Yesterday was quite a day. We have hit the jackpot with our choice of accommodation in Vientiane. But I suppose that I should start at the beginning.
Our marvellous overnight train ran right on time. Clare woke up on the morning of her fourteenth birthday not far from Nong Khai, near the land border between Thailand and Laos. I say land border, but the border is actually the Mekong River. We loved watching the sun rising over the countryside as we arrived at Nong Khai at 6.45am, right on schedule.
There is no direct train that goes from Bangkok to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos. In fact, Laos has only one train line – the few kilometres that go from Thailand into Thanalaeng, well on the outskirts of Vientiane, and one train – the one that took us from Nong Khai! There is a slightly convoluted process to getting here, but it actually all ran really smoothly. After some extensive googling, we took the most straightforward option for a family of four. The overnight train to Nong Khai, then once at Nong Khai (the Thailand side) we bought another 20 baht train ticket each that would take us to Thanalaeng on the Laos side. We were going to be collected from Thanalaeng station by our hosts. If you are NOT being collected from there, I suggest you just buy the 300 baht ticket from Nong Khai that also includes minivan transfer in to the centre of Vientiane.
There were actually only about thirty people on the border crossing train, about half tourists. We checked out of Thailand immigration on the Nong Khai side, then took the train across the Mekong River. What a river it is! I had truly underestimated its size, despite having seen it on many a television documentary. Once on the Thanalaeng side we obtained visas on arrival, went through immigration, then were picked up by our delightful host Mike Boddington and driven to our accommodation, Jungle House.
You can quickly see from my photos how beautiful the physical surrounds are here. But the main reason we’re so thrilled with our choice of place to stay in Vientiane is with our hosts, Mike and Xoukiet. We could not have chosen more knowledgeable, interesting and informed people to stay with. Mike has a fascinating work history, as does Xoukiet who specialises in combating human trafficking from Laos.
You have probably figured out by now that we are not budget travellers. That said, we don’t have loads of cash to splash around on five star holidays either! We work on the premise that if we’d be happy to spend a certain amount in Australia, we’re happy to spend similar when overseas. This means that when we’re in places like Thailand and Laos we end up with much better quality accommodation than we would be in at home! We’re much more interested in staying in guest house and boutique hotel types of accommodation where we can interact and talk with people who live in the country, than we are in staying in fancy hotels that could essentially be anywhere. I found Jungle House through Trip Advisor originally – although they are also on Air BNB – then went straight to their website to see if it was the type of place we’d like to stay. It only took a couple of emails back and forth with Mike to determine that it would surpass expectations. After all, how many guest house hosts would arrange for Red Velvet Cake – her cake of choice – for their guest’s 14th birthday?
It’s time for us to go and have breakfast in the main house (we’re staying in the separate two-bedroom cottage). I have a feeling that today is going to bring many new things for all of us. We were/are pretty ignorant about the Lao People’s Democratic Republic before we arrived – so we have a great deal to learn!