I’ve booked a bus to Khon Kaen, Thailand to see Nick, in the afternoon. My morning is filled with relaxed activities: breakfast and a sit in the shade at Wat In Feng where I read my murder mystery set in Vientiane. Later I search for the building where some of the action is set, but cannot distinguish it. The area by the fountain has probably changed a lot in 20 years. I get my final mint-lime shake and watch an American girl eating noodles with one chopstick: she pushes into a mound of noodles and hooks up a bunch which she then sucks up like a kid eating spaghetti. She later uses a spoon, using the sole chopstick, held like a pen to push noodles onto it before putting it in her mouth.
As soon as I board the bus at Vientiane I feel I have left Laos. It is a Thai bus and feels like a plane. Our luggage is tagged. The bus has a separating door to the driver’s “cockpit”, the aircon is cold, and the seats are all new. There is a crew with uniforms with medal ribbons, but I’m not quite sure what they are awarded for. I know we will be on time, and there will be no breakdowns or unscheduled stops (actually we do set down people where they want later on).
A fidgety old guy sits next to me and he talks to himself from time to time. He has a big bag of baguettes (don’t they sell them in Thailand?). One of the most noticeable things about being back in Thailand is mobile phones. There are a number of very loud and lengthy calls throughout the journey, including one from the woman directly behind me, which makes the ride rather unrelaxing. My little old guy, like many others also has a loud musical ring tone which I hear far too often… just for an update on where are you now? I see a girl whizzing along as her friend’s motorcycle passenger using her phone as a mirror as she does her make-up. A boy in the back of a pickup having a loud conversation over the noise of the road.
I notice my bus ticket would have been almost half price if I’d bought it myself. The transfer to the bus station costs as much as the ticket. Anyway it’s peanuts. What I wasn’t expecting (as I’d spent all my Kip) was an exit fee at the Friendship Bridge. I ask to pay this in dollars and have to pay an “overtime charge” for the imposition this makes! Again it’s trifling really.
The roads in Thailand are free-flowing, cars look newer, settlements more developed. Oh, there is a huge stone monument welcoming me to “the Land of Smiling”. Laos seems happier to me.
Khon Kaen 4 hours later. Nick is not at the bus station. It’s dark, busy, a bit hectic and it feels like not many foreigners pass through. Finding somewhere to sleep is a priority, so I take a bed in more or less the first hotel I find: Saen Samran, with scrubbed wooden interior and peeling sad walls. It’s fine for 200 baht.
I pop back to the bus station, thinking maybe Nick was there…and he was. Good news. We walk to the night market. Everything written in Thai except the fruit shake stall, it’s obvious there are no veggie stalls. I ask Nick to ask a stallholder to fix me some noodles and egg, which they do and it’s nice.
We walk a lot. There isn’t too much to do or see. Khon Kaen has a lot of very wide roads lined with banks and commercial buildings, lots of hoardings, dinosaur statues and many golden bridges and photographs of the king. We spend an hour at a square which contains a shrine which contains a stone pillar. Outside are shrines to Buddha, to Shiva to other deities, and here people come and light joss sticks and pray for good fortune. They seem to try every belief sysyem just to make doubly sure. The square also has a large number of plaster animals. elephants mainly, left there as tributes. The trees here are brightly lit and there is an out-door cinema playing Hong Kong movies. We chat and get bitten by mosquitoes.