a Visa Run to Savannakhet, Laos. October 2015
…continuing from part 1 of my Visa Run to Savannakhet, Laos…
My plan for the day was simply to collect my passport from the Thai Consulate at 2pm, get out of Laos, and book myself on the earliest and most comfortable overnight bus back to Bangkok.
…I wake up at an ungodly hour, 2am? 3am? 4am? It’s my own fault, I had turned the aircon temperature down to 16 degrees and now an awful clicking noise is being projected around the room. The cheap aircon unit has built up some ice inside due to me turning the temperature down too low. My mistake wasn’t this, but it was to leave the setting on swing instead of leaving it blowing at a fixed point. The noise is bad, but not unbearable, so I think against getting up and leave the cheap wall unit clicking away long into the night. Eventually it stops, probably because the ice has built up so much the swing function has now completely jammed.
My next waking moment is not a particularly fond one. Stray dogs are barking and fighting outside. I’m on the 4th floor, but the sound is still excruciatingly loud and I glance at my phone: 6:45am. GREAT!! I venture onto the balcony to see what’s happening and see that the dogs are not actually fighting, they are shagging. There are 3 dogs and a bitch has been mounted and is letting off an ear-piercing shriek every minute or so, also a third dog is unsuccessfully trying to get in on the action. The main male dog seems to be completely stuck to the bitch and can’t get his member out. This all continues for about 30 minutes, and I’m surprised that no hotel staff or local has split up all this nonsense, as the noise must have woken up one whole side of the Avalon Residence.
So I was now completely awake at around 7:15am. I relax in the room by watching some latest Youtube videos from my favourite channels, then head down for breakfast in the Avalon Restaurant. I thought about venturing out on the bike to a nice cafe, but weighing everything up it was better to settle for convenience over quality.
My Breakfast. 20k kip (88 baht).
There wasn’t a lot of choice for the breakfast options, and they all looked a bit light on portion size. So I plumped for the bacon and ham but told the lady ‘NO HAM’ but change for sausage instead. 10 minutes later I was served only sausage with my breakfast. BRILLIANT! It probably serves me right though for trying to get complicated. I was pretty famished at this point and felt it would serve little purpose in complaining, so I wolfed the whole thing down in about 5 minutes flat. Normally, I detest with a passion the sausages and ham that are served in South East Asian countries, but the chef here somehow managed to make the meat sufficiently crispy enough to be palatable.
For the morning I didn’t really fancy venturing out on the bike for another explore or photo session, so I killed the hours by reading half a dozen chapters of my latest book, and watching more Youtube. I checked out around 12:45pm after lazily packing and was pleased to hear no cleaners or staff banging on my door demanding me to checkout at the stated time of 12:00pm. This is Laos: everything here is done in a laid back and relaxed way.
This building is adjacent to the Avalon Residence has extra rooms for guests, and parking for bikes and cars.
The Coffee@Avalon Restaurant; where I ate 100% of my meals in Savannakhet.
I had planned to hit up a nice cafe for a memorable lunch, but the midday sun was belting down strong and I didn’t fancy getting sunburnt or sweaty by biking around looking for a place to eat. I had my bus journey to Bangkok later in the evening. Lunch was to be at the now very familiar Avalon Restaurant.
About the Avalon Restaurant where I had nearly every meal in my stay in Savannakhet. Everything served was above average apart from one green curry (too many mushrooms – not to my taste). The girls there don’t speak much English but the place is clean and they cook the food fresh and serve the customers promptly.
Chicken Satay 15k Kip (68 baht).
Vegetable fried rice. Really tasty again and at 15k kip (68 baht) was pretty good value.
I washed my lunch down with an obligatory bottle of Beer Laos. Nice. They sell them here for just 10k kip (45 baht) rather than the 15k kip (68 baht) in the hotel lobby.
There were a couple of other expats milling around the restaurant, sipping beers with their Thai girlfriends and waiting for the Thai Consulate to open at 2pm. Their tuk tuk drivers were waiting patiently outside, safe in the knowledge they had guaranteed customers from here to the Consulate, then to drop them off at Laos Immigration.
I was happy to be on 2 wheels. It’s nice to be independent. I like riding bikes around and if it wasn’t for the intense heat I would have ridden my 10k kip (45 baht) bicycle around the city a bit more.
My ride. A bit old but stable enough.
The ride from the Avalon Residence to the Thai Consulate is 1.5km so I’m told. The road is mainly a gentle uphill gradient and I was happy to make a little video of the ride:
The Thai Consulate. You can see my bike in this pic. The tuk tuk guys were hovering around like vultures, but there wasn’t many customers around for them on this Wednesday afternoon.
I arrived just after 2pm and was pleased to see there was less than 20 people waiting in line. This is another perk of doing a midweek Visa Run. Mondays and Fridays and any day around a holiday are always the worst days. I wouldn’t have fancied queueing in the heat here as the shaded area of the Consulate is not that big.
Tuk tuk guys waiting to pounce on anyone without fixed travel plans. The queue is in the shade; happy days. I collect my passport within 5 minutes and check that the correct visa has been granted, and also cross check the name and passport numbers match. They do. Everything is good. My fellow expat travellers were happy too. Now I had the choice of either spending the afternoon in Savannakhet or heading straight to Mukdahan, Thailand. I dropped my bike off at the Avalon Residence and headed straight for the Savannakhet bus station, which was only a convenient 5 minute walk away.
Lucky for me I arrived at 2:20pm and the next bus was due to leave in only 10 minutes.
Local street stalls and food vendors line the side of Savannakhet Bus Station.
The bus times for the Savannakhet to Mukdahan, border crossing bus. Starting at 8:15am and ending at 19:00pm. I’ve no idea why it’s 13k and 14k at some of the departure times?
At the bus station this pickup looked like it’d just been plucked straight out of a Mad Max movie!!
The Laos writing looks very similar to Thai for some of the letters. In this modern age though it’s a dying language, as it has little use outside of Laos and the North-East Isaan region of Thailand.
A young monk gets on the bus just before it leaves. Monks are forbidden to sit next to women and he took up a seat alone at the back of the half full bus.
See you next year Savannakhet, maybe 🙂
We all board the noisy and rackety bus, every window curtain is shut to block out the intense afternoon sun. We are swiftly driven to the Laos immigration. Completed departure cards are handed in to the Laos Immigration and every bag is put through a scanner (indicating that this is a popular contraband smuggling point). We get back on the bus and are ferried over to the Thai side.
As I disembark the bus there are 2 large queues of Laos people around 2 desks set up specially for them. A lot of the Laos people can’t read and write Thai or English (the languages on Thai arrival and departure forms) so they wait for the Thai staff sat at the 2 tables to fill the information out for them.
After 5 minutes of waiting in the foreigner line I am at the front of the queue. I hand my passport to the Thai Immigration official and state clearly in English what Visa I have (not wanting any potential mistakes). My passport is processed by a plump, round faced and middle aged Thai woman. She scans my passport first and then adjusts the cheap webcam camera with her hand to frame my mugshot. After this she stamps the right stamp, … bang bang ….. bang bang …. , and hands me my passport back with an expressionless face. I say thank you and walk a handful of steps away from the booth and double check I have the correct dates stamped in my book. Everything is good and I head on to the last leg of the border bus journey.
We arrive at Mukdahan bus station. It’s around 3:30pm and I’m faced with a choice of waiting for my preferred VIP bus at 8:30pm, or choosing a cheaper alternative. I decide to take a punt and catch the earliest bus back to Bangkok. It is cheap at 472 baht, and it leaves in just a couple of hours time. I kill an hour reading my book in an air-conditioned coffee shop, sipping a 40 baht cappuccino.
Waiting patiently at Mukdahan Bus Station.
Looking around there is a big hotel being constructed. It’s covered in wooden scaffolding that the construction workers climb around while they are working.
A tuk tuk driver waiting for customers at Mukdahan Bus Station. It’s instantly noticeable how shiny their vehicles are compared to the beaten up, rusty ones used in Savannakhet.
If you’ve ever lived in Thailand then surely you’ve either heard or seen these small scavenger birds. There was the most almighty flock in and around Mukdahan Bus Station, very noisy. We have them near where I live in Bangkok but I’m pleased to say nowhere near these numbers!!
Some Thai people really love to pimp out their cars for show, check out these alloy wheels.
Feeling a bit peckish I nip to a nearby cheap Thai Restaurant (rann ahaan) for a plate of stir fried rice with pork, washed down with a Leo beer to ease the upcoming journey.
Pro tip. If you are buying Leo beer make sure you have a quick look at the Fill date. The more recent the date better the taste is usually.
Time to board my bus for the overnight trip back to Bangkok. Fingers crossed my neighbouring passenger is not fat, smelly or obnoxious.
All is well. I’m given a bottle of water and a red bean bun snack by the ladyboy service person, who is also wearing an impossibly short skirt.
I was the only Westerner on the bus, but that is no concern as the company is one of the more reputable and established ones. I’m happy to see that my immediate neighbouring passenger is a pleasant, short and tidy looking middle aged Thai man. I smile and fire off a couple of sentences in Thai about going to Bangkok. He smiles back not wanting to talk and after 10 minutes of the bus leaving sleeps by the window for pretty much the entire journey. Also, directly to my front the guy has only reclined his seat about 20% which my knees are more than happy about.
I put on my headphones and hit shuffle on my 2009 Ipod Nano, then start reading my book. The lights are not on in the bus and by 6pm it’s too dark to read. My Ipod battery then dies at 6:10pm, Damn! I’m marooned now with no entertainment and simply have to relax alone with my thoughts as best I can in the darkness, with my silent headphones still left in my ears. There are a couple of passengers yakking away near the back of the bus and I’m glad I’m not sat back there.
We stop at random stations here and there. Filling up all the seats eventually. The aircon is cold and fresh and I pull the blanket up. Some of the Thai passengers have taken this to another level and completely covered their head and bodies sleeping under the blanket. A couple of guys are snoring but it’s nothing too bad, with the bus rocking now and then and the driver using the horn occasionally the passengers are unintentionally woken up many times.
A toilet stop somewhere in Isaan. You can see the Ladyboy service person behind the impressive stash of bottled water. Pic 20:30pm.
I get off the bus twice on the journey. Once for a toilet break (where I snapped the above pic). Then I fell into a restless and uncomfortable sleep, my legs were getting pins and needles and I couldn’t seem to find an agreeable position with the fixed metal footrest being an obstruction. The second stop was at the big bus rest stop center where they give you 20 minutes break and they have food available, also a convenience store is there and I buy a Meiji water for 15 baht and a Bueno chocolate bar for 35 baht. I usually prefer to eat these kind of snacks when I’m travelling to 100% avoid any potential food poisoning.
We got back on the bus and set off for the final leg to Bangkok. I’m once again a bit restless but get a bit more comfortable than before due to successfully shifting my feet under one side of the footrest. Then I I fall into a deep and peaceful sleep.
‘FUTURE PARK, FUTURE PARK!!!’ I’m woken by the short-skirted Ladyboy is shouting and walking up and down the aisle. It’s 3:00am and I contemplate just getting off here and grabbing a taxi quick, but decide against it in my groggy state. We now shoot through the traffic for 30 minutes to MoChit at breakneck speed (I think they swapped drivers at Future Park). I was genuinely concerned for my safety a couple of times with the new driver changing lanes erratically, causing the bus to rock violently to and fro. We also now seemed to whoosh past the other vehicles around with wild abandon. I was relived as we finally approached traffic and the Mochit Bus Station.
I grabbed my belongings and double checked I had everything: Passport, Wallet, Phone all check. As we disembarked there were a couple of touts asking for taxis (they don’t use the meter) but as it was 3:37am there was a queue of taxis outside and plenty to go round. I chose the first one that was free and didn’t realise that it was a really beat up old banger. But, I’m happy to be on the final leg of the journey. 167 baht was the final fare after a 30 minutes ride and I’m at home sweet home in central Bangkok.
No need for another Visa Run for a while and all in all it was a successful (and relatively cheap) trip. Sure, I could have done it cheaper but sometimes if you try to go too cheap you end up paying the price with bad experiences.
Here is a complete breakdown of my spends for the entire trip (in baht):