Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 364: Into Laos for a new Thai Visa

Bangkok Floods 2011 ....

The flood waters in Lak Si, Bangkok have stopped rising... that's the good news. The not so good news is that 32 thousand million cubic metres of water still needs to be drained. Three main canals, or 'Khlong', drain the water at a theoretical rate of 30 cubic metres per second. Unfortunately the 'theory' doesn't account for the mass of garbage that's accumulated and restricted the flow of the khlongs. Unfortunately, garbage isn't the only contaminent in the water that's been stagnant and festering for more than a month. Yellow fever, cholera, dengue fever and malaria are now more than just theoretical threats here. I'm lucky, I've got nothing more than bronchitis and although my tollerance to waterborne diseases will probably not be as high as that of the locals .... I haven't been swiming in it  ....
I've been back in Thailand for almost a month now ... and my 'Visa on Entry' allows me to stay for only 30 days. The only way to extend my Stay .... is to Leave. That sounds a little crazy, but this is Southeast Asia .... it's just the way that things work around here. In the not too distant past, I could have simply crossed the border into Laos, Cambodia or Malaysia, turned around and instantly got another 30 days visa on entry .... but times have changed. In early 2009, the rules changed so that crossing a land border would only give you 15 days of visa exemption, a process that could only be repeated twice. Now, the solution is to visit the Thai Embassy in Laos to obtain a proper visa.

Two days earlier, the bus station at Mo Chit had been flooded .... but today they're watering the grass. It seems that the walls and sandbags have done their job and buses seem to be operating normally. Travelling VIP 1st Class, the journey to the northern town of Nong Khai will take 11 hours ... but as the ticket costs only £8 ..... it beats flying. The bus leaves on time .... 7pm .... but progress through the north of Bangkok is slow. The elevated motorway is reduced to one lane ..... the other two lanes are now car parks with improvised market stalls and all of the activities that you'd normally associate with Thai life. The evacuees of Pathum Thani, Rangsit and Lak Si Districts have occupied the only available high ground and made it their home.

At 6am .... the bus drops me at Nong Khai bus station where a host of eager tuk-tuk riders offer their services. As a European arriving alone at this hour, they probably know my plans better than I do. 'Friendship Bridge ... 300 Baht' ... I know the real price and hang out until they see reason ... 100 Baht. The border opens at 6am and it's quiet .. amazingly quiet. In the mornings the crossing is normally active with Thai traders crossing into Laos to buy local goods to resell back in Thailand, and in the evenings, Thai girls crossing into Vientiane for a slightly different kind of trade. With no queue to slow me down, I pay my $35 for a Lao 30 Day visa and an extra $1 for the 'out of office hours' service .... and I'm in. Another tuk-tuk takes me to central Vientiane where I find a small hotel. It's way too early for 'check-in', but they'll need to register my passport before they'll let me stay (my passport will spending the night at the Thai Embassy here) ... look at me .... I'm actually planning ahead for once. I change $100 and that gives me 500,000 Kip .... more than enough for 2 days here including Hotel and Thai Visa costs.

The Thai Embassy is a formality ..... arrive at 10:30am, half an hour before it closes and most of the queues have gone. A 60 Day Double Entry Visa will cost about 200,000 Kip, or 2,0000 Thai Baht. If you follow the advice from many 'Thai Forums' on the Internet, they'll tell you that it's impossible to get a double entry visa from any Thai Embassy in Southeast Asia .... but you can. Just go to Vientiane, smile sweetly and ask for it.

After less than an hour at the Thai Embassy ..... I walk back to the centre of Vientiane .... I like to walk here .... because walking allows you to see stuff. The photograph above was taken in April 2010 and shows the restaurants set up amongst the earth works on the banks of the Mekong River. Below is the photograph that I took today ... from about the same position. Progress is unstoppable.... but I prefer the 'Old'.

Where once there was sand, now there are miles and miles of pavement ... empty pavement. It feels like I'm the only person here ... except for the statue .... but I have no idea who it is!!!

Thankfully here in Laos, the 'Old' seems to live in harmony with the 'New' ... but probably not for very long. I've seen 'change' across Southeast Asia, but the changes here seem to be happening more quickly than in other areas. Changes not so much in the development of infrastructure, but development in the financial means of the people ..... or I should say .... 'some' of the people. It seems that a two-tier system is rapidly developing here in Lao PDR (People's Democratic Republic) ... the 'Have's' and the 'Have Not's'. Maybe it's always been that way but today the 'Have's' are not embarrassed to display their wealth. I've never seen so many BMW X6's and Lexus SUV's in one place ....... the 'Have's' are wearing their wealth on their key chains. Western 'Brands' are this years 'must haves' here in Laos, but you wont see any of those brands being distributed through international chains ... NO McDonalds, NO KFC, NO Walmart, NO Starbucks and very few Fat people .... just an observation  ... mai pen rai kap

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