The bus got into Vientiane even earlier than expected – at around 3am. Nothing to do but wait in the tatty old bus station until the border opens. I tried to get some shut-eye, but ended up chatting with a backpacker called Arin. She asked me if I could guess where she was from and my first guess was South Korea… which was right! Oh yeah! Slam dunk! Man of the World, you better believe it! Arin joined me in a taxi from the main bus station to where the buses leave for the Thai border, but she got out at the airport from where she was flying home to Singapore. I wish I could bloody well fly…
The buses to the border didn’t start until 7.30am, so I took a shared Tuk-Tuk, which was so painfully slow it was painful. He even stopped to get petrol. Consequently, it was around 6.20am before I got stamped out of Laos. Unfortunately for me, the courtesy bus over the Mekong River had either just left or hadn’t started. As a consequence I was left waiting until 6.45am before I crossed into Thailand. After passport formalities, money change, tuk-tuk haggle and all that jazz, it was 6.55am. I raced to the bus station. It was 7.03am when I arrived. The 7am bus to Bangkok had just left.
There was now little hope of me getting to Bangkok in time to subsequently get down to Kuala Lumpur in time to subsequently get on the Gold Star Line ship that was leaving for Sri Lanka tomorrow night. I paced up and down, fretted and squished my forehead between my thumb and index finger. There was nothing for it, I’d just have to buy a ticket for the next bus at 8.30am and see what happened. Well, I’ll tell you what happened. First up, it didn’t leave until 9am (why couldn’t the 7am bus have been late?!). Secondly, the bus proceeded to stop at every village, hamlet and off-license to pick up more passengers. Or just hang about needlessly.
By midday it was obvious that barring some kind of miracle (the bus from Bangkok to KL takes AT LEAST 24 hours) I would be missing the boat. Then my phone beeped. It was Mandy. Gaby, my friendly contact at Gold Star Line, had written to tell me that the ship wouldn’t be leaving tomorrow evening… it would be leaving tomorrow morning. As I don’t own a Bugatti Veyron, I figured the race was over. Gaby said he’d try to sort me out on a ship leaving at the end of the month.
So then, Bangkok for the weekend?!
Why the hell not eh?
I’m glad that the ship did leave early, otherwise I would have been having kittens as the bus driver wasted six hours of the thirteen hour journey sitting around waiting at bus stops. He even stopped for half an hour on the outskirts of Bangkok to fill the tank. I don’t know if it’s a superstitious thing, but I have noticed that coach drivers all over the world are incredibly reluctant to turn their engines off. Even while getting petrol. Of course, I got off the bus and stood a good few metres away, ready to dive behind another bus lest our one blew up.
Arriving in Bangkok I had the strangest feeling. Here’s me, Graham Hughes, the backpack king, coming to Bangkok – the city of a million backpackers. But would anybody know, much less care, about my travels? I felt like an exile returning long after everyone had forgotten the hoo-hah that got me exiled in the first place. Would the old magic still be there, or would I have become that very same jaded old cynic that I’ve been fighting against all my life?
The first signs where not good. I negotiated for a moto-taxi to take me to Khao San Road – Bangkok’s backpacker central. But less than halfway there, the heavens opened. The driver and I sought shelter on a train station platform and for a good hour I tried in vain to hail a cab. In the end I paid the driver half the cash and headed over the footbridge to get a taxi from the other side. There a friendly Thai lent me his umbrella to stand at the side of the road – I mean, this rain was Monsoonal. I eventually got a cab to stop, gave the guy his umbrella back and tried desperately to explain to the driver that I wanted dropping at the top end of Khao San, not the bottom. Of course he took me to the bottom and so it was a good 40 minutes before I reached where I wanted to be.
Then I started the thankless task of wandering around in the rain with all my bags looking for hotel that wasn’t full. I tried my usual haunts up Soi Rambutri, just northwest of Khao San, but the first seven places I tried were fully booked. Then, finally, I tried the Wild Orchid hotel on Soi Chana Songkhram – they had a single room with fan for 300 bhat. That’s about five pounds. I’ll take it!!
Dropping my stuff off in my room and after three consecutive nights sleeping on coaches, I headed down to the restaurant bar downstairs and ordered a much-needed Chang beer. I think it cost about a quid. As the crisp cold foam hit the back of my throat I felt for the first time in ages like I was home. I ended up chatting with some Canadian backpackers until dawn. Yes, I still love Bangkok.