The “sleeper” train

Days 138/139, Monday/Tuesday 21/22 May 2012, Vientiane to Bangkok

Happy birthday mum !

It was a much quieter night last night thankfully so I managed some sleep ahead of the overnight sleeper train ride tonight, though given my poor record I am sure there will not be a lot of sleep happening. I slept in till 8.00 again and mooched around in the coolness of my room after breakfast for the rest of the morning, but I am up to date on emails, blogs and plans are all done – I even glanced at a few jobs sites. And then the internet died again, before I could actually upload the blog post I completed.

I had to check out of the guesthouse by 12.00 mid-day, but the bus to the Thai border and the train station was not until 3.00. I had planned on visiting the last of the key temples in Vientiane and then moving on to the national museum when it re-opened after lunch at 1.00. However with a massive flash and a loud bang the rain came down so I decided to hang out in a cafe instead – and the wifi didn’t work there either. Oh well.

Once the rain passed I wandered up to Sisaket, which houses the oldest remaining temple in Vientiane, the Siamese sacked all the temples with the exception of Sisaket in the late 1800’s
Sisaket had some quite nice frescoes but in a terrible state of repair, though we were not allowed to take photos.

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What it did have that I really liked was a massive collection of buddhas going back to the 15th century in the cloisters, some recovered from other sites and stupas around Vientiane. The bulk of these are small and contained in small niches around the walls, but there are a large number of bigger Buddha figures, some made of wood and some from stone.

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I took a lot of photos…. possibly the last you will see of Buddha figures for a while, maybe ever – who knows.

After Sisaket I went up to the national museum, I had read was largely disappointing and in that I was not disappointed, as it was – largely disappointing. Not a great museum for non Laos tourists – and not even a huge amount of information for the Laos people either. I will say, given the poverty in Laos, a museum is not their foremost priority.

I hung around the GH for a while waiting for my ride to the bus station, to get the VIP bus to the border. This turned out to be van that arrived forty minutes late and took me and some other confused tourists to Thana Leng train station, just inside the Laos border where we joined a large bunch of other tourists and caught a small train across the Mekong and into Thailand.

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Laos – I liked the way the train tracks were in the middle of a road bridge, and they just stop all the cars.

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Thailand

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The ride arrived in Nong Khai before it officially left Thana Leng, where we had an hour long wait for the train to depart for Bangkok.

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I was in a second class sleeper carriage, car no 3. This comprised of two rows of seats that faced each other, that folded down into a single bed, with another bunk that folded down from the wall above. Fortunately – and selfishly, I did not have to share my two seats with anyone so could sprawl in the air conditioning until the train left, which it did nicely on time as well at 6.20 PM.

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The beds started coming down almost immediately, it was far too early for me to even consider considering going to sleep so I drank the two cans of beer I bought at the station and watched the view until the sunset and it was too dark too see any more. The windows were way too dirty to consider pictures – and to be honest it wasn’t all that exciting !

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Once there was nothing to see out the window I popped my current favourite travelling music on my walkman, Japanese post-rockers – Mono and spent the next hour and a half knocking off the last few pages of Haruki Murakami’s IQ84 trilogy. I really enjoyed the books – though cannot explain why, not my normal reading, it was different !

I then spent the next eight hours not sleeping in a train….

We arrived in the outskirts of Bangkok soon after sun up and I was foolishly thinking we would therefore arrive on time at 6.25 AM, but no, ridiculous thought Phil. We arrived in the station at 7.45, having spent most of the preceding hour stopped at various points in suburban Bangkok. I am going to say it is not like the suburban Auckland I lived in.
I decided to stay one night in Bangkok as two sleeper trains in a row is too much for this old man, so before leaving the station I booked my ticket to Chumphon for tomorrow night and then went in search of lodgings. I couldn’t see anything immediately around the station so ended up jumping on the Metro and going to my old haunt the Hostelling International hostel in Sukhumvit. Sadly they are renovating at the moment so I ended up in a dorm room, one night cannot be too bad and at least it is cheap and easy.

As I am in Bangkok and have some nice cheap shopping handy I have decided to ditch a few of my more ‘used’ possessions. I spent the afternoon in MBK mall looking for bright shiny things to buy. My lovely Keen sandals have pretty much given up the ghost, though I am still tempted to get them repaired, though I did grab a pair of $40 Converse sneakers as my new day shoes – when I am not wearing jandals/flip flops/thongs (for the Aussies). I will decide on the Keens tomorrow – they have been faithful friends and I feel bad even thinking about leaving them in the dorm hallway. I am not going to do any more trekking type walking so the day pack I picked up in Miri (Sarawak, Borneo) is goneburgers , it is pretty stuffed and utterly feral even though I have washed it a few times. I picked up another messenger type camera bag that I can use when I am Europe as well as a new wallet.

I loved these shoes in a shop in Siam Centre, reminded me of my days in London in the 80’s.

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I snapped some sticker art as I went.

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I got back to the dorm to find it fairly full, so had a feed and chatted to a young English guy for a while and then went to bed. In the dorm room there is this really weird older (I think) Japanese guy. He was asleep most of the afternoon and kept coming and going for most of the night, when he leaves the room he turns his video camera on – i kept covering it with a flannel. I am not sure what the hell he is doing – but he is one weird dude.

Goodby old friends, hopefully someone will find you useful.

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Vientiane

Days 136/137, Saturday/Sunday 19/20 May 2012, Vientiane

I had a wee sleep in this morning, by my standards anyway and wasn’t up till 8.00. it is pouring down outside which is just perfect as it means I can have a good session of lying down, reading and catching up on emails etc. I was planning on spending the whole day doing nothing except organising the remaining two weeks in SE Asia, but the internet died soon after breakfast – and didn’t get going until late afternoon, bugger.

The rain stopped around mid-day and I ventured out for a stroll under what started out to be cloudy skies, it was quite humid and once the clouds cleared after a couple of hours got quite hot as well. Foolishly I brought neither sunglasses nor sun screen and regretted both of them ,especially the glasses, as the sun got brighter and brighter.

Vientiane has quite an historical relationship with France, the street names, use Rue and Avenue and the main thoroughfares are wide open and shady.

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Vientiane even has its own Arc De Triumphe replica – Patuxai and was built in 1969.

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From there I walked up to Pha That Luangis, a large golden stuppa and the most important monument in Laos.

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The site was started in the 1500’s and there were four wat surrounding it, of which only two remain.

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I loved these small family plots inside one of the wats.

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There must be two lonely people.

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One of the great things in Vientiane, and soe rare in SE Asisa, so many places – including one of the parks are smoke free.

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I walked back to the GH and after a wee cool down then went to a local hair dresser for a light trim – I was not filed with confidence, so didn’t get a full haircut or let her loose on my face with a razor. So I went back to the GH and attacked my facial hair with a razor myself. It took 45 minutes !

It was getting close to sundown so I went for a walk along the bank of Mekong, long with hundreds of the local people and not a small number of tourists. I found a perfect spot to capture some of the people passing by on their bicycles. And again, unusual for SE Asia – motorbikes were banned along this strip – so nice !

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I had dinner on my own in a local cafe and then went back to my room and watched another episode of Sherlock – it is great. It was a very noisy night in town tonight, mainly tourists drunkenly yelling on the street. I didn’t get a huge amount of sleep.

Sunday morning was as slow a start as yesterday. Today the internet was going and I resolved to stay in my room and complete my plan for the next two weeks. With guide book, laptop and smart phone often all being used at once, I spent almost eight frustrating hours trying to come up with a workable plan. At every turn I was frustrated with time tables that did not get me to where I wanted to be when I wanted to be there, so decided to give up on road/rail transport for some legs and fly -which meant then trying to find combinations of airports that worked…. grrrrrrr !

But I finally got there. It was not the plan I started with, I am not going to any more historical sites, just two weeks of beeches and diving, with two overnight train rides to get to my first location – Koh Tao on Thailand’s east coast. Now the planning is done I believe I have made the right choice. Two weeks of mainly relaxation, with some diving – and some healthy living thrown in, should get me ready for my trip to England.

I ran into David and Debbie in the GH reception and they invited me along with them to go bowling, what an awesome idea. And a whole load of fun !!

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David

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and Debbie.

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Bowling shoes – the person who invented them must have had a sense of humour. I mean what self respecting person wears green and gold ?

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You have to love that poise, so graceful 🙂

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And I did kick some ass – it was my lucky night – two strikes !

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This was followed with a very nice Indian meal at a local restaurant and, for me, one more episode of Sherlock in bed.

It was with a sense of relief I closed my eyes – the remainder of my time in SE Asia is all planned and accommodation in most places is booked. All I need to do is turn up.

I have updated “the plan” page with the new plan.