Last stop before Laos
07.10.2010 - 10.10.2010 34 °C
After spending a few days relaxing, eating well, shopping in Bangkok we took an overnight train to Nong Khai, a tiny border town in the North East of Thailand. The overnight train was relatively comfortable. We splashed out on first class tickets and got ourselves a two person cabin which came with a little hand basin and room service from a lovely Thai woman who refused to take no for an answer when asked did we want a beer - it would be rude to refuse right? Despite the odd mini cockroach (not as bad as the Hué to Hanoi overnighter taken last year) and the neighbours coughing their lungs up, the beds were comfy, the beer was cold and the train trundled along at a comfortable speed throughout the twelve hour journey north.
Arriving in Nong Khai our fears of entering a typical dodgy border town disappeared. The town itself is relatively sleepy and sits on the Mekong river with Laos across the water. We were lucky enough to arrive in the middle of the annual Thai-Lao boat race so the promenade along the riverside was packed with locals cheering on the boys on the water while commentary was blaring on huge speakers along the riverside and it made for a fantastic atmosphere. Here's a link to a video Will took.
The races along with one of the most spectacular sunsets I've seen made for a nice introduction to the town. We did, however, find it slightly difficult to find anything else to do and in hindsight a three night stay may have been a bit much. The riverside in my opinion is hugely underdeveloped and is crying out for some nice bars and restaurants. Also, everything seemed to close at 8pm! Even the street food failed to inspire (despite the brief excitement surrounding the discovery of fried potato chips sprinkled with your seasoning of choice - yum).
Nong Khai is worth the visit however, not only for the easy border crossing over the Friendship Bridge to Vientiane, but for Sala Keo Ku - a park full of massive sculptures inspired by both Hinduism and Buddhism. You can read all about it here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sala_Keoku) if you like but the most impressive piece was the immense seven headed Naga snake. Very cool and to top it all off the creator of the park (who was this Laotian guru type dude but had to leave the country after the Communists took control) is entombed in this plastic bubble surrounded by Christmas lights....very strange. The same guy also created a similar park just outside Vientiane and we'll be off to investigate when we cross the border.
Onward to our first new country of the trip and more passport stamps!!!!!