Sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam is the undiscovered country of Laos. When I say “undiscovered”, I simply mean it was undiscovered to me.
There I was spinning the globe in my room looking for my next overseas adventure travel. Spining, spining, spining, … I made the globe come to rest in Southeast Asia. The first spot I tried to find on the globe was Singapore. I never really cemented in my mind where Singapore was located. Searching around for a minute, I saw that Singapore was at the bottom tip of Malaysia. It is due east of the Philippines.
Okay, mission one was accomplished. Next, I let my eyes wander up towards Thailand. I see Bangkok, I see Chiang Mai, then I see Laos. The first thing I noticed was that there are only two cities listed on the map: Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
“There are only two cities listed. Laos must be an undiscovered country,” I thought jokingly. I must make Laos my next overseas adventure travel destination.
And just like that, I would go to Laos.
I was already planning a trip back to Thailand so taking a side excursion to Laos would not be too bad. A quick look at Wikipedia showed me that the country has 6.7 million people in a land mass of 69 square miles. That means there is a lot of space to roam around. As long as there is internet, buses, cars, motorbikes, planes and trains, I’m good to explore.
Getting to Laos would be fairly straightforward. Option one was to fly. Several airlines including Lao Airline fly directly into Vientiane, the capital. From Thailand, I have the choice of Thai Airline, Air Asia, and a few others. From the Philippines, Philippine Airline, China Southern, Air Asia and others service this route.
Since I would be in Thailand already, the other option was to take the train. Hmmm. Taking an overnight train would
- Be cool to see the countryside;
- Save me money on an overnight hotel room;
- Cheaper than flying.
Here’s how it is broken down in more detail in case you are using this blog as an actual guide for your travel:
- Buy your train ticket at Hua Lamphong Train Station in Bangkok. Do this at least a week ahead of time because tickets sell out. They will give you a choice of which class ticket to buy -- 1st class, 2nd class or economy class. 1st class means you get your own room. 2nd class means you share a table with other passengers. 3rd class is rough. Forget about 3rd class.
- Arrive at the train station about 30 minutes before your scheduled departure. Pack light because there isn’t much room for luggage.
- Since it is an overnight train, it will be an evening departure. Grab some food from the train station before you board or you can eat in the dining car. You won’t have much to choose from on the train so it is best to buy food before you board. The other issue is that the dining car has limited seats so you will be forced to wait.
- The train attendant will convert your seat into a bed after dinner. If you are in 2nd class, you will lose your table. Your seating area will be converted into a bunk bed. Your privacy will be your curtains. The noise will come through though so better hope that you don’t have noisy neighbors. Of course you could very well be that noisy neighbor to others. In the 1st class room, the bunk beds are already in place. The train attendant simply puts down our sheets.
- Wake up the next day and have breakfast on the train. Continue to charge your phone or read emails if the wifi is working. If you are in 1st class, there are shower rooms, albeit small.
- The train arrives at Nong Khai station. You get off the train.
- Walk to the ticket booth and buy a train ticket to Laos. They will try to sell you an expensive ticket that includes the van. If you want to save money, just buy the train ticket.
- Walk through Thai immigration. Have your passport and departure card ready to show.
- Wait for the train to Laos on the platform. The ride is very short but very scenic. You will go over the Mekong River which separates Thailand and Laos.
- At the Laos train station, be prepared to fill out the immigration form to enter the country. If you are part of Asean, the process is straightforward. I only had to pay $1 to enter. The fees and Visa requirement will vary depending on which country you are from.
- Since downtown Vientiane is not within walking distance, you will have to pay to ride in a van to get into town. The van driver will take Thai Baht or US Dollars. It is cheaper to pay in Lao Kip but there are not money changers until you get into town.
That’s it. You are in Laos!
In my next blog article, I will share what to do and how to get around Vientiane and other really cool places for adventure travel like Vang Viang and Luang Prabang.
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