Vang Vieng

Arrival

I quickly located my hostel, Real Vang Vieng Backpackers Hostel 2 (lol, what a ridiculous name), and checked in.  As soon as I had dropped off my bag I heard the unmistakeable Scottish accent of Alex drunkenly shouting nearby in the bathrooms.  I quickly found him and Conor and we all headed out to the nearby Milan pizza place that has a rather interesting menu.  We proceeded to get fairly wasted there and at the Rasta bar across the road, and then ended up another place called Viva Bar that does free drinks from 10-11pm.  I can’t remember but I think we were there until quite late.


In the morning I managed to awake in time for free breakfast and then signed up to go tubing with some other people from the slowboat.  I bought a waterproof phone wallet to keep my phone and money dry in, then relaxed at the hostel until time for tubing.  They took us up the river to the starting point in a tuk-tuk and then we proceeded to float down to the first bar, which rather stupidly is only about 10 meters away.  After having some free very watered down shots of cheap whiskey some of us played volleyball for a bit .
The weather was crap and there didn’t seem to be much of a vibe but we had a few drinks anyway and watched some people play beer pong with the staff.  Then we all jumped back in our tubes and floated off again.  Along the edge of the riverbank is the remnants of old bars and various slides and ziplines that were taken down in 2012 after a string of deaths on the river.  It gives the whole place a kind of sad, abandoned feel and as much as I tried to have fun to be honest the whole tubing experience was fairly rubbish.
16708372_10158321089550220_4684205217799311368_n
The volleyball at the first bar and basketball that we played at the next bar were about the only fun things.  You could tell everyone else felt the same, as they just sat around drinking boredly and waiting to get back in the tubes so we could finish.  I fell asleep in the tube for a bit after the second bar and when I awoke the sun was setting and it was cold.  We hadn’t reached the end yet but the river was flowing slowly and it was late so we all climbed out and got a tuk-tuk back.

16648998_10158352725590220_5881898214382543277_n
After that we spent the rest of the day chilling in hammocks on the riverside which was really nice and relaxing.  I swam, had a few beers and wrote quite a lot of my blog. In the evening we got chatting to some crazy Australian guys and ended up going out with them to the pizza place, again!  They told us a hilarious story about these Koreans they met in Sakura bar, where they were the previous night. The Koreans taught them some rude slur that translates to ‘Your mothers c*nt’ or something like that, so they got up and starting shouting it until they had the whole bar chanting it along to the music, much to the shock of the Koreans.
So after some food and drinks we moved on to Sakura, where you can pay £5 and drink all night.  I remember very little after arriving, but I somehow woke up in bed with a Sakura vest on and covered in crisps.

Work

Apparently I had applied for it while drunk?  Anyway I stupidly accepted because I thought it might be a fun experience and if nothing else save me some money.  It was from 7pm-3am and included free food and board, and $10 a day pay (a fair amount of money in Laos).  At first it sounded like a good idea but in the end I kinda regretted it because I just ended spending too much time in Vang Vieng.  It was a good experience though and I ended up getting an insight into how business works in Laos, which is to say it doesn’t work since they ended up not paying me.  I still got free food and board though.
16832034_10158352739530220_3916316310300084978_n
Since I only had to work at 7pm that day and had nothing else to do I hired a bicycle and cycled to the Blue Lagoon, a popular tourist attraction in Vang Vieng.  There are actually three “Blue Lagoons” but the 2nd and 3rd one are far away so I just went to the first one. It was really nice being on a bike again and the road to the blue lagoon is beautiful – completely rural dirt road through local villages and incredible scenery.  Once there I paid the 10,000 kip entrance, locked up my bike and went in.
Essentially it’s just a riverside area with some wooden shade areas, a restaurant and a river with a rope swing and tree with a platform to jump off.  Unfortunately there was nowhere to leave my phone and wallet and I was on my own, but I asked some people who were sitting on the riverside if I could leave my stuff with them while I had a quick swim.  Then I got a beer and some fried rice, sat in the sun and spoke to some Swedish girls for a bit.  After they left I got speaking to a group of Americans on a package tour but they seemed boring so I went to bum a smoke off an old looking guy nearby.
Turns out he was South African, from George – a town near Cape Town.  I ended up having a very long conversation with him about his life which was incredible – he had lived in Tanzania and run a few businesses there and a hotel, and was now living in Cambodia and doing some ‘business’ there.  He was in his 60’s, been married twice, had two kids and was now just living and travelling in South East Asia on a motorbike.  I think I saw a bit of my future in him, minus the kids and wives.

As the sun set I had to head back for work, so I said goodbye and cycled back to town.


16938713_10158374674345220_6617148850368942363_n
I had a quick shower and food and then started my first shift.  It was obviously very simple and I liked how basic they ran things.  Just a cardboard box for the money, and a book that they wrote the bookings, names and room numbers in.  It was pretty boring work but it afforded me good time to write and compile the second part of my blog.
Nothing particularly interesting happened the first night, but it turned out he had kind of lied about the hours. Although he said I only had to work until 3am, he actually wanted me to sleep in the reception of the hostel until 6:30am when the morning person came in.  I agreed when he first told me because it seemed pointless arguing, but as soon as 3am came I realised this was a mistake.  It was impossible to sleep on the hard bench in reception and all these drunk young Americans kept coming and going and waking me up.
Eventually the morning person showed up so I went to bed and tried to get a few hours sleep, but being that I was in a 8 bed hostel this didn’t work so well either.

Meeting The Irish

Needless to say the next day I was feeling rough and not very happy with life, so I went on a walk away from town looking for something chilled and relaxing to do.  Right at the far end of a small road that ran along the river I found a hostel called Easy Go and by some serendipitous luck bumped into a group of awesome Irish guys (well, one was actually English but we’ll call them the Irish guys from here on for simplicity).  They had been biking through Vietnam and had come into Laos for a visa run.
I ended up spending the afternoon with them and some of their friends down at Smile Bar, just chilling in hammocks and drinking until I had to head back to work at 7pm.
When I got to work I told Tom, the hostel owner, that I couldn’t work until 6:30am again and I that we had agreed 3am so if he wants me to work I have to go sleep at 3am.  He told me that’s fine, I must just lock everything up and turn the lights off, but leave the door open so people can come and go.
That evening was also fairly uneventful, except for some guy who was tripping on shrooms and his friends kept asking to change the temperature in the room, and a Brazilian girl who was crying because she lost her phone.  I let her use my laptop to check her Facebook and she left it logged in so I added myself as a friend, and then wrote a rude post about people crying over lost phones.  I locked up and went home at 3am and luckily got to sleep quite quickly as I was exhausted.

16641042_10158347536955220_3857184302410153021_n
In the morning I met the Irish guys again and we had some breakfast and chatted about their motorbike trip.  They told me about their plans to go back into Vietnam and bike down to Ho Chi Min City, and since I showed interest they invited me to join.  I had only ridden a motorbike briefly for about an hour when I was 19, but I figured it couldn’t be that hard so I agreed to join them.
I went with two of them to book rock climbing the next day and then we had a few drinks at Gary’s Irish pub and played ‘killer’ pool.
16711907_10158325032370220_4008280429697524657_n
Holly and Ali from the Pai crew messaged to say they had just arrived in town, so I went to meet them and we had some drinks and watched the sunset at Smile Bar before I had to go work again.
The job was getting boring and I didn’t really need the money so I told Tom I could only do one more night after this.  I was also feeling quite sick and think staying up late in the cold reception area wasn’t helping.  By 2am that night everything was very quiet so I locked up and went to sleep so I could be up early for rock climbing.  After I went to sleep I heard some people playing pool, which you’re not supposed to after midnight, but I couldn’t be bothered to go tell them to stop.
The next morning the other women working there scolded me for not putting the lights off.  I told her I did but I guess the assholes playing pool must have put them back on and left them on. Bloody kids.

Blue Lagoon

I hurried over to the climbing place and waited but the Irish guys never showed, so I told the guy running it to hang on to my deposit as I might come back at lunch to do a half day.  I walked over to where Ali and Holly were staying and chatted with them a bit.  By mid day I still hadn’t heard anything so I decided to go with Ali and Holly to the Blue Lagoon.
They got a scooter and I decided it would be a good idea to hire a motorbike and learn how to ride. Fortunately there was a really old clapped out bike for rent literally right next to their bungalow, and it was only £4 for the day.  It took a bit of getting used to the gears and kick starting it, but after about half an hour I had it figured out.  Along the way it stalled a few times but we made it eventually.
After having a swim to cool down, we chilled in a funky little wooden hut-like shade thing and had some food and beer. Then we did some jumps and flips off the rickety wooden tree platform thing that was about 5 metres high and went to explore a nearby cave.  There are loads of caves in the area and they go really deep into the mountains, but they aren’t spoilt with lights and safety barriers like other popular tourists caves I had been to.  They are just empty, natural caves so you have to have your own light and if you get lost inside you’re on your own.  We didn’t have lights though other than our phones, so we just explored the entrance bit and the first cavern which is lit by natural sunlight through a hole in the roof. It had a cool Buddha shrine in the middle of the first cavern but other than that was fairly boring.
Then we drove back and I quickly dropped off the bike before heading to work.  On the way I bumped into the Irish lads and they explained they had not been able to find the climbing place in the morning so had just ended up going in the afternoon.  It was a pity as I’d liked to have joined them but I wasn’t too bothered about climbing so decided I’ll get my deposit back the next day.  That night at work there was a new English guy working with me who was going to take my position when I leave. We chatted a bit but I was still feeling sick so I mostly just wrote and sat on the internet.

Easy Go Hostel

The next day I packed up and left Real Backpackers.  I asked the owner for my money for 16730361_10158351878480220_9033012241937063942_nthe four days I had worked but he said I only get paid if I work the whole month, which was bullshit obviously but what can you do.  It’s not like I had a contract, and I was a foreigner.
So I left Real Backpackers, got my climbing deposit back luckily and went to check into Easy Go Hostel.  I met up with Ali, Holly and another girl Benny who works for Viva Bar.  We all went to get some food, a joint at Jaidee’s Bar and then went and chilled the rest of the day in the floating tubes at Island Bar.
Towards evening Benny had to go to work and me and Ali wanted to go to the Jungle Party.  Holly wasn’t keen though so she headed back to chill at her bungalow and me and Ali went to the Rasta Bar first to get energy for the Jungle Party and then got the free tuk-tuk from the pizza place to the Jungle Party.
16711704_10158352140670220_2504566826542150685_n
The Jungle Party was pretty awesome, I was quite wasted already when we arrived and was chatting to loads of people. They did a fire limbo which I attempted but failed quite badly at.  I’ve really got quite unfit on this trip.  Towards 1 or 2am a girl asked if I wanted to get a balloon, but then expected me to pay when we got them. I was like, no you offered, you gotta pay.  We had a bit of banter but she ended up buying them, but ofcourse I bought her another one later.  We danced and flirted for the next hour or so and shared a few drinks and cigarettes. At some point I lost Ali and he headed home on his own.
I had a feeling this girl was quite young so I asked her and she said she was only 21, which was a bit of a bummer cos that’s even below my threshold.  We shared a kiss anyway and she paid for my tuk-tuk home because I was out of money.  Then we kissed a bit more before she had to go into her hostel, and I can’t remember if we made plans to meet again or not but it’s probably for the best that I forgot.

New Crew

I had also met a cool crew of two American guys, a Canadian and a German girl the night before who were sharing my dorm.  The next morning we all made plans to go tubing together.  I had already done it twice but hey, they seemed like a fun group to go with. A kiwi guy from our dorm checked out that morning and left us a bottle of whiskey and a bag of rice, so me and Kendall, the one American, drank the bottle of whiskey for breakfast.  Ali and Holly joined us and the seven of us all went to rent tubes and get a tuk-tuk to the river.  I was so wasted before we even got to the first bar I barely remember anything.  I do vaguely remember playing the most ridiculous game of beer pong where we were literally just throwing ping-pong balls at each other and randomly drinking.  At one point I gave Kendall a ball and said ‘You either mexi-can or mexi-can’t” – meaning for him to try get a ball in, and because earlier I had given him my yellow cap and when he put it on he looked just like a Mexican.  It was funny. You had to be there.
16708607_10158329336440220_4982594275506443244_n
Anyway I assume at some point we floated to the next bar which is where shit really got messy.  I was proper wasted and was shouting at Ali who was dancing to take his pants off, and then broke my thumb trying to pull them down.  Then I bought some food and went to drown my sorrows on my own at a little picnic table in the river.  After eating I fell asleep in my tube floating in the river but got stuck on some rocks.  Eventually the others came down and pushed me off so I just floated down the river sleeping.
I must have woken at some point as it was getting cold.  Some girls were floating nearby and I told them we should get out as it gets really cold down the river.  We all got out and arranged to get a tuk-tuk together.  I was obviously trying to pick one or both of them up but I’m sure I was too drunk to even talk, but I walked them back to their hostel anyway and made plans to meet later.
That never happened as I fell asleep as soon as I got back to the hostel.  I also realised I had left my flip-flops and shirt at the bar on the river, so after my nap I went out barefoot to Viva bar with some people, but I can’t even remember who.  All I remember is waking up at 3am asleep on the sofa in the hostel, with very dirty feet and a slight hangover.

The next day we all decided to go get breakfast and then hire scooters to go to Blue Lagoon 3, which was apparently the better Blue Lagoon and quite far away.  I bought some £2 flip-flops and then we hired some scooters for £6 and headed off across the rickety wooden bridge and towards the lagoons.  For some reason we ended up going around the long way and took about an hour driving through tiny villages and awesome scenery.  Me, Ali and Holly were going a bit slower so we lost the others, and then realised we had passed it so turned and went back.
16682051_10158374674400220_5547457659902678463_n
Eventually we found it thanks to Holly looking for directions on her phone.  Unfortunately the lagoon is actually just a man made pool with some zip-lines and a rope swing, and is built right up next to a mountain that blocks out the sun in the afternoon.  I don’t really know why people say it’s better.  Anyway, I got a beer and then we wandered along a path into the jungle and found Kendall and Verena near a cave mouth.  It had a very small entrance and Holly is claustrophobic so her and Ali stayed behind while me, Kendall and Verena ventured in with only our phones for lights.
The cave went really deep and soon got pitch black, with tiny holes you need to sneak through to get to the next caverns.  They had built some very dodgy looking wooden ladders to get up and down and we precariously navigated these in the pitch black.  I put on a brave face in front of Kendall and Verena but I won’t lie, I was shitting myself the entire time.  For a start we weren’t really keeping track of where we going so could have easily gotten lost, plus there was no phone reception ofcourse and Verena’s battery was dying on her phone.  Luckily we managed to find the way out after getting slightly lost for a bit, and I’ve never been so happy to see sunlight and breathe fresh air.
16832226_10158374674500220_146208446898438470_n
We went swimming for a bit after that as we were covered in sweat and dirt from the humidity in the cave, and did the rope swing and zipline a few times before heading home.  On the drive back we saw quite a bad scooter accident but it didn’t look like anyone was seriously hurt, even though the scooter was in bits.  That evening I went to Sakura bar again with Verena and Shenaz and then to Viva again, but we didn’t stay late.  I could tell I was done with Vang Vieng.  I’ve had a lot of fun here because of the people I’ve hung out with, but essentially Vang Vieng is a shit hole and I wouldn’t bother going if I were you.

Vientiane

The next morning I woke up with a strong resolve to get back on the road.  Kendall wanted to stay another night and I think he was a bit disappointed because I had said I would too so we could hitch hike together with Gus to Don Det, but I just couldn’t do another day in Vang Vieng. I was thinking of hitching but I was hot and tired and the bus to Vientiane was only £5 so decided to take that.  Verena, and Gus also decided to leave so we all got the four hour bus together. In Vientiane Gus left to get a sleeper bus to Don Det and Verena met up with some other people and got a hostel with them, so I headed off to find the Irish guys who were staying at a hostel nearby, with a German girl Sammy who had joined them.

I found them and checked in and then we all went to get food together at a really good Indian place nearby, and then went to play ‘killer’ pool at a hostel nearby.  By midnight the others were drunk and headed home but me and Craig wanted to party so we went to this club nearby that the hostel told us about.
It turned out be a huge super club with massive sound system, lights and thousands of people.  We bumped into two Irish girls who I had met in Vang Vieng and flirted with them all night, but just as it was time to leave they both jumped on a scooter with some pro-footballer to go with him to an ‘after-party’.  I’m pretty sure the ‘after-party’ was his hotel room.  Anyway it was 4am and we were wasted so I got a tuk-tuk back and Craig wandered off to find god-knows-what.

16865078_10158374667280220_2343736100689780706_nThe next day I got a lift with them on their bikes to the bus station so we could all get a sleeper bus to Da Nang in Vietnam.  They had decided to rather try get their bikes on a bus because they had come on the road in to Vientiane and said it’s terrible.  We haggled for a bit and eventually got them to take all 3 bikes for $200 and about $30 each per person.
We had a few hours to hang about until the bus so we went for a very weird lunch in a strange place with huge soups, I took a picture on a tiny pink bike, and then got down to the job of dismantling the bikes to put on the bus.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to help so I sat on the curb in the bus station and wrote my blog and drank beer.  Then me, Craig and Dave walked about half a mile to find an ATM as we all had no money to buy snacks for the trip, and luckily we managed to hitch hike back.  16681619_10158374667265220_6655118628413821313_n
Eventually it was time to go so we got some supplies and found some spots at the back of the bus where there was 5 beds next to each other to make one huge bed.  We settled in and started drinking and listening to music and generally causing chaos.
I wanted to sleep so I took a Zanax and passed out pretty quickly, not knowing that we were gonna stop in 3 hours for dinner.  Apparently I got out and ate dinner with everyone but I have zero memory of doing so, and they said I fell asleep with my eyes open. Next thing I remember is waking up at 3am and moving to another bed as I was passed out next to Dave and Sammy.

16997890_10155841426367564_8839966731476434505_nSleeper Bus

At about 6am we were all woken up to get off the bus and go through customs, but most of the others had only just fallen asleep and were a mixture of very tired and feeling the effects of sleeping pills, so as you can imagine going through customs was rather interesting.
Protocol required that we all disembark the bus a few hundred metres from the Vietnam border and then walk through this elaborate gateway to where the visa formalities are dealt with.  This hundred metre or so walk took us about an hour, and involved numerous stops and a few extra-strength South East Asian red bulls.  I had already organised my Visa in Luang Prabang, so I was sorted and had my stamp in about 10 minutes.
16730243_10158374655975220_4005768981449159854_n
The others unfortunately had a number of issues involving the bikes and incorrect Visa approval letters, one of which only approved a visa if flying into Hanoi airport.  Couple this with extreme tiredness, a general inability to write or talk and an extreme language barrier, and you can imagine a rather hilarious experience that took about 3 hours to complete.
Fortunately in the end the right amount of money and bullshit insured we all got through, and to their credit the poor bus drivers and other passengers actually waited for us.  Luckily there was a shop in the border gate selling beer so I had something to do while I waited.  And then we all boarded the bus again and drove into Vietnam…. which is when shit gets real…. stay tuned!

Laos – The Slowboat and Luang Prabang

None of the tuk-tuks sitting around by the Laos immigration gate seemed ready to go anywhere so I just started walking the 10km’s or so towards Houayxai, the small border town where the slowboat leaves from, and a nice Chinese guy picked me up and said it’s too hot to walk!  He dropped me just near my hostel and I exchanged some baht for Laotian kip and then checked in.  The currency in Laos is so bad that everything is in the tens of thousands, so for the first time in my life I was a millionaire!  The girl who was managing my hostel thought it was quite funny as I ran in waving a huge wad of cash and pronouncing I was now a millionaire.  She introduced herself as Rose and said she came from Cambridge in England.

It was very early and there wasn’t much to do in the tiny village, so I got some beers and spent most of the day writing my blog in my dorm.  Towards evening the other dorm guests and I went for a dinner at a quaint little outdoor pizza place with lots of stray cats, and I had a few more beers.  As we got back to the dorm, Rose and a really nice Dutch guy were sitting outside drinking so I grabbed a beer and joined them.  We proceeded to get quite drunk and then at midnight the owner came out with some cookies and candles to celebrate Rose’s 24th birthday.  Soon after that the others went to bed and Rose and I started kissing and eventually ended up in her makeshift bedroom together. There must have not been a spare bed for her in the hostel, as she was sleeping on a mattress in a small corner with some sheets tied up as walls – needless to say we had to be very quiet.  At 3am she woke me up and said I need to get back to my own bed, so I kinda stumbled drunkenly into my dorm room and probably woke everyone up.

16406489_10158287829795220_6039228638114761724_n
The next day I discovered there had been a big fire in the town, and that’s why Rose had woken up at 3am.  A shop and a house burnt down, but luckily nobody was hurt and the whole town got together to help put it out.  I went and bought some beer, rum and snacks, kissed Rose goodbye and then headed off with the other hostel guests to get the two day slowboat to Luang Prabang.  The boat trip started fairly quietly, but within a few hours a bunch of British people were drinking and playing music up at the front.  It started to get pretty rowdy and at one point a big Isreali guy broke a plastic chair.  For some reason the boat drivers don’t have much concept of environmentalism and throw all their trash in the river, so just as I expected a few minutes later they just threw the broken plastic chair in the river.  It would have been funny if it wasn’t so tragic, but I guess you just have to accept people how they are when 16603030_10158293718675220_6082551498680789708_nyou’re a visitor in their country.  Hopefully they learn to be more sensitive to nature before the Mekong becomes a landfill.  I got chatting to a cute Canadian girl and we spent most of the trip laughing at the chaos that was unfolding before us.  I also made friends with some hilarious Scottish guys and we shared our rum and whiskey, and proceeded to get well tanked.

By the time we arrived at Pakbeng, the tiny stopover town, everyone was pretty wasted.  Me and the Canadian girl got a room together in a cheap guesthouse, which inexplicably had a huge king size bed, with another double bed next to it.  The entire room was basically just wall to wall bed. So after showering and testing out the beds, we went out to get some food.  We also tried to find the Scottish guys and have a few drinks with them but they were nowhere to be seen, which was probably for the best since we had to be up at 8am for the second day on the boat.

16387237_10158288065295220_686721092342432982_n
I must have been quite drunk because when I awoke in the morning I initially didn’t remember where I was.  Me and Canada showered, got some breakfast and then met the others back down on the boat.  Conor, the one Scottish guy, was so hungover he just lay with his head in his hands for almost the entire trip.  I was feeling fine though, so I had a few beers with his friend Alex and just chilled and watched the beautiful scenery roll past.  Some people say the boat trip is boring but I had the best time ever – even when not partying it was fun to just chill and enjoy the river.

We finally arrived in Luang Prabang and all got a tuk-tuk together into town.  The Scottish boys were too hungover to go out so after booking into our respective hostels, me and Canada went and got some food.  I also then found out that Canada’s name is actually Amanda because I saw her filling in her hostel booking form.  Luang Prabang has a great night market and food stalls, but is slightly more expensive than most places in Thailand.  We were both still pretty tired from the boat ride so didn’t stay out late that night, we just got some two for one cocktails and chatted to a funny Australian guy who looked like the stoner from Knocked Up.
16832194_10158352703675220_7271524959014375938_n
The next day we looked for a double room in a guest house somewhere.  There wasn’t much available or affordable, but we managed to find a place for 10 USD each, and booked two nights there.  Then we went to enquire about Vietnam visas but the embassy was closed so we went to Utopia bar, a popular tourist bar overlooking the river.  I was starting to feel a bit sick by this point, and after another beer quickly realised I must have a stomach bug or something.  I was feeling very woozy and light headed, but we managed to make it back to the guesthouse before I got properly ill.  The rest of the evening I spent throwing up, but luckily Amanda did a great job of looking after me and gave me some electrolyte tablets that she had.  She went out that night to grab some dinner with the Scottish boys and I said I might join them if I felt better but instead I just slept and tried to recover.

Exif_JPEG_420
The next day I was feeling considerably better, so after putting in our applications for Vietnam visa’s we got a tuk-tuk to the amazing Tat Keung Si waterfalls.  Crystal clear turqoise water cascading over amazing limestone rock formations – it almost looks like something out of Disneyland, but it’s all natural.  We walked through a small bear sanctuary on the way and then to the first of the many various pools that make up the waterfalls.  It was early and a bit cold to swim then, so we continued up and explored the various other pools and then hiked up a small staircase and along a trail through the jungle to the source of the falls.

At the top is a collection of pools and streams over which they have built wooden walkways, and the occasional swing.  You can also take a short bamboo raft trip to the absolute source of the falls, but we felt this was far enough and Amanda didn’t think the raft looked very strong.  We took some pictures on the swing and of the spectacular view and then headed back down.  I wanted to investigate an area that said Do Not Enter but some other people coming from that way said there is nothing there, so I didn’t.  I found out later they were lying and that is actually where the secret pool is!  Bastards!  I’ll have to go back.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By the time we got down again it was quite a bit warmer so I swam for a bit and then we chilled in the sun on the lip of one of the lower waterfalls.  The tuk-tuk ride home was rather an adventure.  On the way up we had passed a crash site where a vehicle had gone off the road, and then on the way back we missed an oncoming truck by literally millimetres before seeing the recovery vehicles and witnessing the wreckage of the truck that had come off earlier.

16473949_10158302813625220_7261371939567362408_n
We chilled for a bit back at our dodgy little guesthouse and then I went to get some visa photos done, before meeting Amanda at the food market for some lunch.  We were going to go up this little viewpoint in the middle of town for sunset but it cost £2 and didn’t seem worth it, so we went to the riverbank instead.  It was a bit foggy anyway and sunset was crap so I’m glad we didn’t go up.  Then we went for dinner at another food market down a side street where for £1.50 you can fill as much as you want of various vegetarian dishes into a bowl.  I paid £3 extra for a big side of ribs, but in hindsight I didn’t need them as neither of us managed to finish our meal.  Luckily they donate any left over food to the monks, so it wasn’t wasted.

16602963_10158307987160220_5852572036283894721_nThe next day I said my goodbyes to Amanda as she was going a different way, picked up my passport from the Vietnam embassy and hit the road again.  The plan was to hitch to Vang Vieng.  I walked about half an hour to get out of town and then started hitching just past the southern bus station.  After about 15 minutes a Chinese guy took me a short way in his small car.  Then I walked another ten minutes before being picked up by a nice guy on a scooter who worked for the Elephant sanctuary.  Even though his scooter could barely cope with the two of us on it, he took me all the way to the freeway.  From there I soon got a lift in the back of a flatbed truck by three guys who were going all the way to Vang Vieng.

16507922_10158307987165220_7634862260283277552_n I knew it was a very long way so I made myself comfortable and settled in for the ride.  The guys even bought me some food and a strange pineapple juice in a bag!  They must have worked for China Power because along the way they kept stopping at various China Power plants and doing some brief business. Unfortunately none of them spoke a word of English so I couldn’t find out the nature of their work.  After  about six hours they dropped me about 10 kilometres from Vang Vieng and I managed to get two more short lifts into town, and then went in search of my hostel.

Thailand – Pai, Chiang Rai and Phu Chi Fa

Pai
This place is incredible.  I never want to leave. It’s so cheap and very easy going, so you can kind of do what you want without anyone hassling you unnecessarily. You can bring alcohol from outside into all the bars, smoke anywhere, sleep anywhere. Not to mention it’s beautiful and full of equally beautiful people. Everyone is stoned all the time, or drunk. None of the huts or places have locks on the doors. Nobody steals shit, if you lose your phone or wallet usually the next day someone will have handed it in at the bar.  You can hire a scooter for the entire day for £2. A private double bedroom (well just a wooden hut really) is about £7 and dorms can be as cheap as £3.  The entire village is the size of London’s Spitalfields market, but it has about 40 bars and restaurants!  Beers are 80p in the shop or £2 in bars, but they’re much bigger than in London (620ml bottles).  A plate of pad thai or chicken fried rice is about £1 at the many small street markets or makeshift restaurants that every local person runs from the front of their house.
15965141_10158225698915220_8232392257072063739_n
On arrival I got dropped off by the bus in town centre and walked up to the hostel with some nice Swedish guy who helped me with google maps, as my phone is now broken. He seemed friendly enough but didn’t drink or smoke and so didn’t want to come chill with me at my hostel (The Famous Pai Circus Hostel), because apparently it’s a party hostel. Anyway I arrived and immediately bumped into Ed and Genie from the hostel in Bangkok! We had a few beers and swam and watched the sunset in the infinity pool overlooking the beautiful valley of Pai.  I could tell I was going to fall in love with this place from the start.
The young English and Australian guys from the Chiang Mai hostel were staying around the corner at Darling View hostel so I went to look for them but couldn’t find them, so headed into town.  Luckily Pai is tiny so I bumped into them pretty quickly.  They told me they were planning to do a tour tomorrow for £12 that visits most of the popular local attractions, so I decided to join them.  We walked back to their hostel, played some pool and then headed back to the circus hostel to watch the fire dancing.  I drank a load of rum and coke (thanks Ed!) and beers and then I think we all headed into town to an after hours bar called Don’t Cry.  Or possibly Boom Bar.  It’s really hard to keep track of what’s going on without a working phone.  Either way we were out somewhere until fairly late.
16114581_10158221117690220_8240388135748179070_n
The next day I was woken very early by an annoying rooster right next to my hostel dorm, which was essentially just a straw hut so had no sound insulation.  However I had to meet the others at 9am anyway to get down to town and have breakfast before our tour.  We had a proper Full English breakfast together at a small cafe and then all piled into the back of a tuk-tuk and headed off.
Our first stop was the Pai viewpoint, but I was really tired still from lack of sleep and the drive was very long and uncomfortable, so when we reached it I went straight to a nearby coffee van to get a double espresso.  Then when I turned around everyone was gone!  I noticed a small path leading up a hill with a sign to the ‘highest viewpoint’ so assumed they had all gone there.  I started walking up quickly to catch them but it just seemed deserted and I couldn’t see anyone ahead. It was getting more and more eerie and then as I turned a corner I was confronted by a man wielding two machete’s and sharpening them on each other.  I got a fright but didn’t want to turn and run as it seemed rude, so I kept walking towards him bravely.  Luckily he smiled and nodded in the most unthreatening way, so I continued past.  Then I noticed all the cut bamboo he had been chopping down.  However, I still didn’t see anybody up ahead so I turned back.  I eventually found the others back at the bottom all just behind the coffee shop, enjoying the actual viewpoint.
16265584_10158221118150220_3260911198989764096_n
For some obscure reason there is a ridiculously dangerous metal ferris wheel type thing built right up there at the viewpoint, with small rickety seats controlled only be the weight of who is sitting on it. This makes it very difficult to get four people on, and incredibly dangerous to climb off, as the weight change sends the remaining three into an uncontrolled spin.  So of course we all climbed on and spent a few minutes risking our lives and limbs trying to get it spinning.  Unfortunately we didn’t have a good distributed weight ratio so the only spinning we managed to do was when one person got off, sending the others flying.  It was scarier than all the crazy shit we did at the waterpark in Chiang Mai. Good fun!
16298387_10158225716370220_632785917534593428_n
Then we continued to stop number two, the Lod Cave.  The Lod Cave consists of an extensive underground sequence of caves with a river running through it.  They have setup a tour run by the local people who take you through the cave on a series of walking paths over precarious bamboo bridges and then across the underground river on long thin bamboo rafts, lit only by kerosene lamps that they carry along.  An easy place to get lost and die a damp, 16174470_10158225714925220_3990808050471342702_ndark death if you wander away from the group!  We explored the many massive large caverns and rock formations created by stalactites and stalagmites, and then got on the rickety bamboo rafts and went to check out the deeper dark depths of the place.  It’s also home to a multitude of bats, snakes and various insects but the fearless locals make it all seem relatively safe. Deep within the last cave are centuries old wooden coffins that the ancient Thai people would send there dead down the river in.  Morbidly fascinating.
16266299_10158221118950220_8982977162919324074_n
Next were the hot springs, a somewhat calmer attraction that involves three man-made rock pools in a river heated by the natural springs that abound in this area.  We relaxed for an hour here and inexplicably spent most of the time searching for coins on the riverbed after one of the group found a 5 baht coin.  The last stop was the Pai Canyon, the most incredible rock formation I’ve ever seen.  It involves huge veins of hard rock around which the softer soil has eroded away, leaving a maze of very high thin ridges to walk along.  Super dangerous and something that would never be open to the public in health-and-safety-obsessed Europe.  Some parts were only inches wide with hundred 16142281_10158220996380220_3576038685444736075_nfeet drops on either side.  Obviously I found it necessary to run along these while filming and not concentrating particularly hard.  From one of the many vantage points we sat and watched the sunset over the beautiful Pai valley, and then eventually headed back into town.  I can’t remember what we did that night, there was supposed to be a beer pong competition at my hostel, but I think we headed out to town, probably to Boom Bar or Yellow Sun.
The next day I bumped into two other friends I had met at the waterpark in Pai, and we went to a bar to get ‘special’ happy shakes.  The didn’t have any available at the time but we put in an order for later that night and then got some drinks and played ping pong.  Then Bruna, the Brazilian girl from the lock-in bar in Chiang Mai, messaged me to say she had arrived in Pai and was at the circus hostel so I headed back and chilled in the pool with her and some of her friends for the afternoon.  That night was another fire show, so we took the special shakes and enjoyed the amazing lightening effects it all created. I felt like I was on a beach in Brazil because of all the palm trees around, and because earlier we had been discussing a Brazilian psy-trance party, Universo Paralello.  At some point we ended up at Don’t Cry again, but I was pretty tired and wasted by then so I headed back to bed early… ish.
16143122_10158225702630220_8571485842807859953_n
I awoke the next morning to find everyone at the hostel setting up for yoga, so I decided to join in even though I’m not usually a fan.  It worked a charm on getting rid of the hangover though! I spent the rest of the morning practicing slackline and after that met up with Tim, Chris, Ali, Holly, Fabio and Ani from the Chiang Mai hostel – we all hired scooters and drove off to find a waterfall to swim in.  It was freezing cold and shrouded from the sun by trees and towering cliffs, but most of us braved it and dived in.  After the initial shock it was actually quite nice, and I felt like I was buzzing after getting out.  I guess it really gets the blood flowing!
Then we went to the canyon again as some of them had not seen it yet, and I found some new places I hadn’t seen before.  Afterwards we just headed back to Circus hostel to swim and get all the canyon dust off ourselves and then to a cheap bar called Almost Famous that has half price cocktails for only 60 baht (£1.50)!  Once that closed, me and Tim headed over to Don’t Cry, the only bar open after 12.  As we got to the door we met a French girl named Amy who had just arrived in Pai and was finishing her drink outside.  We chatted and had a few drinks and I told her about the yoga every morning at my hostel, so we connected on facebook and made plans to meet at 9am the next day for yoga.
img_20170126_130235
Annoyingly the one day they don’t do yoga is Thursday and I didn’t know, so sadly Amy came all the way for nothing.  But at least she came, and since she was there we decided to go meet the others and have breakfast.  As usual in Thailand the food took really long and it was almost midday by the time we were done.  Then it was time for the kiwi girl Emily to leave back to New Zealand, Tim was tired and wanted to sleep and the others didn’t seem up for doing much, so me and Amy took my scooter and decided to go explore.
First we visited the World War 2 memorial bridge, which turned out to be really lame.  It’s quite small and old and right next to a big highway bridge with lots of traffic, so not the charming bridge they make it out to be in promotional photos.  16387884_10158274553305220_4616688809976260231_nThen we went to the Canyon which is usually a trip for sunset but we decided it would be good to go now and beat the crowds.  The canyon’s crazy precipices and thin walkways usually scare most people, but Amy had no fear and by following her I discovered some of the most dangerous bits of the canyon that I had yet to see even though this was my third visit.  As we were leaving we bumped into some others from my hostel who were going to a waterfall and invited us to join.  We quickly headed back to Amy’s hostel to get her bikini and then found the waterfall.
Unfortunately this time of year the farmers re-route a lot of the water to irrigate the rice paddies, so there was no water, just some green stagnant pools.  Needless to say we didn’t stay long and decided watching sunset from the Circus hostel infinity pool was probably a better idea, which it most certainly was.  We practiced slackline and hula-hoop for a bit (as you do at a circus hostel) and then headed into town to drop off the scooter and book white water rafting for tomorrow.  After grabbing some cheap £1 dinner at Pai’s best restaurant with no name, Amy headed back to her hostel to get to bed early so we could be up at 6:30 for the rafting.  I bumped into Ali and Holly on the way back to my hostel and we had some drinks in town at Banana Bar before heading to bed.
16299555_10158250258715220_1884359105317134772_nIn the morning I met Amy and the two other rafters on our trip for breakfast at 7am, then we all piled into a truck for a 2 and half hour uncomfortable ride to the river for rafting.  Being off-season the water was low so we didn’t encounter any huge rapids, but it was a really awesome day out in beautiful untouched nature close to the border with Burma.  We floated down the river, saw some buffalo and monkeys, swam and enjoyed some hot mud treatment at a small hot spring on the riverside. There were a few fairly decent rapids, but really the best part of the trip was just floating serenely down the river amongst the amazing natural rainforest.  16298878_10158250250930220_5074771363013308020_nLunch was provided as the traditional style vegetable fried rice wrapped in banana leaves, which we ate on the boat along with watermelon and clementines.
The hot spring was really just a trickle of water from where a small hot spring joined the river, and it was boiling hot – so hot you could barely touch it.  But it heated up the mud in a section on the riverbank, and Amy started throwing mud on me so I threw some back at her and soon we were bother covered.  It was quite nice though rubbing it over your body and apparently this is something people do, especially when they want to be children again.  We swam for a bit to get clean and continued on down the river through a few more rapids and a lovely calm area where we could swim again.  At the end of the day we reached a small resort where we took the boats out of the river, all had a shower and then piled back into the cars to head home.
My hostel was fully booked that evening so after some more super cheap food at the place across from Circus Hostel I grabbed my stuff and moved to Paizen River Jam hostel where Amy was staying as it was a much more chilled vibe after four days at the crazy Circus Hostel.  We didn’t party that night because after the long day both of us just wanted to get some sleep.  Amy does geo-caching, a kind of world wide treasure hunt, where you use an app on your phone to find small boxes or tubes that people have hidden around the world.  Then you open the box and add your name to a slip of paper inside and re-hide it for the next person.  So before heading to bed we went in 16298919_10158269668265220_5003526279976296831_nsearch of the only two geo-caches that were hidden in Pai, and found both!
The next day there was a festival called Norwegian Wood in the afternoon.  I did some much needed clothes shopping in the morning and bought a hoodie, two shirts and two pairs of pants for about £10!  I met the rest of our small crew around 2pm at Sabai Gardens where they were all staying. We walked down to the Sunset Bar first for a few drinks and then we headed off on quite a long walk to where the festival was.  It was quite strange, not the usual festival vibe we expected – very chilled and very local, almost all Thai people.  At first we were the only ones there, and didn’t want to spend a lot of money on beers at the bar so kept walking down the road to a little shop selling them at half the price and then sneaking them in.
As the night progressed the festival got busier and the music got weirder and weirder, with some really strange dramatic performances by this women dressed all in white and dancing like Bjork.  We had some food and really nice traditional Thai coffee and then eventually thought it might be time to head into town and find somewhere more normal to party. The others wanted more food but Amy and I weren’t hungry so we went in search of Chinese new years celebrations.  Unfortunately we soon discovered we were a day late for Chinese new year and couldn’t find the others again so we just went to Boom Bar, which was playing really good music and we had a great time drinking and dancing there until midnight.
I spent the following morning writing my blog and just melting into a hammock for hours at the Paizen hostel because it’s so chilled.  The others had mentioned heading to the White Buddha at some point so I went over to Sabai Gardens in the afternoon to meet them.  We were waiting for Tim who had gone to buy underwear because he burnt all his clothes in a fit of bedbug fear, so we played a few rounds of cards and then got a message from Tim that he was already heading to the White Buddha so we went to meet him. 16298692_10158255206265220_545769760174422916_n The White Buddha is a new attraction so unfortunately it was still being built and had some scaffolding that spoilt it a bit, but still we watched a lovely sunset from up on the high hill it’s on and then I heard from someone there that there is a festival just around the corner playing drum & bass and electro music.
We tried to find it for awhile but everyone was so hungry that we gave up quickly and went for food instead. This was a pity because Amy was there and said it was amazing but couldn’t get hold of me because I didn’t have a phone!  When I got back to the hostel and checked my laptop I got her message to say she was there and so headed off to find it, but it was miles away and I walked for ages without getting a lift.  By the time I got there the festival had ended, but we chilled by the fireplace anyway and drank some local wine out of traditional bamboo cups before heading back on Amy’s rental scooter.  I think it was quite late by then so we just went to bed, as we had plans to be up early and hitch hike to Chiang Rai in the morning.
After making some signs for hitching we said cheers to Tim and headed off for the highway to hitch back to Chiang Mai and then on to Chiang Rai.  Literally within 5 minutes someone picked us up and we had a lovely comfortable ride to Chiang Mai in the back of a small pickup truck.  It was much nicer than a hot, enclosed bus – and free!  This was the start of my love affair with hitch hiking!  The guy dropped us on an odd street on the outskirts of Chiang Mai so we had to walk for a bit to get to the freeway that led to Chiang Rai.  Luckily Amy persuaded a small delivery truck packed full of what seemed like an 16427696_10158269614285220_7214079013642045693_nentire family to let us ride in the back for a few kilometres to the freeway.  Then we grabbed some water, got some good luck blessings from a local man and within 10 minutes had a ride to Chiang Rai!  Amazing!  I couldn’t believe how easy it is hitching, and so much more fun and comfortable than taking buses or trains.
Upon arrival in Chiang Rai we didn’t have any planned accommodation, so just walked around asking places.  Most places on the main tourist street were fully booked unfortunately, but we eventually found one called Shaman Guesthouse down a quiet side street that had a private double room for 300 baht, and the owner was French so him and Amy got on well and chatted a bit. For dinner we went to this really cool cheap street food place with a view of this insane clock tower that plays music and changes colours for a few minutes every hour.  There isn’t much nightlife or anything like that in Chiang Rai so we just played a few games of pool in Chicken Bar (every bar is named after an animal for some reason) and then got to bed early so we could be up early and get to the white temple before all the tourists!
16473034_10158269616840220_8899488426879368753_n
This didn’t work out as well as we hoped – apparently the tour company buses have the same idea and even though we were up and out early it was already packed by 8am when we arrived!  So we ditched that plan and decided to try again the next day.  We drove up the road a bit to look for the Khun Kong waterfall, and after a short half hour hike through the beautiful jungle we found it.  It was still early though so it was freezing cold, but we were brave and went for a swim anyway. I wanted to skinny dip but Amy was scared people might come and public nudity is not well received in this part of the world, so we just swam around a bit and went behind the waterfall into a little cave like place and climbed up onto the rocks.  16387854_10158269618770220_1936253460528816147_nAfter about half an hour of swimming it was getting too cold, so we got out and shivered while trying to dry ourselves and get dressed.  On the hike back through the jungle we took a different route along these amazing bamboo bridges that are really well designed and incredibly strong.  Bamboo is such a useful material for building things, and the Thai people use it in some ingenious ways.
We had heard about a “beach” somewhere in Chiang Rai, so back on the scooter we googled it and headed off to find it.  On the way we stopped and got some really cheap lunch at a tiny little place that had no English menus, but we somehow managed to communicate ‘vegetable fried rice’.  You could tell the locals thought it was quite strange that ‘farangs’ were in their restaurant.  Unfortunately the first beach we found was really crap, so we headed off to find another one that looked a bit better.  This one was the real deal – it even had a sign saying “Chiang Rai Beach” very proudly.  They use the word ‘beach’ a bit loosely though as it was really just a grassy riverbank, but it was still nice and sunny so after buying some beers, snacks and a pink egg (don’t ask) we lay down and suntanned a bit, and then I taught Amy how to skim stones because apparently French kids don’t learn this while growing up in Paris.
As evening descended we scootered back to the hostel and then went looking for the night bazaar which we were told is really cool.  16388255_10158269619775220_6798673815345269865_nAfter walking around looking at all the cheap knock-off clothes and eating watermelon we found this cool little square with loads of tables, a live music stage and food stalls surrounding it.  Some traditional Chinese dancers came on and two young local guys played guitar and violin while we ate this strange hot and spicy vegetable soup that you cook yourself at the table in a clay pot.  The whole experience was great and it was the most genuinely traditional local type thing I had done so far on the trip.
At 5AM we were up and back off on the scooter to the White Temple.  It was pitch black and freezing (well, it was about 15 degrees which is freezing for Thailand) and we arrived at about 6am. Luckily one little coffee shop was open so we had some coffee and Chinese steamed buns while awaiting the sunrise.  As the sun rose more and more people started arriving with presumably the same idea as us, but luckily no tourist buses… yet.16473249_10158269576175220_576118562316320323_n  Our mission succeeded and we got loads of really good pics of the temple in varying degrees of light, and even though a bus did arrive at 8am, we still managed to get in first and get some pictures inside without loads of people.  The inside of the temple is so weird, because it’s decorated at the back with all these cartoons and characters from western culture, like Harry Potter and Terminator.  It’s supposed to depict how these things are bad and then as you move toward the front of the temple where Buddha is it depicts serene, heavenly type scenes.  Bizarre.
Amy wanted to leave at lunch time to go to Phu Chi Fa, and she wanted to go alone because it was something special to her, so after the temple we went back to the hostel to pack and get her stuff and then had a quick lunch next to the bus stop before she left.
16388023_10158265174625220_4948663679027204077_n
I did some much needed washing and then rode around on the scooter looking for somewhere to buy a new phone.  I found a huge western-type strip mall which had lots of electronics shops and I found some nice cheap phones, but didn’t have enough cash on me to buy them then and didn’t have any cards either.  I thought maybe I’ll go back the next day but never did.  The rest of the afternoon I spent looking for hot springs, but instead found the Goddess of Chiang Rai – the hugest Buddha statue I’ve ever seen!  Seriously, this thing is like 10 stories high.  I was running low on petrol by this point so I headed back, dropped off the scooter and then just went to chill in the hostel.  Just after dark I heard some music coming from nearby so I went to investigate.  I walked around for an hour but couldn’t locate the source of the music, so gave up and just walked back to the main street where the bars were.  I found a really strange bar where a big hen party or something was going on, which is very uncommon for Chiang Rai, so I had a drink out there for a bit while laughing at everyone dancing. A bit later I was turned away at the next bar because apparently I was too drunk, so I just went home and slept.
16387031_10158269619950220_6085174445960002860_n
The next day I moved from the guesthouse to Ti’Amo hostel which was a bit cheaper for a dorm bed than the private room on my own.  Amy was coming back from Phu Chi Fa to get a bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai, so I met her for lunch after buying a very cheap new phone from 7-11.  We had lunch and said some sad goodbyes as she hitched off toward the south bus station.  After she left I headed back to the hostel and just chilled as I didn’t really have anything to do.  I got chatting to a Slovenian guy who seemed really nice so we went and played some pool together.  He was an investment banker or something so we spoke a lot about all the financial problems in Europe.
The following day I borrowed a free bike from the hostel and cycled to the blue temple, which was disappointing but luckily I saw a nice bike shop nearby with 5000 baht bikes.  I kind of wanted to buy one to join Tim and his friends on their bike tour to Myanmar, but I knew I also had a whole bunch of other plans lined up, like Laos and Vietnam.  Instead I ended up getting a very cheap local bus to Theong and then hitch hiked from there to Phu Chi Fa.  I had to get 3 lifts, one with a guy who worked for the department of corrections, one on a scooter, and another with a wealthy couple from Bangkok.  I arrived towards evening, checked into a tent and then got a beer and watched the sunset at a nearby restaurant.
I could barely sleep that night because a cat was dying outside my tent, but I still managed to wake up at 5am to go watch the sunrise over the surreal Phu Chi Fa valley, high above the clouds and very moody and beautiful.  I didn’t want to spend more money getting a lift up the mountain in the morning like most people do, so I just hiked up in the pitch black with all my stuff. 16427597_10158283901180220_4920142288172599628_n It was a pretty sharp incline and an intense hike through thick jungle, so even though it was freezing cold I was covered in sweat by the time I reached the top.  It was really nice being in nature alone during the hike up, but once I got to the top it was crowded with thousands of people.  So much for it’s tagline as “the most beautiful place you’ve never heard of”.  Apparently a few other people got the memo.
To avoid the crowds and constant chattering I went past the ‘danger’ fence, found a comfy spot on the edge of a cliff and put my headphones in.  The sunrise at Phu Chi Fa is too amazing to try describe in words, so I’ll just say that if it’s the last thing you do before you die, go see it.  It’s nothing less than FREAKIN’ INCREDIBLE.  My heart was bursting out of my chest in awe and I was listening to power ballads as usual, so all in all it was a fairly emotional experience.
16387110_10158282906110220_2554873429819093369_n
After hiking back down I got some breakfast at a small restaurant and then hit the road again to start hitching to Chiang Kong.  A lovely couple from Bangkok picked me up after only a few minutes and we started the drive towards Theong.  Along the way I got chatting to the girl because she spoke English quite well but her partner didn’t, and she was fascinated to hear about my trip and the fact that I quit my job and left my life behind to come here.  As we neared Theong she decided they would change their plans and take me all the way to Chiang Kong as they wanted to explore some of the golden triangle area near there.  How awesome!  She also added me on Instagram and said I should message her when back in Bangkok.
They dropped me in Chiang Kong town centre because they thought that’s where the Visa place was, but it was actually about 10 km’s back at the new “Friendship bridge”, so I started hitching again and some nice guys took me all the way to the immigration office at the bridge.  I exchanged a few thousand baht for dollars as apparently that’s what they prefer when paying for the Laos visa, and then got a bus across the bridge to the Laos immigration gate.  The process was fairly quick and easy and then I was in Laos.