Back in BangkokWe get breakfast of fried chicken and rice and head on out. We decide against trying to take the bus then a boat, at the insistence of a tourist guide, and just take a bus towards Banglumphu. Our favourite route along the river is totally flooded, so we walk through town to the Bamboo Guesthouse where we'd had a nice stay last time we were here, nearly a month ago.
After showering, we dump our bags and split up. Jeni goes to Chatuchak market for another look, whilst I go to the business district to visit STA and discuss my options, and then to the shopping mall area near Siam Square to find out if the new Bond film is out (it isn't, previewing from the 9th, annoying).
We meet back at the guesthouse at 3:40 PM, after both having hideous journeys back, and head towards Khao San Road to get some food.
There is a baby elephant carrying bags of bananas which you could buy to feed to it, by handing them to its truck, and it would place them in its mouth. It had coarse hair along its top, which quite surprised up. Jeni turned out to be allergic to elephants.
Jeni went off to phone her boyfriend and parents, without a huge amount to success, and I ate a falafal. We look for new sunglasses to replace the pair I managed to destroy at the border the day before, but I conclude I should buy them when, ironically, the sun is out so I can see what they look like.
We return to the guesthouse, bemused by the crowds of people everywhere watching the Man U game back home, and read a bit. I go to bed fairly early, knowing we have another night on the train the next day, and eager to get lots of sleep, though lie awake for ages, considering my options.
Bangkok, 22:00 GMT+7
Back to ThailandWe get up in a leisurely fashion, have breakfast on the riverfront (where we again bump into the German couple who've been following us around, and return to the guesthouse to pack.
We take a tuk-tuk to the bus station, next to the morning market, and persaude a bank to let us change a small amount of kip into baht, unconvinced that they're legally allowed to do so. We buy sandwiches, and squash ourselves onto the bus. It seems to be indicative of Laos that nobody has ever taken any interest in the number of people using a bus route, so vast buses ply routes the government thinks people want to use, whilst tiny mini-buses run along the routes they actually use.
At the Lao side of the bridge we go through immigration, and get onto another bus, heading to the Nong Khai train station, in Thailand. I am much amused by (and deeply desirous of) the 'Visa Utilized' stamps the immigration officials get to us.
When we arrive at the train station, we realise that we have nowhere enough cash to buy tickets to Bangkok, so I take a tuk-tuk into town to change a travellers cheque whilst Jeni watches the bags. I see an elephant shifting vegetables, but not much else of interest. I eventually work out that the woman in the bank by 'Laaar Tram' means 'Lunch Time', and that I'm not going to be able to change a cheque, so take money out of the ATM.
I head back, we buy tickets for the sleeper at 6 PM, and sit around. And sit. And sit. I finish reading my book (Iain M. Banks, The Player of Gamers, not up to standard) and we sit. We buy biscuits for the trip, and I ask why we bought yellow ones. 'They're the most innocuous', replies Jeni. I joke 'They could be durian flavour', and then sniff the opening of the bag. We rush back and swap them for a much more palatable orange biscuit, orange flavour flavour.
We wait, and eventually get our bags, and head for the upper-numbered-car end of the platform (we're in car 20). There is no car 20. We sit down next to a German, and he explains that the train is delayed. Mysteriously exactly an hour. Which is when the last train goes. Oh, and there isn't a different last train, but the same one.
We go and ask what's happening, and are told that that is in fact our train, and that car 20 is next to car 8. So we get on, settle down, despite the mad conductor guy insisting that we don't sit on the seats beneath our beds despite the occupants not having arrived yet, and marvel at the wonder of fans.
Eventually we settle down, and I get some sleep, though the ride is impressively bumpy, and the violent strip lighting remains on all night. I have no idea how much I sleep, but at 6:40 AM we arrive in Bangkok.
Bangkok, 7:00 GMT+7
A morning of InternetI spend the whole morning typing up my journal for the benefit of you lovely people, and even continue after a quick sandwich lunch. And so I'm here, 3PM and off to investigate something for 360.
Vientiane, 15:00 GMT+7
Lao TextilesWe walk around the corner, where, conveniently, Lao Textiles, a potential 360 article, is located. It is a fair-trade, high quality silk textile producer, which Anna recommended we check out.
We are met by a friendly Lao lady, who seems a little confused by our attempts to meet Carol (Cassidy, the owner) without an appointment, but takes a card to show her, and returns saying we have been granted an audience.
Carol is very friendly, enthusiastic, and American. She wonders what we want to know, and fetchs three glasses of water, and sits us down to do an interview. We talk for about half an hour, and then she shows us round the workshop, outside the beautiful colonial house where the display room (come-shop) is. There are smiling women weaving, and she is very happy when a busy supervisor says that he doesn't have time to speak to us, busy with an order. She explains that it took a lot of learning for them to get to the stage where they are not too meek, confronted with farangs, to tell them that they are too busy to speak right now.
She is upset with some dyeing they've just done - it's come out grey not pearl, mundanely (and reassuringly for us normal folk) because they put in 0.78 of one colour, rather than 0.078!
It is a couple of hours before we leave the shop, and we decide to go for dinner. We head to the area recommended for grilled chicken, but it is surprisingly expensive, so whilst we get a thigh each, this isn't going to fill us up, and we also go and get a duck-noodle-soup. I ponder the strange doughnutty puffs that are everywhere, and after a mistaken period where we believe that they are 5000 kip each, rather than 500, I get one. It is surprisingly savour, though obviously intended as a dessert.
We decide to find a Lao-Lao cocktail, made with the (illegal!) rice-wine that is brewed by many Laotians, and competes with the legal brand the government makes. We head West along the riverbank, until it gets dark, and then light again when we arrive in the bar area. There are no farangs about (hoorah!).
We don't find Lao-Lao on the menu, but after asking, and some denials, the owners of a bar mysteriously find a bottle. It is pleasant, and sake-like, enough, and we drink a large glass between us. It's even cheap! (Duty-free?)
We head back into town, and I want to head to bed, so ask Jeni for the tiger balm to put on my bites, at which point she realises we left it in the restaurant earlier. We head back there, and after some amusing pointing, they realise what we're after, and search for a bit but find it. We luckily don't have to mime a mosquito biting someone and then the application of balm to the bite!
I go to the room, write a letter, read a little, and then sleep, whilst Jeni apparently chats to a government official!
Vientiane, 22:00 GMT+7
VientianeWe get the 6:30 bus - Jeni is unable to change the alarm on my watch, having discovered that it sets off half an hour later than we'd thought. There are no stops for breakfast, so when we arrive about 11, we are fairly ratty and in need of food.
We head to the intriguing sounding 'Ministry of Information and Culture Guesthouse', which has really nice three bed rooms for 4 dollars 50, but we have to wait for some rude Israelis to vacate their room an hour after check-out, so get some food in the meantime. After lunch, I head to a 100kip a minute internet place (that's 5 hours for 2 pounds), to update my journal, etc., and by the time I'm done we're eager for dinner.
We look at a couple of the cheaper western places in the Lonely Planet, but they are in dollars, and very expensive, considering. So we end up going to a (still moderately expensive) Lao, Thai, Indian, Western place, where Jeni has a Hamburger, and I have some big sticks of satay beef.
We wander along the riverfront, where there's a genuine sand and sand-dune beach, and tons of stalls where you throw darts at balloons to win drinks. There are no banana pancakes to be found, and eventually we decide to head back to the place we had dinner to get some beer and dessert.
There is no evidence of the country's supposed communism, except the naming of our guesthouse, though the city is less polarised than the famously so Bangkok.
We drink a pitcher of beer, and realise one of the German couples from Luang Prabang are sitting near us (as well as some English people from Chiang Mai we're less interested in catching up with), and go to chat with them. They talk about how you have to take days out, and I encourage them to drill this into Jeni! I'm about to fall over with tiredness, so leave Jeni talking to them, and go to bed.
Vientiane, 22:00 GMT+7
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