|We left Bangkok at 8pm the previous evening. The Thai railway service is even slower than the Vietnamese. And not as smooth.
We were scheduled to get to Nong Khai, which is across the Mekong River from Laos at 8;30am. We limped into Nong Khai at around 10am. And as I said, the rails are rougher in Thailand than in Vietnam. This was no clickety clac along the railway track. It was more clickety clang with an occassional bang thrown in. On our rail ride from Da Nang to Hanoi, there were times that the ride was so smooth that I thought we had stopped. Not so on the Thai ride.
Since the train ride was through the night we didn't get to see much until the morning.
We were in the first class car, had a berth for two people, and it was at the back of the train. The step to the next adjacent car behind was exciting.
Some fellow travellers have wondered why we did not go directly from Hanoi to Luang Prabang in Laos. Coming all the way back to Bangkok only to go north again seemed to border on the masochistic. Yes, but we hadn't planned on coming north again in this way until after I had booked the flight back to Bangkok. That's when I thought it would be nice to see the homeland of Pao Xiong.
Pao was a young Laotian refugee who came to live with my family and work for my father. His father had been one of the first of the Hmong ethnic group in Laos to be recruited by the CIA to help in the Vietnam war. In 1975, Pao and family fled Laos and ended up in a refugee camp close to Nong Khai. A few more resettlements to other camps around Thailand followed. Then in 1977 Pao asked for resettlement/relocation to Canada. He ended up in Milk River, AB. On the bald prairie, limited English skills, the closest Laotian eighty kilometers away. Quite a leap of faith in selecting a large country like Canada and saying yeah I'll go there. Didn't even get to pick a location such as the Kitsilano area of Vancouver.
Pao stayed with my parents for a few years before making arrangements to immigrate to the United States where the bulk of the Laotian refugees went to. He now works for Homeland Security at the Fresno, California airport. And in a few years when he retires he wants to settle down back in Laos.
Pao Xiong, better know as Lee Pao back in Milk River thanks to Canadian Immigration, wrote to me to say that he grew up in a small village northeast of Vientiane and that it would not be on the map. Pao, dig up the latest version of Lonely Planet. This is quoted from the section 'around Vientiane'. Ban Na: "The lowland farming village of Ban Na, 82 km northeast of Vientiane, is home to about 600 people. The village is typical Lao, with women weaving baskets of bamboo and men tending the fields. But it's the local herd of elephants that is most interesting to visitors."
Unfortuneately we are not heading in that direction but going north. I'll have to do my elephant rides somewhere else.
Ban Na is just off the Mekong River which meanders in a north east direction away from Nong Khai. Even thousands of miles away from its delta the Mekong is a big river.
The Mekong River is the border between Thailand and Laos in this part of the country.
Nong Khai is a major entry point into Laos and the closest Thai city to the capital of Laos, Vientiane. The French influence is evident in the buildings of Nong Khai. The hotels and guest houses present large, dramatic balconys to the street.
Our guest house was hidden away amongst a group of trees bordering the river. Long ago I had sent a note to the guest house asking for a room with a view. I got one. The room was on the upper level of a two story building. It had a nice large deck that fronted onto the Mekong. This was nice.
After we checked in and unpacked we went for a tour of the town. There are numerous Wats in the city. And most of them are under construction, in reconstruction, or undergoing some sort of maintanence.
Someone did a tourist survey and it was confirmed that a draw would be Wats. So the paint is being stirred, the slurries are being mixed, and the pigeons are no longer allowed to roost in the belfry.
Nong Khai is striving to be a tourist destination and the major entry point into Laos. I think it will succeed on both points.