. Bus leaves for Mukdahan spot on time and is almost full. About 10km before we reach That Phanom the strip of land between the road and the Mekhong is planted with tobacco and there are a lot of tall buildings filled with drying racks besides the road. Judging by the low level of the land it probably gets flooded each year replenishing the soil and must make a good cash crop for the local villages here. The tobacco continues for quite a few miles until we reach That Phanom at 9:30. The 'that' or chedi is Isaans most important shrine and one of the four sacred pillars of Thai Buddhism. There is an annual festival here that actually finished yesterday so I guess te place would have been heaving in people had we passed through a couple of days before. Thai's believe that they should make the trip here seven times in their lives to gain the most credit. Thankfully it is all quiet today as we pass by with the that just visible over the treetops. We arrive in Mukdahan about 10:15 and it looks like our first possible bus out doesnt leave until 12:15. This bus is bound for Bangkok and they will not sell us a ticket yet. They hope to sell all of the tickets to people wanting to travel all the way rather than like us not far at all to maximise their money. We settle down to wait and get something to eat. By midday it is looking as though the bus isnt going to take us and we will have to wait until just after 13:00 when another bus leaves heading elsewhere. At the last minute we are given what appears to be the last two seats on the bus and thank anyone we can think of for that
. The police stop the bus as we reach Kam Cha-I as they frequently do. They want everyone who doesnt have a Thai ID card to get off the bus and get their baggage out. I then realise that there are only about 6 Thai people on the bus and that everyone else seems to be Lao. I stay seated and flash my passport to the policeman as he checks the Thai ID cards but he is not really interested. They are more enthusiastic about checking the Lao passengers however and we sit here for a good half an hour. Everything is in order and we are off again. As we pass through Wacao/Kuchinerai the bus stops besides the road and the 'conductor' for want of a better word gets off and goes to a small factory where the courtyard is full of people sat on the floor sorting sticky tamarind fruits by hand. I hadnt realised, and Jai hadnt told me, that the bus didnt actually pass through Phon Thong and it dropped us off on the ring road just outside of town. It was looking like a long hot walk when a tuk-tuk passed and agreed to take us out to the village where we arrive about 3pm. Jai's first job, as always when we have been away, is to clean up after her mother and find all of the strange places she has decided to leave pieces of food. I get the coffe on then out to the garden to keep out of the way. Our tomatoes are looking a bit sad but everything seems to have survived its few days without water pretty well. I will give it all a good soaking this evening once the sun has gone.
Up at 6am it is Jai's turn to go down to reception for hot water for an early morning coffee. Had briefly thought about stopping here for a second night but have decided to get back to Khamnadie as planned. Walk along the road a bit to a Vietnamese place for breakfast. The options around here seem to be pretty small. It is nearly 7am but is still very quiet with no-one about at all. To bed early and up late sounds like a good rule for life to me. Eat some small bread rolls filled with egg and sliced Vietnamese sausages then toasted which were quite nice but you needed quite a few to fill you up. Back to the hotel and checked out then waited a while for a tuk-tuk to take us to the bus station. Get tickets for an 8:30 departure to Mukdahan which gives a while to wait. Whilst we are at the bus station I notice a couple of International Buses leaving for Tha Khaek almost empty so it would appear that the Vietnamese hoardes only travel in the one direction. Maybe next time we need to do this short trip we will do it in the reverse direction