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A trip from Cambodia to Thailand and then onto Laos

A while ago me and a friend decided to visit Laos for the first time. It was just before Christmas and at the time we were in Siem Reap in Cambodia. We planned on visiting Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang in the north and spending Chrimbo there before heading to Chiang Mai in Thailand for New Year.

As we had limited time to get to the part of Laos we wanted to visit we decided to not go through Southern Laos and to cross the border at Anlong Veng, the former Khmer Rouge stronghold, and from the border get to Sisaket and then get on a train to Nong Khai.

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We got the only bus that goes to Anlong Veng each day in the early afternoon and after a sweaty couple of hours surrounded by Khmer bumpkins in a non air-con bus we arrived at AV not long before sunset. We got off the bus and arranged a deal with two local teenagers on bikes to take us to the border- not knowing how far it was we paid $5 each, way too much.

So, off we went and soon we started climbing a mountain with stunning scenery in every direction and at the top reached the border. It truly is a beautiful crossing, definitely the most picturesque border I've ever crossed. However, it is mainly used as agoods crossing point and isn't exactly inundated with tourists so as we got off the bikes at the border all there was was a solitary little shed with one Cambodian border official watching a hardcore porn dvd on his telly!

He barely took his eyes off it while stamping us out and soon we were stamped into Thailand by his Thai counterpart and then.......nothing. No taxis, no touts, no hotels, just a shack under a tree selling drinks and that was it. By this stage it was getting close to sundown so we tried asking the bloke selling drinks about onward transport...all he said was wait, maybe you can get lift. At this stage we're thinking we're gonna be sleeping on the top of a mountain when along comes our saviour, a Thai army officer in a marked army 4x4.

A deal was struck for 2,000 baht to get to Sisaket, a lot I know but what else could we do? So off we went down the Thai side of the mountain to a beautiful sunset view back over Cambodia, stopping only for the army guy to speak to a black clad ranger with a massive gun (There was conflict at Preah Vihear at the time) and exchange a joke about something, probably his earner for the route he was probably going to drive anyway!

So, about half way to Sisaket my mate drops a bomb. "How much baht have you got?" Me "About 1800, why?" Him "Errr....I forgot to get any cash changed into baht!" Me " You daft twat, what are we going to do now?" Bear in mind its early evening out in the sticks of deepest, darkest Isaan, we're in the back of a Thai army blokes truck about 200 baht short of the agreed fare and thinking that there isn't going to be much chance of finding an open bank willing to change US $ to baht.

My mate pulled out some $ and showed them to the Army dude and asked if he would take dollars. He didn,t look happy with that at all and said "No, Thai money!". We said "Mai pen rai, no problem" and sat back thinking were in the shit here, too short to pay the bloke and without anything else to pay for a train, food or hotel...shit!

Fortunately for us we not long after passed a Tesco Lotus with a sign for a bank. We got him to pull in and luckily the bank was still open and changed some cash for us, and so off we went once more on our way to Sisaket, considerably relieved!

We arrived in Sisaket, paid off our army taxi and decided to overnight there and catch the train in the morning. After a quick bite to eat we enlisted a Tuk Tuk driver to take us to a hotel as we had absolutely no idea where to find one. He took us down a dark side Soi and pulled up outside what looked like a house with no lights on whatsoever. He started shouting "SAWABDEE KAP!" repeatedly at a locked gate and we're thinking "WTF is going on?".

Shortly, some lights flickered on and a bleary eyed, half asleep middle-aged Thai woman opened the gate. It was only then we saw the tiny sign saying "Doctor House Hotel" but in reality it is more like a home stay. Not having many better options we checked in and she showed us to a basic room with a bed and a fan and not a lot else. It was the only room she had so we decided to share it...we're not a pair of poofs or miserly backpackers, I swear!

On the back of the door was a sign saying "No Smoking" and so I went onto the tiny adjoining balcony to have a ciggy. A minute later there was a knock at the door, my mate opened it and the old biddy was there. She was saying "Smoking? Smoking?", me and my mate said "Not in room, outside, no problem". She didn't seem bothered by that and said "No, smoking? You want smoking?" and made the universal hand and mouth sign language indicating she was asking us if we wanted a blowjob!

Even having been to the fleshpots of Bangkok and Pattaya before we were still quite taken aback by an old woman offering to suck us off and so politely declined! We closed the door, looked at each other and started pissing ourselves! I still don't know to this day whether she was offering to spit-shine our knobs personally or sub-contract it to a younger girl, maybe we should have took her up on the offer cos now we'll never know.

BTW, I later found out this place is recommended by the Lonely Planet but they don't mention BJ's as part of the facilities! Anyway, I'll skip the train journey and actually start the bit about Laos next, cheers for bearing with me if you're still reading, sorry for boring you if you're not!

So, we arrived in Nong Khai, crossed the bridge and started jumping through the hoops and dealing with the red tape the Communist bureaucrats love to put in your way. After signing forms in duplicate and triplicate, much waiting in different queues, handing over fees and changing some baht into monopoly money we finally get our passports back, along with a small slip of paper saying "5 baht fee for foreigner with passport". We were supposed to stand in yet another long line to pay this poxy fee but we noticed there was nothing actually stopping you just walking past it and into Laos, so we just swerved it! One up on the Communist system...maaan!

The next annoyance came in the form of stubborn rip-off tuk-tuks refusing to move for less than 300 baht to the center of town. You come to expect this shite at borders but as we were getting out the cheeky cnut then tried saying "No, 300 baht each!". On your bike mate, no chance! Theve actually all got these rip off laminated price sheets they show you but they're just bullshit to rip you off I think.

Anyway, the next hurdle to jump was finding a Vientiane hotel. We looked at a couple of overpriced dumps, then a couple of plain dumps, and then went back and checked in to one of the overpriced dumps. It was only when we got in the room we noticed on the rules on the back of the door "All guests must return by 10.30pm or be locked out". Not fancying being under curfew on holiday and wanting a few beers that night we checked out straight away and went to another hotel.

We needn't have bothered as all the bars shut at 12 anyway, Jesus fcuking wept!

The next day we saw the sights there are to see and scored a bit of Laos ganja to relieve the boredom that night. We booked a bus to Vang Vieng for the next day, hoping for a bit more excitement than the vibrant, bustling capital had to offer.

Suffice to say, we weren't overly impressed so far.

The next day we went to get the bus to Vang Vieng, and it didn't bode well. All the other passengers waiting for the bus were your typical gap-year backpackers, talking shite to each other about where they'd been, where they were heading etc-the usual mundane crap. As the bus was pulling out of Vientiane I couldn't help but overhear a couple of "experienced travellers" holding court on how "cool" and "chilled out" Vang Vieng was, as they'd been there previously on their trip and liked it so much they'd decided to return. They even had the "VangVieng in the tubing" T-shirts on to prove it, thats how cool they were.

"Shit", I thought, "this is going to be a long journey!"

Anyway, after a short while we left the bright lights of the big smoke behind and started climbing up some steep mountain roads, surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountain scenery I've seen anywhere in the world, things were looking up! I also made a mental note to return here one day to do these roads on a motorbike, a real bikers wet dream.

It's a shame I was on a bus as the scenery was so photogenic in every direction, but alas, I couldn't take any. After what seemed a loooooong time sat on the bus with the cool kids suddenly we hit a snag. "Blown tire" supposedly, though I didn't hear it blow and when everyone got off the bus, which had conveniently "broken down" right next to a tire shop and a refreshment stand, it didn't look very blown either. It was a pretty pretty spot where we stopped though so I made the most of it and chucked a couple of large beer Laos down my neck while the tire was changed.

View from where we broke down

The reason I'm suspicious about the tire incident is that when we finally arrived in VV, after a long, hot journey and conveniently just after nightfall, the closest hotel to where the bus stopped was, lo and behold, owned by the same company as the bus and had the same name. The old "Get em there tired and at night so they can't be arsed fucking about looking for somewhere better" trick!

So, the next day having arrived the previous day after dark, we stepped out the hotel and....WOW! The mountain scenery surrounding VV really is a sight to behold, truly beautiful part of the world.

We went and rented some bikes, grabbed our gear and found a better hotel, with a great view of the town.

After that we pottered about for a bit and decided to check out some bars on an island in the river which runs through town we'd heard of. They're reached by crossing some rickety plank bridges:

These bars openly advertise the sale of magic mushrooms and ganja and both can be bought quite openly, although dont get the impression that its a free for all there-the same rules apply as in Thailand so if youre going to buy some be discreet or you could end up in a whole heap of shit. If, however, like me you like a puff it really is high quality and fairly cheap, I bought a sack and stashed it on my bike.

View from one of the island bars at sunset

After that we took a stroll round town to see what else was going on nightlife wise and in short, not much unless you like hanging out with backpackers. The thing I really cant get my head round is the "Friends bars". These are places which show endless repeats of Freinds to zombie like backpackers who sit there for hours on end. Why come all the way to Laos, get up into the mountains to watch that shite? In some ways, it really is like a Khao San in the Laos mountains.

Anyways, after sinking a few we decided to head back to the bars on the island as they were supposed to be quite lively at night. The set up there is faultless, loud music, fires burning, dj's and in a great setting on an island in a river in the mountains of Laos. Sounds great on paper but the cheapskate backpackers sharing big bottles of beer lao and generally just being boring cnuts sat around in their own groups talking instead of dancing ruins it somewhat for me. Maybe, I just went on a bad night but add to it the fact that they shut at twelve anyway and a kicking venue it aint.

Time for bed then, and a nice motorbike ride in the morning.

So, next morning we decided to make use of the bikes and take a ride to see the scenery north of Vang Vieng. We took it at a steady pace, absorbing the views, and after about 30mins we stopped at a little shack bar on the roadside with yet more lovely scenery surrounding it.

Wouldn't mind a bar with a view like this myself!

So, after a bit of refreshment we saddled up the hosses again and got on our way. After a short while we came across this stunning view from the roadside:

The water was so crystal clear and inviting, we just had to stop and go for a dip. We scrambled down the bank, rolled a joint and immersed ourselves in the cool mountain water while looking at this fantastic view:

Absolute bliss, and certainly the most memorable and picturesque place I've ever partook of the 'erb! After a long while we reluctantly got out of the river and headed back to town.

We did the obligatory tubing the next day which was a good crack, but as Christmas was drawing near we decided we'd be better off heading for Chiang Mai rather than Luang Prabang for the day itself and so the following day made our way back to Vientiane. The grand total of our Laos trip was only about 6 days!

I'd definitely go to Laos again, I'd like to do it more thoroughly on a motorbike for the stunning scenery, but in general its just a bit too tame for me. I'm far too keen on my nightlife to suddenly adjust to the slow pace of life. Maybe I haven't given it enough of a chance and if I go next time I'll just go with a female companion with the intention of completely relaxing for a couple of weeks now that I know what to expect.

I'll finish with a quick reminder why Laos is fairly tame and controlled, goddamn commies!: