Laos is listed among the top 20 must-visit destinations in 2023. One week into the new year and I’m already here. My plan is to spend a week in Vientiane, then hop aboard the country’s year-old high-speed train and make my way North. Currently, there’s no method for booking train tickets online. It has to be done in person, at the station. I could take a taxi, (ten miles out of town), wait in line for hours, and purchase the ticket, or … pay a small fee and have my hotel do it for me. Done and Done! I’ve been lucky, so far. From Chiang Rai, I had to fly south to Bangkok and then catch a flight to Laos. Nothing on my reservation said to clear customs in Chiang Rai. Due to a mix up with checking my bags, I was the first person in line at Air Asia. The cost was now $80.00, for my two bags. Hard pass! But, while checking, the agent noticed that my boarding pass had the wrong information.
I couldn’t get to my Bangkok flight from the domestic gate listed on my boarding pass. I needed to go upstairs and leave from Gate 6. Once at the International gate, I had to wait for the immigration officer to arrive. After a few minutes, he was there. My passport was stamped and I officially departed Thailand. I then sat, alone, for thirty minutes. Finally, other passengers slowly began arriving. We all sat there wondering how we were getting to the plane. Turned out, Gate 6 is directly opposite the jet bridge. We simply walked out the door, took a few steps, and walked on the plane. Once in Bangkok, “Fly-Thur” staff was waiting for us, at the end of the main walkway. They checked off our names and directed us to the C.I.G. Fly-Thur office. Once inside, we had to show our passports, walk through a scanner, and have our luggage rescanned. We then exited (one floor up) to the main departure area.
During the hour long Bangkok to Vientiane leg, the flight attendants handed out Arrival – Departure Declaration forms. I forgot to grab one of my pens, in Chiang Rai, as I was rearranging luggage, from checked to carry on. I paid dearly for that mistake. After arriving to Laos and entering the customs area, I now had to locate a pen. I went quickly to one of the workstations and filled out the form. Once in line, I noticed that people also had another form, the one for the on-demand visa. So, I had to leave the line and do that. Still, I was having better luck than the guy behind me. He didn’t know he needed a passport size photo or $40.00 US dollars. Luckily, a woman in line traded him $50.00 for his 50 Euros. Then, the Immigration agent waived the passport photo. Everyone takes a digital photo, after the fingerprint scanning. I guess they also used that one for his visa.
Before leaving the airport, I purchased a 15 day SIM card ($3.80) for my hotspot and exchanged 1,000 Thai Baht into the local currency. Both US dollars and Thai Baht can be used in Laos, along with Laotian Kip. My 1,000 Thai Baht came to 500,000 Laotian Kip and some change. Plus, I was finally able to get rid of that $10.00 bill, with the ink pen mark on it. I was unable to use or exchange it, in Thailand. I used the airport taxi service, to order a cab. I was too beat to take the cheaper bus and then figure out how to get to my hotel. My driver had me wait, just outside the airport, while he ran to get the car. That was much appreciated. For lodging, I went with IBIS. I practically live at the one in Yerevan, Armenia, while serving in the Peace Corps. Plus, the IBIS Styles Bangkok Silom hotel was a really good experience for me.
My hotel is next to Nam Phou Park. The area is surrounded by cafes, restaurants, and bars. The fountain in the park lights up at night. I was too tired last night, but I will definitely check this out. While walking, I noticed a sushi restaurant, at the end of the park. I can’t wait to try that. A few steps from the park, there’s a restaurant/bar, with quite a few tourists seated there. I’ll check that out too. On my first night, I opted for the bakery, across the street. Its tagline is “A Taste of North America!” The Joma Bakery has cheese cake, carrot cake, bagels, etc. The coffee is organic, fair trade, and grown in southern Laos, by a community cooperative of farmers. There’s lots of seating, upstairs, downstairs, and outdoors. I got a Reuben and slice of carrot cake to go. As I was leaving, I said, “See you tomorrow!”
My hotel booking comes with breakfast. This will work out great. I can get a good start here and then snack at night market stalls, nearby restaurants, and cafes. Today is Sunday. I have no real plans for this first full day in Vientiane. The President’s estate and Wat Sisaket are just down the street. Part of me wants to walk around and maybe check those out. The other part of me remembers that I’m sixty six and I need to slow my roll. Plus, I left the US on November 30th. I’m just one month into this five years of traveling. There really isn’t much of a reason to rush.
For now, I’m sitting in the lobby and blogging. There’s a real learning curve for that too. When should you post to Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, or YouTube? Should my personal sites have different content than my GhettoGirlTravels sites? I have no idea. Part of me wants to come up with a schedule and the other part knows that I won’t stay with it. So, here we are.
You know what’s really helpful for making decisions … cheesecake! Hang on, I’ll be right back! XOXO — GGT