A Trip Into The Unknown
6 AM, and as the distant sound of my alarm roused me from a sleep that felt like I’d just dozed off, I realised that was exactly the scenario. I had planned on a reasonably early night in preparation for my visa run to Laos the following day. It was going to be around 13 hours, door to door, involving a taxi, jetfoil, coach, two separate flights and a minibus so when a good customer bowled up to the bar just after midnight to say goodbye (he was due to fly home to Paris the following morning), I knew I would have to see it through politely, despite wanting to shake his hand, wish him bon voyage and fuck off home ASAP for some much-needed shut-eye. When he announced he was being collected by taxi at 4:30 AM from his hotel and had no intention of going to bed I could have kicked him straight in his Entente Cordiales there and then.
At around 3 AM he finally took note of the incessant yawning and getting the message, bode us a fond farewell. Just under an hour later and as I fell into bed the last thing I fancied was my impending journey into deepest Isaan (the rural area of North-East Thailand that borders Cambodia and Laos) with little more than an hour’s sleep under my belt.
The visa run in Thailand is part and parcel of ex-pat life, and whilst there are ways around it, the ever-expanding stack of red-tape and the increasing number of intrusive, municipal “jobsworths” within the Immigration set-up have, in recent years, persuaded many to take the easier option and purchase a yearly visa from outside of Thailand. Having decided against a trip back to the homeland this year, I needed to visit a neighbouring country to collect the aforementioned sticker in my passport to continue life in the “Land of Smiles”. After considering cost, time and the reputations of the available consulates, I plumped for Savannakhet, a sleepy little city in Laos, approximately a thousand kilometers north of Koh Samui, which lies on the banks of the Mekong River that constitutes the makeshift border that separates Laos from Thailand. On the opposite side of the riverbanks of Savannakhet is the Thai city of Mukdahan and the plan was to spend the first night here before crossing the border / bridge in the morning and submitting my visa application. This would hopefully be available for collection the following afternoon, so after a night in Savannakhet I would then return to Thailand for a second night in Mukdahan before concluding the trip with another twelve-hour jaunt back to the rock affectionately known as Koh Samui. What follows is a blow-by-blow account of what will hopefully turn out to be, a most enjoyable journey.
DAY ONE – GETTING THERE!
Having been awakened by the pleasurable warble of my mobile phone at 6 AM I struggled in to the shower and 40 minutes later I was plotted up outside the local 7 Eleven looking to hail a songtaew (the local minivan / bus service that works on a hail and ride scenario on the island’s main ring road). Now I’m not being tight, in normal circumstances elsewhere I’d have happily booked a taxi, but on Koh Samui the taxi drivers refuse to use their meters and as a matter of principle I refuse to line the pockets of the thieving buggers. A similar journey from downtown Bangkok would likely be around a third of their asking rate, so despite the fairly tight schedule it was time to make a stand.
After 15 minutes, standing on the roadside without a single “bus” passing in either direction, the wisdom of my principles were coming into doubt. I had seen at least half a dozen taxis pass me and with the jetfoil due to leave in just over an hour’s time, and it being at least a 30-minute drive, I was considering folding…. when BINGO, an empty songtaew came over the horizon. As the bus pulled off, I knew that barring an accident on the road, I’d be safe as houses, time wise at least, and with the saving on a taxi equating to around 15 large bottles of Laos’ finest lager I was feeling rather smug.
At the ferry pier check-in I was greeted by a customer service assistance that had a face like a smacked arse. I swear she could turn milk at twenty paces, the sour-faced cow. Anyway, as I presented my ticket receipt she barked at me, “What time you fly?” to which I replied innocuously “11.35”.
Now having checked in online and printed off my boarding pass, I thought 65 minutes from their published airport arrival time to take off was quite sufficient, especially as Surat Thani airport is little more than a provincial airport serving predominantly low-cost budget airline flights, but obviously not, as she scowled at me and announced, “I cannot guarantee your flight.”
“Why, are their planes no good?” I smiled.
Now, whether it was simply too early in the morning for a bit of good old-fashioned British sarcasm or she was going short of rations in the marital quarters, I guess I’ll never know, but I could feel my bones turning to stone. Slinging my ticket across the counter I heard her mumbling, in Thai, something under her breath as I turned away, that I’m pretty sure resembled a phrase my wife likes to use in her less complimentary moments.
That said, the boat journey was fairly uneventful. It left a few minutes later than expected and arrived about 15 minutes late, which considering the sea was as flat as a pancake left me wondering if the ferry company would be as economical with the transfer times to the airport. Suddenly my little despot on the desk’s remarks seemed a little more relevant.
Thankfully the transfer time to the airport was just over 30 minutes so I wandered into the departure lounge with just hand luggage and plenty of time to spare. The fatigue was starting to kick in now and a large café latte was dispatched in an effort to stave off the tiredness but in hindsight a couple of Red Bull would have been more appropriate. An hour or so later we were approaching Bangkok’s second airport, Don Meuang, and with my guts beginning to think someone had slit my throat, a bowl of crispy pork noodle soup and a plate of chicken and rice was just what the doctor ordered. Stroll on flight number two.
Generally, budget airlines come in for a lot of stick, particularly in the UK where Ryan Air in particular are forever being criticized for their mission to shed the punters of their Euros, but in the case of Air Asia I have nothing but praise. I have used them on countless occasions and apart from the odd late departure they have always been just the ticket. Ground staff are helpful and courteous and their trolley-dollies are absolute sorts. Honestly, in most cases the crumpet on Air Asia would not look out-of-place in Bangkok’s finest chrome pole palaces (aka ago-go bars) such is their demeanour. That said, the two flights and minibus transfer could not have been smoother. Pretty much on time, my biggest fear was getting onto the right transfer bus in Nakhon Phanom. My worries were needless as I strolled out of the arrivals hall and straight in front was a clearly marked Air Asia minibus. They rarely see an unaccompanied white face in this neck of the woods, but the guide ticked me off on his clipboard and in his broken English confirmed my hotel, took my bag and ushered me onto the vehicle. Top man! Assuming we get there…
THE FIRST NIGHT
In my younger days, when I wanted to be derisory about a particular town/city that somebody was singing the praises of, I would remark, “Oh yeah, I went there once on a Saturday night…… It was closed!”
I never knew the origin until now that I had been to Mukdahan, my first official over-nighter in Isaan. Tumbleweed City is an understatement.
The transfer from the airport was a little on the “white knuckle” side, mainly due to the falling rain and the terrible state of the roads, rather than the driver. The highway was being widened along a huge stretch which resulted in one side being a part constructed dirt track on a slightly higher level and two-way traffic sharing the other side. Not a problem generally except the rain was creating vast puddles on our side of the road, which were, in turn, masking mini trenches and on several occasions, as we bounced through them, the poor old-girl next to me would let out an ear-splitting scream. Highly amusing the first time, but by round six or seven, I was ready to muzzle the cranky old bat.
Just under two hours after leaving the airport, and maybe twenty minutes late, we pulled up outside the Riverfront Hotel and my first real stroke of luck. By fluke I had booked-in at the official pick up point of Air Asia for the return journey. My one fear had been not being able to find the bus collection point and being left stranded with a two-hour hike to the airport, so that was at least one less thing not to get in a panic over.
A quick shower and by 8 PM I was ready to rumble. Still full from my airport tucker, I decided to give the food a body-swerve and head straight for the beer. I had read that Mukdahan didn’t have much to offer in the way of nightlife and most of the town shut down way before midnight so I’d checked a few options out on the internet and with the aid of a local map, plotted, what I thought, was the most direct route. What followed was a comedy of errors as I backtracked over and over again, determined not to be defeated, in search of the illustrious “Picked Cowboy” bar, the supposedly sole representative of Ex-pat boozing available on this rather uneventful evening. The rain had stopped but it had been replaced with an incredibly humid night and after thirty minutes in search of the lost cause I was beginning to resemble the proverbial judge on a paedo-charge as the sweat dripped off of any available outlet with my arse-crack in particular resembling the local paddy fields.
An Englishman abroad is a rare sight in this neck of the woods and I couldn’t find a solitary speaker of our Queen’s fair language. Even Seven-Eleven staff were blank canvasses as I tried in vain to communicate in firstly broken English and then mimicry. My attempts to mime the “picked cowboy” had two particular honeys in stitches in one store as I firstly tried to act out a gun-slinging cowboy and then just mimicked getting pissed. Whether they thought I wanted to highjack an off-licence or get laid in a gay rodeo bar is probably still under reference, but needless to say the search was fruitless.
I’d passed a food night market a little earlier which had a few punters drinking beer with their evening meal and decided to cut my losses and head back there. I walked the circuit inside and found, hidden away at the back, a small beer bar with four or five locals sipping Leo beer and watching Muay Thai boxing on the TV. That’d do for me I thought, and I plotted up at the bar and ordered a large 660ml bottle of cold Leo beer. Now things are known to be cheap in Isaan compared to the tourist centres but when this bar asked for less than a 20% mark-up on the 7-11 price you’ve got to wonder how they survive. Anyhow, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth I thought and in the interest of local commerce did my best to build up his takings. The guy who owned the bar was a real nice fella. Well educated, he was Thai but had lived for a few years in Beijing and spoke excellent English. We shared a genuine dislike of the greed and corruption that is now so prevalent all over the world and in particular in our own backyards. All was going well until I attempted to bring the fated Picked Cowboy into the conversation. Under the guise of saying hello to the boss, on behalf of a fellow visa-runner that had been there earlier in the year, I had obviously hit a nerve. His demeanour changed immediately and the look on his face couldn’t have been more disapproving if I’d have bubbled a fart through his noodle soup. It may just have been the fact that he’d realised a good spending punter was on his way (I’d supped three large bottles in less than an hour) but somehow he managed to give me directions without giving the slightest inclination of where the place was. This is a gift that most publicans are more than adept at, and this guy was a master at it. Like a fool I decked the dregs of my Leo and set off once again in search of the Holy Grail, knowing subconsciously, that it was a wasted effort.
Twenty minutes later, and again sweating like a pig, I abandoned the search and decided ANYWHERE that sold beer would see me out for the last hour, but despite traipsing all around the riverfront area, there wasn’t a soul about anywhere. Dejected, defeated but rather richer than I anticipated having only had three, very cheap bottles of beer, I returned to the hotel. An hour or so’s sleep the night before and forty winks on the second flight had left me physically shattered and at 10:30 PM I crawled onto, what felt like, the finest, most comfortable, mattress I had ever slept on. My judgement may have been a shade biased at this juncture, but I slept like a log knowing that tomorrow was Visa D-Day and I had no margin for error. The final, most important leg of the journey was to begin with a 6:30 AM alarm call and a trek across the border.
DAY TWO – BEST MEAL OF THE DAY?
The morning started with, and needed, a second, follow-up alarm call before I dragged myself out of my pit. Shit, shave & shower, and before I knew it I was heading into the breakfast area. I had missed out on a meal the night before due to the apocalyptic-like closure of the land that time forgot, somewhere around 10pm, so I was ravenous and would have eaten a scabby horse between two bread vans, given the chance. Budget Asian hotels are rarely too exciting on the breakfast front and, understandably, was geared towards the Asian market. The offering did include fruit and cereal and toast and jam, for the very occasional white-face that passed through but was predominantly Asian fayre. Most Asian countries don’t tend to have anything different at first light than they would for supper, so breakfast consisted of fried rice, pork belly with hard-boiled egg and kale. Not particularly inspiring, it did the job and a second visit to the table treated the locals to the ultimate example of a Brit-abroad. I had spotted a separate “trough” on the table that had some rather anemic looking bacon bits and chicken (boil-in-the-bag type) frankfurters. Inserting two slices of bread into the toaster, I took an egg out of the pork belly dished and mashing it into a pulp, constructed a good old-fashioned toasted brekkie sandwich. Egg, bacon, sausage and lashings of ketchup, it should have made my day. Instead, this vile mish-mash of polystyrene-tasting junk just provided the ammunition for a repetitive belching session that would last well passed by morning meeting at the Thai consulate. Where the fxxk is that scabby horse when you need it…….
The journey into Laos from Thailand was relatively short in comparison to the day before and simply involved a five-minute tuktuk ride to the bus station and a short twenty-minute ride spanning the Friendship Bridge that constitutes no-man’s land between the Immigration check points on either side of the Mekong River.
Arriving at the bus station just after 8.15 AM, it was organised chaos. I’d planned on getting the 8.30am bus arriving around an hour later at the Royal Thai Consulate, Savannakhet, but with the 8am bus firmly parked, and going nowhere, I wondered if the previous bus had been cancelled and we were doubling up. This would put a real spanner in the works as there were already bodies crammed inside this bus to the point of virtual suffocation and at least twenty or more people outside looking perturbed, to say the least. Thankfully, without notice, the 8am trans-Mekong Express fired up the engine and pulled away. A couple of minutes later the next bus pulled into the space and we began loading. With the visa submissions limited to the hours of 9am to 11am, I had stacks of time and unless there was a major incident at the border checkpoint I’d be fine.
Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing…
CROSSING THE BORDER
Arriving at the Mukdahan border point, it seemed a little too good to be true. Plenty of time in hand, and the only people at the exit gates being those disembarking our bus, I anticipated a swift crossing. Nearly all of the bus were either Thai or Laotian, and they would be fast tracked through in no time. There were two booths open and I joined the one with a slightly smaller queue, and no Westerners, in the hope of not being left behind. This is not a sexist remark by any means, but female Thai Immigration officers have a reputation of being feisty to say the least, and are to be avoided, where possible, at all costs. Maybe it’s because in the man’s world that this particular occupation most certainly is, the women need to be seen as strong and dependable and as such they are officious, probing and often take their job way beyond the realms of reasonable behaviour. As I approached the booth I realised why my queue had been smaller and my heart sank as I saw the Thai version of Les Dawson in drag, scrutinising the passports being handed to her. Now at this point I really had nothing to fear, I was totally above-board. My visa wasn’t on overstay and my previous time spent in the country since my last border crossing fourteen months prior, was completely legitimate and covered by the necessary visa entries, yet I could feel the blood pressure rising as I got nearer to the booth. Apart from anything, this woman was stationed at the exit booth so her job should simply have been to check I hadn’t overstayed my visa, run my passport through the scanner to confirm there were no outstanding warrants or immigration issues and stamp me out of Thailand thanking me for my time spent in her illustrious abode. As I hit the front of the queue I handed her the passport and smiled politely wishing her good day in Thai. The stony-faced bitch snatched the passport and scrutinised every entry and finding nothing wrong, proceeded to cross-examine my motives for leaving Thailand.
“Where you go?”, “why you go?” “You have bank statements?” “Why you not make visa extension at your home?”
Now had I been entering the country I would have expected this line of questioning, but I was leaving for God’s sake. I so desperately wanted to say “It’s none your business, you menopausal old hag ” but I realised that may antagonise the situation a tad, so I coyly replied that I was heading to Savannakhet Consulate to buy a multiple-entry visa and had all the relevant paperwork in my suitcase that the Consulate requested. I could have renewed at home, had I wished, but had chosen to purchase a separate visa as my plans for the forthcoming year included several trips abroad and this particular visa was, in my view, more appropriate. My cool, calm and collected response had her ruffled as I’m sure she was expecting, or at least hoping for, a stuttering, mumbling incoherent reply that would warrant further investigations that would at least scupper my plans to submit the application before the 11am deadline. With much resentment she stamped my passport and slide it back, wishing me, “good luck with your new passport”.
Now, having my passport back in hand, I smiled sarcastically and thanked her for her kind words. Next stop the Thai consulate and, hopefully, a bit of respect.
A short bus ride through no-man’s land and we arrived at the Laos entry point. A completely different experience. Courteous and prompt, I was handed two separate forms, entry/departure card and a visa application form which can be purchased on arrival if required rather than pre-ordered. A passport photo and 35 US Dollars were handed over with the forms and five minutes later I was heading to the consulate in a taxi.
At the consulate their reputation for efficiency was confirmed. I had pre-prepared the forms, photographs and all accompanying paperwork. Arriving just before 10am it was five minutes in the queue, a quick check by the staff that all the required paperwork was there and the fee handed over and a receipt given with instructions to return at 2pm the following day to collect my passport and new visa. It couldn’t have been simpler and just after 10.15am I was checking into the hotel, confident that all that worry had been a needless exercise. I had approximately 28 hours to enjoy Laos and my mission was about to begin.
I had secured a taxi at the border to get me to the Thai consulate and then onto the hotel, and not being “au fait” with distance / local rates in Savannakhet, I took the first rate he threw at me as being OK. What I hadn’t calculated on was the fact that these drivers had obviously been trained at the Koh Samui Thieving Bastards’ School of Skullduggery. It was barely five minutes to the Consulate and a similar distance to the hotel and I’d been charged the equivalent of 3 days wages for the local labourer for less than 30 minutes, including waiting time and maybe a litre of fuel. When we arrived at the hotel I paid up begrudgingly as a deal is a deal, but I had one last card to play that would at least satisfy my need for payback.
“You want same again tomorrow for passport”, he enquired.
“Same price?” I asked, to be greeted with a nodding dog with his eyes glazing over with the dollar signs, relishing this particular lamb to the slaughter.
“OK”, I replied. “See you here tomorrow at 2:30 PM” gesturing the front of the hotel.
What he didn’t comprehend was that by that time I’d have already jumped in a tuktuk, collected my visa and crossed the border. The see-you-next-Tuesday had won the first half, but the game was heading for a score draw.
As it was still only mid-morning, my hotel room wasn’t ready so I decided to have a walkabout of the local area. It was a grey day, but incredibly warm and humid and after around 15 minutes I was sweating buckets. As a rule, I rarely partake of an alcoholic refreshment prior to noon, but in view of the fact that I had been awake for the best part of five hours already, I decided that it would be churlish not to at least sample the local beverage. A wise decision in this heat, I promptly dispatched three large bottles of Beer Lao as I waited for the clock to reach check-in time. When I paid the bill I was even more surprised as whilst I’d been over-the-moon at the price of beer the previous evening on the Thai side of the border, the beer here was not only of a superior quality but just over half price for the same oversized large bottle. Whatever happened over the next 24 hours, I was sure that, at these prices, I couldn’t fail to have a good time.
Once back in the hotel I decided a short power-nap was in order and set the alarm for a couple of hours’ time. By 5:30 PM I was showered and ready to go. I’d found a couple of places on the internet to try out but after the fun-and-games the previous night in search of the Picked Cowboy decided to broaden my scope and just head for a central point. Savannakhet is anything but a party town but I’d been assured that there were a few decent bars / cafés if you looked about. Close to the river is a large Catholic church, dating back, I assumed, the days of “pre-Vietnam war” French Indochina, which was bordered by a night market full of food stalls and several café/bars. As it was a well-known spot it seemed a good idea to use this as a base for the evening’s entertainment and hailing a tuktuk, instructed the driver to get me to the church on time. My first port of call was called 12Cafe and I was drawn in, not so much by the impending shower that had started to drizzle down, but by the commotion at the entrance. There were 3 or 4 very pretty young women, dressed to-the-nines and fully made-up, posing indiscriminately around the doorway whilst a wannabe David Bailey snapped away with an oversized camera and lens. As I entered the bar there was a similar commotion going on with another group of girls and a second photographer. The place look great, trendy decor, pretty girls…. it had everything, except customers. I sat out of shot of the cameraman and ordered a beer from a, by comparison, rather plain and under-dressed member of staff. She later explained that a local magazine had chosen to write a feature on the café and had arranged for agency girls to come in for the photo shoot. I hoped it’d work because in the two hours I was there, they’d not had another customer. The beer had been served in a personalised ice bucket, despite being already well chilled, and whilst being a smaller bottle was still half the price of a cheap Samui beer of similar size. As the rain appeared to have ceased, for now anyway, I paid for my four bottles of beer with the last five-dollar bill I’d procured for the purpose of clearing Laos immigration and left.
I’d sourced my next port of call via Wi-fi to be a local place called Heavens Gate with the aid of Google Map’s directions. I’d have never found it otherwise as it turned out to be a tiny little bar built in the backyard of a house down one of the side streets off of the market square. What it lacked in panache, it more than made up in street-cred.
What a cool place!
The guy who owned it was an American, probably an ex-vet, who had been in Laos nearly 25 years. He’d had a bar in the Laos capital, Vientiane, for 20 years and having made his money, had decided to “retire” to Savannakhet but needed a hobby (his words) so secured a five-year lease on a house near the market square / church (thus Heaven’s Gate) and built himself a small bar in the backyard. Nothing fancy, it seated six stools at the bar, a single doored, glass-fronted refrigerator and a TV / stereo system covered by a corrugated iron roof. Simple, but more than sufficient for this old guy to wile away his time entertaining passing trade with his stories. We’d hit it off straight away and whilst I’d intended to have just the one beer when I first saw the place, the guy had real charisma and after four large Beer Lao and a bowl of exceptionally good Chilli con Carne we’d put the world to rights. The music came predominantly from YouTube linked through his TV and stereo system and had been playing mainly Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen tracks whilst he prepared my food he invited me to change the music if I wanted. I let it roll for a few tracks and then loaded a Marvin Gaye mix that included some real soul icons. All Green, Barry White, Marvin… they were all there and when he returned it was something else we had in common, a love of the soul classics. As I devoured his very good Chilli, he left me uninterrupted, to eat my meal in peace as he sang along to the tracks in the background. He knew all the words, this Yank really was “one of your own”.
After I’d finished eating we discussed music from the sixties period and how it will never be repeated and he somehow managed to get even more brownie points when he told me he’d seen Stevie Wonder live just before he’d released “Fingertips” and went on to become a Motown sensation in the early 60’s, he had no reason to bullshit, this guy was enjoying life and whatever it threw at him. Around 10pm the sound of the rain clattering against the tin roof eased off and I paid up and left. In sharp contrast to the night before I’d had a really good day and found Savannakhet and the people of Laos a real shot in the arm.
ONE FOR THE ROAD?
As I headed back towards the church I was in a bit of a quandary. It was only 10pm and whilst I had had a pretty good drink, I didn’t have to be at the Consulate until 2pm and with a noon check out I could quite easily sleep through to 11am, which after the previous couple of nights, would seem like a birthday and Christmas present all rolled into one. I decided that if there was a tuktuk parked up I’d go home, if not I’d grab a beer and try and find a suitable mode of transport to get me back to my bed. As I turned into the square the first thing that struck me wasn’t the abundance, or lack of, transport available but the sound of a rock band blaring out from the restaurant/bar on the corner. The lyrics were, I assumed, local and the music wasn’t a tune I recognised but the musicians were good and my resolve to do the right thing melted. One (or maybe more) for the road please maestro. The place was surprisingly busy and the crowd predominantly aged under thirty. The food was flying out of the kitchen at a rate of knots and the place was buzzing. Around 11.30pm and another couple of large Beer Lao later the band finished and the crowd began to pay up and drift away. There wasn’t a tuktuk or taxi in sight around the square and the hotel was too far to walk, even if I had a clue where it was. This could be a problem. I decided to see if I could find somewhere open, take one last beer and ask the staff for any help they could provide. It wasn’t much of a plan I admit, but standing in the street like some gormless backpacker, looking lost, was even less appealing. I found a bar a few doors up from the music venue with maybe half-a-dozen customers and gestured to the girl behind the bar if they were still open. Thankfully they were, so I ordered a small bottle of beer and kept my eyes on the street outside in the hope that a tuktuk would go past or, even better, pull up. As midnight approached the music went off and I was presented with my bill. I attempted to ask the girl if she could get me a taxi but her English was on a par with my Laos, nonexistent. She gestured to a lad sitting outside who thankfully spoke pretty good English and he inquired if he could help. I explained my predicament and he asked where I was staying. I always carry a hotel business card when abroad, for such occasions as this, and he took the card and walked off. I assumed this was to find out where it was or maybe try and persuade somebody to give me a lift to this particular hotel but he said nothing. A few minutes later he returned telling me not to worry, everything was OK and someone would pick me up in ten minutes time. As the bar was closed I couldn’t buy him a beer but slipped him a crisp one hundred baht note with instructions to buy himself a couple of beers the next day, which was gratefully received. Within a few minutes, he called me from the doorway and gestured that my ride had arrived. As I walked outside I was shocked to see a young lad wearing one of my hotel’s t-shirts. The guy at the bar had phoned the hotel’s number on the card and told then one of their guests was stranded and needed a lift. Without a thought, the guy on the nightshift had locked up and jumped on his motorbike to come and get me. What a star! Now to make matters worse, a couple of minutes into the journey and the heavens opened and the rain was sheeting down. We arrived back at the hotel soaked. I was fine, I could be out of my wet clothing and into a hot shower in a few minutes. That poor fella had to finish the nightshift soaked to the skin. I couldn’t have been more appreciative at that time and seeing his predicament offered him some cash as a thank you. He refused to take anything, despite my insistence, until I told him that if he didn’t take it, I’d leave it in the room for the cleaners when I checked out the next morning. A little embarrassed, but noticeably grateful he accepted my gift, thanking me several times. The next day, after a rather spicy “brunch” I was escorted from the hotel coffee shop with my luggage onto a waiting tuktuk to head for the Consulate and my new fresh visa, which would hopefully get me back into Thailand without agitating the Wrath Of Mrs. Les Dawson.
For a country so lacking in outside investment, Laos has an incredible problem with poverty, yet my short stay had introduced me to one of the nicest, kindest race of people I had ever had the pleasure to meet. I was leaving Laos with a heavy heart as the contentment of these lovely people was so obviously apparent, despite their predicament, and I vowed that one day I would return, for a longer stay to share around a few more dollars and just maybe, make a bit of a difference.
Having collected my visa & passed through immigration without a glitch, I crossed the FRIENDSHIP Bridge back into Thailand and it suddenly dawned on me
WHAT A PERFECT F##KING NAME!
The author of this article cannot be contacted.