Back to the future...
Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
92Trip End Jan 01, 2014
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We located Pakse bus station easily enough - down what I would imagine is the worst access road to any bus station in the world as it was just a bumpy mud bath. We bought our ticket for the international bus which would return us to Thailand and sought out some food. This entailed walking through a market primarily selling food, all of which was fly covered and looked and smelled so unappealing that I was convinced we could get chronically ill just by breathing in the fetid air
The Laos/Thai border was only around an hour away and the border crossing was relatively painless, although there was the obligatory “exit fee” (tip for border official) to pay to leave Laos before we headed through an underground tunnel which took us to the Thai entry point. The contrast between the relative fortunes of the two countries was already evident at this point as the Thai border control was a swanky affair, where fingerprint scans and photographs of each entrant were taken, whereas entry and exit to Laos had been via innocuous/tatty looking buildings. It became all the more apparent when we switched back to the left hand side of the road (after seven weeks of right hand driving) to a smooth asphalt road which was incomparable to the bumpy, dusty unsealed roads of Laos
Despite our arrival back into civilization, the scene at the bus station in Ubon Ratchathani can hardly be described as civilized as we were immediately pounced upon by various touts trying to lure us onto overnight buses heading to Bangkok. I had promised Shelley a luxurious overnight sleeper train so we politely declined, especially when we saw that the seats did not fully recline (not great for a 12 hour journey) and there was a full on disco, including disco ball, downstairs on the bus. We were cutting things fairly tight to catch the last train to Bangkok as it left around 40 minutes after our arrival. We hopped into a tuk-tuk and exchanged nervous glances as the transfer seemed to take an eternity - thankfully we arrived with ten minutes to despair. However, the news as the ticket booth was not at all good as we were told that - it being a Sunday - all of the sleeper tickets (first and second) had selfishly been purchased by locals so we were consigned to third class travel. The outside of the third class carriages told Shelley everything she needed to know about the comfort levels within and, sure enough, the carriage looked like a 50 year old cattle car, with a few hard school benches introduced for passengers. There were fans on the ceiling, together with bright electric lights, although the former did not work well and every single window had to be opened to provide any comfort whatsoever. The train’s departure was delayed more than 30 minutes beyond scheduled time (timetables are really just aspirational rather than definitive in SE Asia) and all of this time was spent with me playing a diplomatic role of trying to persuade Shelley to stay on the train, which was now our only option for getting back to Bangkok the following morning. Somehow I managed this with skill of negotiation which would now equip me to sit at the table in Brussels and salvage the Euro. Or not...