Thursday, September 4, 2008

Day 11: Back to "Mutinous" Bangkok...

The Laos-Thailand border at the Friendship Bridge was quicker coming back to Thailand than when I departed Thailand to Laos (note: the picture to the left is not of the Friendship Bridge, but, rather, of a small wooden bridge in Vang Vieng, Laos). There was no need to wait for visas, for one. And, two, there were less people, or at least it seemed that way. But the differences between the levels of development between the two countries were visable immediately. Right after crossing into Thai territory at the border city of Nong Khai, houses looked better and newer; there was more lighting and more 'proper' shops; the roads were better with better stoplights (i.e. those that count down the seconds before the light changes); and there was an image of the extolled Thai King too.
By 5 a.m., the bus was at the Bangkok Bus Terminal. Way too early to check in, I thought, but there's not much else I could do this early, especially with all my luggage.
I was offered a taxi ride to my hostel for 500 baht. I refused. Then I was offered a ride for 400 baht. I refused again. For 300 baht, I obliged, especially since I had no idea how to get to my hostel in Sukumvit--one of Thailand's most central areas. When I arrived, I was actually admitted into a different room for free, since I came so early; it's a nice private room at the moment, although there are 2 bunk beds (for up to 4 people total). There is an ensuite bathroom and shower, a TV and refridgerator... Very nice. I don't want to check out of this room into my real one, which I am supposed to do soon. In any case, this hostel is the best one yet. Marble tile floors, very clean, and a free breakfast (not a homemade breakfast, but a restaurant-style American or Thai breakfast). Very, very nice. All for about $10/night. A steal for the value.
Now that I am back in Bangkok, I start thinking about Laos and cannot fathom how shopowners survive there. For all my time in Laos, most shops and restaurants were empty. In a day, some shops probably sell barely $10 of goods. Hours go by before someone visits a restaurant (not the rule, but this is quite common). I cannot understand how the proprieters of these places make a living. Even the more so bewildering, since most of these places have 3, 4, or 5 workers: typically a cook, one or two waiters, and a cashier. Or, for shopowners, it seems like it's a whole family working there. And many, many people do not seem to work at all: they sit outside, play chess, or just talk amongst each other. I don't understand how people make a living in such a country. And having read that Laos, in terms of per capita population, is the world's most bombed country (during the Vietnam War), I cannot help but feel sorry for these people. In any case, I had a very good experience in Laos and would like to come back to see the whole country some day. The people were extremely helpful and accommodating, and I did not get to see the UNESCO village of Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng, which is a popular backpacker hangout with limestone deposits that are absolutely amazing on pictures of the city (see above [it's a picture I found on Google]). I was told there are awesome tubing opportunities there. But the coolest thing is apparently a 6-pub boat pub crawl, where travelers literally go on boat from pub to pub getting progressively more drunk each time. Sounds like fun! It's too bad my trip is so constricted that I have to be back in Bangkok, but, again, coming back is something I will definitely consider doing one day.

FYI, Wikitravel writes the following about Vang Vieng, if anyone is curious or interested: "Still not much more than three streets and a bus station, the main attractions are the river, laid back countryside and cave-filled rock formations. Originally opened up by hedonistic backpackers, it is now host to numerous internal tourists and more sedate foreign sightseers."
Being back in Bangkok (pictured on the top right), Vientiane feels like the most relaxed capital city on earth. In any case, now it's time to go do some sightseeing and to take some pics of my own, which I hope to share with everyone very soon!
Until next time! :)

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