. Even though the Diesel engine was nothing like the coal driven locomotives from the Wild Wild West movies, Claudine could not help but feel thrilled when it started moving and she was hanging precariously outside, in between the coaches!!!
The 10 minutes train ride ended too quickly. It was thrilling to cross the Mekong River via the much talked about Friendship Bridge which spanned only 1.2 km! Funded by the Australian government as a development aid for Laos, we wondered why Australian passports were slapped a USD30 visa on arrival fee!
At Thanaleng, the train reaches the end of the line and had no where else to go. It sits there, heating up under the sun before returning to Nong Khai in the late afternoon.
2 booths were opened for immigration at Thanaleng station. One was to process visa on arrival, costs may vary depending on countries; whilst the other one was for local and ASEAN passports which does not require a visa BUT a "processing fee" of 50 baht, no receipts issued!!!
As clearing immigration may take some time, Alvin wisely directed us to start assembling our bikes. We followed his instructions, keeping an eye on the queue and taking turns to get our passports stamped. KC and George were the lasts to see the officers before the windows were shut and the lights turned off for the morning !!!
Even though Alvin was one of the earliest to finish assembling his bikes....he love to brag that Bike Friday Tikit is the world's fastest folding bicycle....in the end, we had to wait for him to sort out Celia's bike. The Pocket Rocket will not fire up, gurgling with problems right outside the station!!! No engineers could overcome the crunch as the shifter cables were broken. Considering the bike had gone on a SGD120 service just a few weeks ago, nobody could have foreseen this mechanical error!
Leaving the station, Alvin was quick to remind us to be mindful of left hand driving system. Since Laos was once under French rule, they have adopted the sovereign country's traffic regulations, driving on the right side of the road! It was easy to follow a leader but the confusion starts all over again at every crossroads!
Finally rolling out, we had gone not more than 3 km when we realized the back group were no longer visible. Stopping by the side of the road just after a T junction, VT caught up to report that Wendy had a flat tire.
|Blood curd and chili flakes|
Not wanting to wait in the hot sun, we went in search for a drink stop but found a delicious noodle place, right opposite the junction to the Friendship Bridge immigration center! The first group became the food testers hence when the rescue team arrived, they duly avoided the blood and chili flakes that comes with the noodles!
The journey into Vientiane was a short 20 km ride through dusty "highways". Whenever the landscapes start to become dull, one or two spectacular buildings will stand out to pique our interest. These symbols of wealth were a huge contrast against a stark countryside.
Passing a McMansion, with high gates and garish roman columns it turned out to be a school! This bilingual school is a branch campus of the main Oscar school in Vientiane. Not far away was the Lao Country Club.
Midway into the city, we came upon Lao Brewery. A huge factory with bustling activities, it was obviously providing job opportunities to the locals and moving the economy!
We knew we were in the city as soon as we hit the roundabout. International brand names started popping up.
|....we bought bananas|
Coming to the embassy row, the US embassy was first sighted, 5 km before their close ally, the Australian. Close by, was Singapore's diplomatic mission!!! Feeling patriotic, the Republic's citizens and permanent residences posed for a photo at its doorsteps! After all, the next day is Singapore's Independence Day!
Arriving at Golden Sun Hotel, we were given some time to get our acts together. The prudent few showered and finished the day's laundry. However, Charlie's Angels went for a dip in the hotel's pool with Bosley instead!!!
Meeting at the lobby one and a half hour later, Alvin took us to PVO Vietnamese restaurant for lunch. It was unnerving to weave through a city filled with motorcycles and yet had to be mindful of left hand driving system. When we were near the vicinity of the restaurant, we had lost half our crew!!!
Laotians are amazingly good people! Asking a restaurant for free wifi to contact the lost lambs, the owner stepped out to give Alvin the directions to the place we wanted to eat!!! It was an obvious conflict of interest but to be morally correct was more important!
Regrouped again, we proceeded to VOA which served the most peculiar "subway" sandwiches. The delightfully healthy sandwich, packed with a medley of vegetables was served with Lao's version of spam and luncheon meats. The bread is of course, home grown baguette, another legacy passed down by the once, French perfecture. Staying true to its name, they also serves the well known Vietnamese pho and spring rolls as well!
After lunch, Professor Celia donned her helmet, saddled up and rode to the University of Health Sciences, escorted by 10 of her wards! It was time for her to attend a pre-scheduled meeting while her escorts sipped coffee in a most conducive cafe called Joma. It was nice to be able to escape the heat and to catch up on social media while waiting for her return.
Wrapping up her meeting later, most ladies were itching to contribute to Laos' economy. With George acting as a bodyguard, it gave the rest peace of mind to explore the city. Ending up by the Mekong River which overlooks Thailand, the scouts then went in search of a good dinner place.
Stopping at Sister Nui's for juice, she pointed out Cuisine Lao, a posh dinner place, tucked away from the main streets. Located only 50 m away from her juice bar, we went through a narrow side street only to realize its main access was near That Dam, an old Stupa dating back to the 19th century, now made the centerpiece of a roundabout.
Satisfied with our dinner plans, we returned to the hotel to pick up the Roscoes who had gone back on their own for an afternoon siesta. We were to take them back to the river for a sunset view but a storm was brewing instead! In our hurry, Alvin missed a turn which took us through some dirt roads before coming back to the river a little further away. This gave us a glimpse of local life by the river and the many eateries alongside it.
Satisfied with our exploration, it was time to get back. Looking across to Thailand, it was already experiencing wet weather. In the end, we got a few drops of rain but escaped a thunderstorm altogether!
Back at the hotel, we had a big debate whether to eat at the nearby stall which served barbecued meats or call for a tuk tuk to enjoy Laotian cuisines at our intended resto. The weather took a good turn as we dallied and ate the mangosteens bought by the "shopping committee". We went on foot instead!
Dinner does not end the night as in most LTF tours! Stepping out in rain, we continued on to a cafe for more drinks and merriment.....wet weather but never a wet blanket!!!!
Photo Credits :
Golden Sun Hotel
Photo Credits :
Golden Sun Hotel