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Bruce Mangosteen

Vientiane Laos, and Udon Thani

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Bruce Mangosteen

As some of you know, I am presently on a visa trip to Vientiane, Laos. I figured I'd do a TR on that. It'll be in several installments, as this trip will also include a trip to Udon Thani to attend the wedding of my mate Jay (who is a BM here I believe). This installment covers the first full day of the trip.

 

The following text is rather long. There are pictures after it. If you would rather not hear my wry, witty description of today's experience, but would like to skip to the pretty pictures, feel free. Also, as I am presently seeing a pretty young thing (who gave her permission for her pictures to be used here), please be advised that there will be no pics or related information on mongering Laos style. You have been warned.

 

The trip started on a RATHER interesting note, as I had elected to fly Laos Aviation, an airline which apparently missed the start of the Jet Age, as the airplane looked like a 1947 Greyhound bus with a wing from the Kitty Hawk stuck through it. Lady Mangosteen, who had never been outside Thailand before, looked EXTREMELY doubtful as we approached the plane (from across the tarmac, as they thoughtfully did not provide a jetway gate for this flight). However, the flight featured two essentials, Beerlao for Bruce, and food for Lady M, and there was absolutely no turbulence, so the flight left us with nothing to complain about.

 

Wattay Airport, while although rather small, looks to be pretty new. It was nicely painted and modern-looking, reminding me of the recently-renovated airport in Monterrey MX as far as size and layout.

 

The visa on arrival process consists of filling out a form, and submitting it with your passport and a photo to a desk located right in immigration. There are a couple of very friendly folks standing by to help fill out the form; they speak both Thai and English quite well. In fact, one thing I notice is that if somebody speaks English here, they speak ENGLISH, and not Laonglish or some Thainglish-style pidgin. Anyway, after you have had ANOTHER entire page of your passport taken up by a visa that looks like it was designed by the same folks who did the special effects in The Wizard of Oz, you walk over to the immigration desk, get stamped, and you're in.

 

As I have mentioned elsewhere, I opted to stay at an expensive hotel, the Lao Plaza in Vientiane. They sent a minivan to pick us up at the airport. We were the only passengers. Note: Here for whatever reason they somehow arrived at the obviously-correct decision to drive on the RIGHT (that is right-hand as well as correct) side of the road. Between this stroke of genius and the lack of Laonglish, I would say that Laos will outstrip Thailand within 6 months. Of shedding their Communist government.

 

The visa process. Obviously designed by somebody who had previously made his bones designing Department of Motor Vehicles offices in the 60s, I would characterize it as "semi-chaotic madness". You arrive at the Thai embassy to a roiling mob of hippies, small-time actors, NGO lesbians, backpackers, Senegalese karate team members, and other of the world's flotsam and jetsam. It sometimes amuses me to immerse myself in the feeling that I have somehow found myself in the bilgewater of the earth, hoping desperately that they don't decide to give the world an enema and hit me in the head with the tube.

 

In the compound, there is NO signage whatsoever when you enter. There are two queues evident; which one to stand on? Obviously, the wrong one. Clearing that up, hopefully before you run out of time, you go to the left of the entrance into a covered area where a gaggle of the same sorts of human effluent (I say this because nobody with any sort of stroke goes through this humiliating process, and rightly so) are waiting on line.

 

After you get about 2/3rds of the way through the line, you find a piece of paper (with print so small it lookes like photocopied microfilm) tacked to a bulletin board which FINALLY tells you what sorts of paperwork you must submit in order to get the visa. They are: An application (check), two passport pictures (check), and one signed photocopy each of your picture page, your Lao visa, and your Lao departure card (ooooooooooooops!). The latter three items are conveniently omitted from any of the documentation on any Thai embassy website, and in my usual efficient way I did not bring them. Fortunately, I had Lady Mangosteen with me, and she rushed around getting me the copies I needed while I waited on a line that moved so slowly that I swear it moved backward for a while. Even though I was within 3 people of the front of the line, she was able to hail a motorbike, take it the mile or so to the copy shop, get the copies, and get back before I had moved appreciably in the line. Whatta girl! :Bravo1:

 

When I got to the front of the line, the girl behind the counter took the stuff, looked at it, looked at me, then stapled the papers together and said, "OK". Obvious question, "OK, WHAT?!" Well, now you go pay.

 

So, you walk across the embassy compound, without your passport, which is still with the girl behind the counter you just left, and go stand in another line. Now, I am a computer guy, and as such I spend my time designing processes. Walking up to the embassy building itself, without my passport, about to engage with a seething mass of humans that can scarcely be called a "queue", I am asking, "OK, just how are they going to know what I am doing there?" OK, just watch. There is a guy at the door who from the outside appears to let people out one at a time, then suddenly without warning let a whole sweating mob of people in. No "one out one in" orderliness. After about 45 minutes (standing on legs which would rather be doing something else), I finally get into the airconditioned room and take a seat. It is then that the full extent of the chaos of this process becomes clear.

 

You sit there, and they bring basketfulls of passports across from the girl at the counter at the head of the other queue. One by one, they pick passports out of a basket, call names, and people come up and pay. Now, note that there is neither any enforced order to the passport picking, nor is there an order that people will appear at the second queue, nor is there any particular order in which the man at the door will let people in. So, there is no causal relationship in the order of you showing up, your passport showing up, and your name being called. Result? I sat there for 45 minutes before my name was called, while people who HADN'T EVEN BEEN LET INTO THE OFFICE YET were being called in from the "queue" outside to pay. Fortunately, although the process is pseudo-random, there is no "infinity" case, and I eventually got called, paid, and got my receipt. Note that they did not ask me how many entries I wanted, they just assumed I wanted one.

 

Back in the room, I lay down for an hour or so because my legs feel like they have already been sawn off and fed to the Mekong catfish. Waking to the soft sobbing of Lady M, who was starving because I had forgotten to feed the poor dear in the morning's madness, I showered and dressed quickly. After a quick lunch in the hotel bar I would characterize as "a ripoff disguised as an imitation of farang food", we ventured out.

 

The part of Vientiane where the embassy (and my hotel) is located is clean and modern-looking. It reminds me a bit of the small Chinese "enterprize city" I spent some time in. The roads are wide and mostly well-tended; even the little side streets are generally clean. While there is some Thai-style squalor, the impression you get is that it is The People's Squalor, and it is not to be looked down on lest you lose sight of the revolution and become another Capitalist Running Dog. Or just decide to clean up a bit, which at least some people seem to do.

 

Interesting note: Evidence of French influence peeks and glimmers out of interesting little nooks. Most obviously, the streets are labeled "Rue" and "Boulevard", which when combined with local words and all rendered in English, creates a surreal combination of French, Lao, and English (Franglaoish?). "Boulevard Fa Ngum" for example.

 

OK, we have reached the point where the pictures start. Most of the hard reading is over. :D

 

Lady Mangosteen hanging in a restaurant in Suvarnabhumi. The smile disguises a fair bit of nervousness, not because she is expecting another beating from me, but because this is her first trip outside Thailand on her brandy-new passport.

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I elected not to bring my camera to the embassy compound, because I figured I wanted to avoid all the associated hassles. As I suspected, there were enough already.

 

On the tuk-tuk, Bruce and Lady Manosteen enjoy the cool breeze.

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Typical tourist happy snap out the front of the tuk-tuk.

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A food market along the bank of the Mekong River. Familiar looking to Thai visitors.

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The road to the Patuxai (pronounced "Patuchai") Park is a good example of the wide, well-tended boulevards that crisscross the part of town with the embassies.

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Interestingly, the Lao alphabet is close enough to the Thai alphabet that Lady M. can read the signs (as I can to some extent). Thai readers out there should easily discern that the Lao on the sign says "Sawan Patuchai".

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Patuxai Arch.

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Government buildings are still marked in French. Here is the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation

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We visited the Pa That Luang compound, home of the famous stupa. This is the national symbol of Laos and appears on its official seal. Note that for the first few shots I had fantastic light conditions, unobscured sun behind me and cloud behind the stupa.

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The stupa itself is absolutely spectacular.

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There's a shrine in front of the stupa. Can't quite find out what it is on the web; if I do I'll update this post (or anybody else is welcome to chime in). Lady Mangosteen, who doesn't speak a great deal of English, thought enough of this structure to take off her shoes and pray there briefly.

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Beyond the shrine to the stupa. Note that I have by now lost that glorious light situation. Oh, well.

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There are several temple buildings on the grounds. This is an actively-used wat, with monks and neophytes living there.

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The bell tower. As I sat there cooling off with a beer, a monk climbed the tower and rang the bell to signal evening prayers.

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OK, that's it for part I. Part II tomorrow, I hope.

Edited by Bruce Mangosteen

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chuckrivera

Good start to the TR. Looks like there are some pretty nice looking buildings in Laos.

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Randy

Cool report and grat pics!

 

I did the Vientani trip in January. We (me, GF, plus another 10 THai - family & friends) rented a minibus with driver (1000 B for the day). The agency took care of all the paper work too, they took our passports, and Thai IDs, and had them processed quicky (no doubt using some Baht :D ) and then it was an easy and fast walk-through. Just get someone to do all this shit for you, a lot easier on the legs :D .

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layow

yeah nice pics!!!!

 

very strong contrast

 

thanks

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nickrock

nice pics bruce

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caltexman

Love the pics mate but that line up would have killed me............lol.

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Bruce Mangosteen

Cheers guys. Thanks for the comments.

 

Quick update: Picked up the passport today and the compond was FOOKIN' DESERTED! Too funny. Apparently, nobody drops off their passport on Friday then waits 'til Monday to pick it up. Upon inspecting the internet tonight I know why.

 

Lady Mangosteen and I spent the afternoon at an attraction about 25Km outside of town. I will give a full report with pics tomorrow, but we did the trip by tuk-tuk (best part of an hour in each direction) and when we got back we were knackered. So we crashed, then when we woke up we, well, erm, played checkers 386718-11.gif, then snoozed again. By the time we woke up it was 9:30, and when I went on the web to find out what we should do I discovered that they roll up the sidewalks here at 11:30. By the time we showered and got anywhere we'd be looking at turned-up chairs and bartenders washing glasses, so to hell with it.

 

The place we went to today was fookin' cool though. I'll try to file my report tomorrow morning before leaving for Udon.

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Alleycat

Now that is what I call an excellent TR... :Laugh1::):Bravo1: ..add to that exceptional photography and you have a superb pictorially supported record of your time in Laos.....Thanks for posting this mate, much appreciated :Bow5:

 

..... Pleased you didn't write it in Franglaoish :D

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Bruce Mangosteen
Now that is what I call an excellent TR... :GrinNod1: ...etc.
*blush* Cheers, mate. BTW, hope your trip back was safe. Great meeting you, looking forward to chatting a bit longer next time! 386823-1.gif

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Alleycat
*blush* Cheers, mate. BTW, hope your trip back was safe. Great meeting you, looking forward to chatting a bit longer next time! way2go.gif

 

Indeed I did have a safe return my friend. Will call in for sure in September..love your bar as did my girl and my mates :GrinNod1:way2go.gif. You have some nice girls for sure at Shooters very interactive, fun and friendly and they made my girl and the other girls welcome...Thanks for one of my better nights Pattayaside, was appreciated

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todd2rip

thanks for the TR and the many many great pics to go

with the report.

 

 

aki

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altec123

Great start to your trip report and some really fantastic pictures with the lighting. I did this trip last year and found it to be very interesting. My experience was very similar to Randy's. Ended up with my TGF entire family with me for the day in a mini van. Of course I ended up paying for everything.

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whistler

Excellent description...super pictures. Thanks!

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Shuggy

Great Pics and TR Mr Mangosteen. Shame you have the Mrs with you as i could have recomended some "places" to visit when you get to Udon Thani. :)

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Bruce Mangosteen

Thanks again for all the great comments! :) I was offline the last couple of days because the internet charge in the hotel in Udon was incredible. I am back in Pattaya now, and will resume posting an update every day.

 

Day 2: A Sightseeing Adventure

 

As previously mentioned, picking up the passport was far less of a hassle than dropping it off. Passports are available starting at 1:00PM, and Lady Mangosteen and I were fashionably late at 2. No problem, the compound was deserted.

 

We had hired the same tuk-tuk for the day, assuming we would hit a few sights before returning to the hotel. He showed Lady M a leaflet he had stuck into The Roof of the cabin, Lady M pointed at an attraction, and we set off.

 

About an eon later I noticed that we had been traveling for a long time. We had left the city behind, and were now very much in rural Laos. Vientiane, unlike Bangkok, is a fairly small city without the sprawling suburbs. 10Km from the center of the city and you are in Laos proper. Lesson learned: If a taxi driver shows you a picture of an attraction, the two questions to ask are 1) How much to go there? and 2) How long does it take? OK, I just hoped the attraction was going to be worth the trip.

 

As we traveled, people waved and called out greetings as we passed by at a speed I would estimate at about 20Kph, so there was plenty of time for the greetings. Again, we encountered varying degrees of poverty, but like in city, the overall impression was that things were kept neater than in Thailand, the corrugated tin shacks were built with their walls straight, and there were no plastic bags and other shit blowing around in the yards. Interestingly, everything, even in the city center, was coated with a fine layer of dust and fine dried mud, quite a lot like Mexico. In fact, I found Laos in general reminiscent of Mexico in many ways. You should take that as a positive if anything, as I love Mexico, and spend time in the area around Monterrey, the REAL Mexico.

 

We passed the brewery that produces Beerlao (and their version of Carlsberg, which I found quite palatable). I was tempted to ask that we stop for a brewery tour, but figured they didn't do such things, and that even if they did I had enough walking in store as it was, so I gave that a pass. When we went under the Friendship Bridge (connecting Laos to Thailand at Nongkai) I knew we had taken quite a hike, and about 10 minutes later we arrived at our destination.

 

The Xiengkuane (pronounced "sheng kwaan") Budda Park is on the grounds of a wat. It consists if a field of statuary which tells various legends from the life of Buddha, and contains a giant reclining Buddha image. The statuary was a project done in the late 60s by a patron who had made his money in Thailand during the US-Vietnam conflict.

 

While Lady Mangosteen and I strolled the grounds, it became increasingly obvious that it was going to rain. Lady M and I had diametrically opposite reactions to this observation. Mine was to continue wandering and taking photographs at our leisure until it started, then wait under a nearby hut shelter until it stopped, thence continuing to wander and take photos at our leisure. Lady M's was to run around frantically grabbing snaps of everything she could, then dash back to the tuk tuk, slog back into town, and go eat in the hotel. Unfortunately, I didn't find this out until she had secured posession of the camera. Then, she ran around snapita snapita, me catching occasional glimpses of her disappearing farther and farther into the statuary in a rabbit-like frenzy, until it was already raining, and we had to high-tail it to the hut so as not to drown. I found this mildly annoying, but her heart was in the right place, so I gently took the camera from her, kissed her cheek, and called her my usual term of endearment: "You nut-job!" It later turned out that some of the pictures she had wildly snapped were actually worthwhile, and they are included in this report.

 

We were joined in the shelter by several European life forms who offered nothing in the way of greeting or conversation, so I assumed that they either didn't speak English, or they were Russian and this was their usual way of being around non-Russians (haughty disdain). The rain continued to intensify and The Roof started leaking, so the others fled to a nearby souvenier stand, leaving Lady M and me in an interesting conversation with a weatherbeaten old Lao guy, who had quietly joined us in the shelter.

 

He spoke quite good English for a guy I took to be a local. However, when I asked him about this he told me that he had worked with the US Armed Forces in the 60s, and they had sent him to school to learn English. He was a friendly and interesting chap who had obvious good feelings for Americans, and he told me stories of his Vietnam War experience until the shelter was about a foot deep in water and Lady M had taken her (much too nice) shoes off and gingerly placed her bare feet into the muck. OK, we'd have to make a break for it.

 

As we were preparing to make our dash through the downpour, our friend noticed what we were doing and told us to wait. He very patiently walked through the pounding rain back to the souvenier stand (a distance of about 80 meters) where he borrowed two umbrellas and brought them back to us. We thanked him, and the three of us headed to the souvenier stand.

 

While we walked, I noticed that he had a small plastic basket with him which contained bags of baked goods which looked to be rapidly getting saturated by the rain. I asked him about that and he said they were a local deliacy, a sort of honeyed waffle-cakes, and that he usually made 200-300 baht per day selling those to visitors. Moved by his kindness, I bought his entire day's supply for the 300 baht he said he makes, and waved away all attempts of his to give me the money or the cakes. I might be an LDOP, but I know how to return kindness.

 

Lady M and I browsed the souvenier stand, and I bought a couple of those small buddha images they all sell and which I happen to like. Lady M didn't find anything she liked (although she did like the Buddha images). When I made to put them into the pocket of my shorts Lady M got a horrified look on her face, and reminded me that you don't do this. A shirt pocket or external bag is OK, but considering the other things that are stored in your shorts (and I'm not talking about your keys), a trouser pocket is not an appropriate place for Buddha. Nor by the way is your suitcase or duffel bag, as your underwear and shoes are carried there.

 

I continued chatting with my friend, who told more stories of his wartime days, and some history of the park, until the rain abated. When Lady M started lobbying to go back to the hotel, I instead asked if there was a restaurant on the grounds, and our friend showed us to a very pleasant outdoor place overlooking the Mekong River.

 

The menu provided a rather pleasant surprise: The food was CHEAP! It was priced in Lao Kip, the local currency, which exchanges at about 10,000 to the dollar. Nothing on the menu was over 8,000 kip (28 baht). We ordered a nice lunch and a couple of extra beers (big Beerlao bottles, 6,000 kip each) for the trip back, and afterward I was able to finish my leisurely photographing of the statuary.

 

We got back to the hotel at around 7 and crashed until 9. Again, this left us no time to go anywhere, so we just ordered room service, drank a few beers in the room, then crashed. Sorry, no nightlife report from me this time! :(

 

OK, picture time!

 

The lovely Lady M. enjoys the cool breeze off the Mekong River as we make our way to Xiengkuane Park.

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Roadside scenery outside Vientiane.

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Pictures from the park.

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The rain comes.

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Bruce and friend sheltering in the souvenier shop.

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Dinner time!

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Back to the statuary.

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This is Bounlua Sulilat, the guy who commissioned the statuary park.

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On the way back, Bruce enjoys a well-deserved cool-down.

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Tomorrow, Laos to Udon Thani.

Edited by Bruce Mangosteen

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Shuggy

Excellent pics Bruce. God to see you hooking into the Beer Lao. My favourite Asian beer.

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Bruce Mangosteen
Excellent pics Bruce. God to see you hooking into the Beer Lao. My favourite Asian beer.
Cheers, mate. We carry Beerlao at Shooters so it wasn't exactly new to me. However, it was indeed delicious, and made the trip back to town that much more pleasant! :Whistle:

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papa_soda
Great Pics and TR Mr Mangosteen. Shame you have the Mrs with you as i could have recomended some "places" to visit when you get to Udon Thani. :P

I bet.Still cant get over the amount of hot looking women that city has :Cry4:

Great TR & Photos BM :D

Really looking forward to the next chapter :):)

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Bruce Mangosteen
I bet.Still cant get over the amount of hot looking women that city has :Beer1:
I saw some pretty girls in my travels.

 

Great TR & Photos BM :2Cents1:

Really looking forward to the next chapter :):)

Cheers. Should be later today.

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caltexman

Good stuff mate and would love to have a wander round that country; just gotta get out of bkk first ....................lol.

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Bruce Mangosteen

Day 3: Vientiane to Udon Thani

 

Paying the hotel bill, my overall impression was that I had gotten perhaps the most expensive visa I could have gotten without leaving Southeast Asia. If I did this again, I would stay at a cheaper place which was closer to what nightlife there might be, and prepare myself better, perhaps by asking questions on the boards or searching the web. I'm not complaining though, as I enjoyed my trip, and there were no problems to mar Lady Mangosteen's first trip outside Thailand. The experience was a pleasant one and, although I will certainly endeavor to do things in a way that don't cost me quite so much money next time, I have absolutly no qualms about saying that Laos is a place I would like to visit again.

 

The process of crossing from Laos to Thailand on the Friendship Bridge is incredibly easy. You get your passport stamped, pay an exit fee (20 baht each), and present your fee receipt to a sour looking woman who tears it to show it has been used, and voila, no man's land. Total elapsed time: about 10 minutes. Hassle rating: 0.

 

Exiting this process, you have several options for crossing the Friendship Bridge to Thailand (a distance of about a mile):

 

1) You can take a bus for 15 baht which deposits you on the other side at immigration.

2) You can hire a car to take you to Nongkai or Udon Thani, and the driver will get your passport stamped for you. We were getting prices of 300 baht quoted, which is incredibly cheap considering the price of fuel.

3) You can hire a car for 200 baht that will bring you across and get your passport stamped for you, then drop you on the other side where you are met by your friends.

 

Now two things should be immediately obvious:

 

1) Option 3 above is by far the worst deal.

2) In keeping with the overall LDOP nature of this trip so far, that is the one Lady M insisted we take.

 

To her credit, her reasoning was that the car would be more comfortable than the bus for my rickety legs, and it would be easier to wait in an airconditioned car while the driver got our passports stamped than to wait on line in the blasting heat. While I felt that I certainly could do the 15 baht bus thing, I relented and we did it the LDOP way. Much to my surprise, it turned out to be that easy, he drove across, got our passports stamped while we waited in the airconditioned car, then dropped us off where Jay and his girl were waiting for us. Not the worst 6 bucks I ever spent.

 

The trip to Udon Thani takes about 20 minutes on wide, well-tended highways. Udon itself is a pretty big city that, judging from the parts I have seen so far, is kept very clean and shows little western influence. I saw no beerbars, gogos or other western-serving bars until the evening, when we had a couple of drinks at a brand new beerbar complex located in the farang bar district. As compared to Bangkok and Pattaya, your impression is that this is a REAL Thai city.

 

Typical for this trip, we are staying in what must be one of the top 3 hotels in Udon, at least judging from prices: The Charoensri Grand Royal hotel. This hotel was recommended by Sunny Valentine, as being the best deal among lift-equipped hotels in Udon, again to save wear and tear on my legs. The price is reasonable, about 1500/night, and the decor is what I would describe as "fancy 20 years ago". However, the facility is immaculately clean and well tended and the overall effect is that you are in a hotel that costs much more than $42 per night. Unfortunately, the in-room internet is outrageously expensive, so this report is being typed into Notepad, and I will file it in stages when I get back to my apartment.

 

After a nap, we met Jay and his girl. A delicious dinner at an outdoor riverfront restaurant was followed by a few beers at the afore-mentioned beerbar complex. Then we went to The Yellow Bird, which is a Thai pub featuring live Thai rock and pop tunes. The place was jammed, and Jay and I comprised about 50% of the farangs in the place. No bother, the crowd was friendly, the music was good, the service was polite and quick, and the prices were reasonable (a first for me on this trip)

 

Just a few pics in this one and the next one, the wedding day packs another extravanza of pics. BTW, if Jay's girl looks familiar that's because she was a Shooters girl before Jay cherry-picked her out.

 

In no-man's land, looking back into Laos. The small booth which is farther away is one of the immigration queues; the larger booth in the center of the frame is where you pay your exit fee, and the sour-looking woman sits at the desks at the lower right.

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The various options for transport are immediately after the sour lady. In the center of the frame is one of the taxi drivers; his hand truck is in the foreground. The 15 baht bus tickets can be paid for at the booth to the left. Farther in the background are information and exchange booths. To the right (out of frame) there are a gaggle of duty free shops and a small slot machine casino.

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Jay and his lady, taken in the restaurant.

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Bruce and Lady Mangosteen, also at the restaurant.

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Revelers listen to the live band at The Yellow Bird Pub.

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The girlies whoop it up.

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bromberg

Thoroughly enjoyed the trip report and the pic's.

 

Great read and thank you for the effort you have put into it.

 

Thank you also for sharing your experiences and pictures! Well done.

 

:D

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Bruce Mangosteen
Thoroughly enjoyed the trip report and the pic's.

Great read and thank you for the effort you have put into it.

Thank you also for sharing your experiences and pictures! Well done.

:D

Cheers, mate. There are more installments to come. Stay tuned! :D

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caltexman

Really have enjoyed your post mate so keep it up as it is great to see the many other parts of asia and thailand that i have never and may never see except in pics.

 

Thanks again.

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keswick01

Great report sir, the only thing is why checkers instead of getting jiggy?

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