|Smoked glass ceilings at the Chongmek Boundary Post|
It was time to head back to Thailand. I was looking forward to seeing the Moon River up close. Though not particularly associated with the wistful, albeit romantic river from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (after all, it was just a song), my mind was bent on the romantic notion associated with the name. Before all that, I had to leave Pakse, cross the Vangtao-Chongmek border again, and check into a new hotel in Ubon Ratchathani - the Sri Isan Hotel. That was the immediate plan.
After a breakfast buffet with a hundred monks, I checked out at 7:20 AM. With baggage securely tucked behind me, I crossed the street across Champasak Palace Hotel and hailed a bicycle with a sidecar. I asked him how much it was to take me to the VIP Bus Terminal, he said 5,000 kip - far cry from the 40,000 kip tuktuk rate I was asked upon my arrival in Pakse. But wait, just before finally settling on my seat, the driver changed his mind. It would be 10,000 kip. Imagine what 3 seconds can do to a bicycle ride in Laos. Haha.
OFF TO VANGTAO
There were few people milling around the Kriang Krai VIP Bus Terminal. After presenting my passport, I purchased my ticket, used the loo (2,000 kip) and waited for my 8:30 AM departure. People started arriving shortly while I roamed the premises. Finally, at 8:40 AM, the bus pulled out of the garage and off we went. The scenery flashed like a slide show as we blazed the western highway. There were rivers and dried out rice paddies (it was post harvest), small temples and bridges. I liked the seemingly ordinary places I caught on film. They were specific moments in time that shall never be recovered in the future - and i shall leave them as memories. One hour later - at exactly 9:40 - we reached Vangtao, the Lao border town.
We were told to get off our bus and proceed to the Lao border office (there were 4 counters) to get stamped out. The bus crossed the border gates and it would wait for us at the other side. Some borders require passengers to unload their baggage for inspection, but not this border. Our baggage stays in our bus. This makes the immigration formality easier and faster.
Since it was just a matter of getting stamped out of Laos, the process didn't take me 5 minutes. No fees involved - just a fast stamping out. I saw Phonsavanh Bank and a Duty Free Shop, a Car Rental, a Customs Post during my walk away from the Vangtao Immigration Post. It's just a mere 100 meters to the Thai Immigration gates. The makeshift stalls of fruits, shirts, food, and other accouterments were still there. At the back of my mind, I wondered who would buy these products. Would they be fresher as fruits? Not in an arid and dusty outpost like Chongmek. Would they be cheaper? Highly unlikely.
A MOMENT OF EMBARRASSMENT
Chongmek Immigration Post (Thailand border town) is decidedly more upscale, with spaceship-like sheds and roofs seemingly awaiting flight. I stepped into a waiting room where people fill up an arrival form. Once completed, we queue at the immigration counters at the next room. Since I was visa-free (Filipinos need no visas to visit Thailand as a tourist), it didn't take long. Of course there was a moment of embarrassment when I couldn't understand immigration very well, I had to ask him three times before I finally realized he was just saying "Good morning!" My bad! I must have turned beet red because he had a wide grin. He must have thought that this Filipino doesn't understand English much. Poor guy! Haha! Anyway, land crossings to Thailand give tourists 15 days stay in the country (arrival at the Suvarnabhumi International will get you 30 days).
From the Immigration Counter, you walk into the Customs Room then head out of the building. I saw an ATM machine just outside the door. From there, I could see the sprawl of the market atmosphere of Chongmek. There were more stalls, tuktuks that could take you to nearby towns (including Ubon). To my left, I saw our bus. I rushed to get in, thinking they could be waiting for me. But of course that wouldn't be the case. There were several Caucasians - Europeans, Australians - who were still processing their visa-on-arrival.
THE CONSIDERATE GERMAN
I smugly sat back on my chair until most everyone was back on their seats. Thirty minutes later, an overweight German woman leisurely sauntered back into the bus, carrying items she bought from the shops outside. How convenient and considerate to be shopping while others waited for her - the schmuck, really. She was sporting a wide grin for another girl who was already on her seat - her words sounded like she was clearing her throat, throwing her syllables like there's something stuck down her larynx. "Danke schoen," she said to her seatmate. Thank you, lady, for letting us wait for you, I mentally muttered.
Two hours later - at 11:40 AM, I was back in Ubon's Bus Terminal. There was no need to linger. I have seen the area, and I had a long list of plans for the remainder of the day. I took a taxi to take me to Sri Isan Hotel, a business hotel located just a stone's throw from the Moon River. What's better is, it's just a block away from the famous Night Market! The meter clocked a cheap 68 baht (the airport rate to the city which is 4-5x closer was 200 baht). I gave my driver 100 baht.
Sri Isan Hotel was waiting for me. So was my room at 221.
This is the Eye in the Sky!
|My Kriang Krai Bus from Pakse to Ubon Ratchathani|
|This international bus had 59% Thais and Laos and 40% other foreign nationals. Oh yeah, 1% Filipino. Haha|
|Post harvest rice paddies|
|A river near Ban Phonthong.|
|Small temple with a Buddha and a Naga guarding it.|
|Another river west of Pakse as we got closer to the Vangtao town border.|
|Vangtao Immigration post to get stamped out of Laos.|
|It won't take 5 minutes to get stamped out of Laos.|
|Phonsavanh Bank at the Vangtao border.|
|Lao Duty Free Shop in Vangtao|
|Vangtao Customs Post|
|This is the 100 meter walk - through stalls - to the Chongmek Thai Border Post.|
|Stalls selling baguettes and fruits.|
|Lao shirts, anyone?|
|Cars for rent|
|The fenced walkway through the Chongmek Border Post.|
|Starship Trooper at the Chongmek Immigration Post|
|The International Buses pass through these gates while their passengers pass through immigration (right).|
|Entrance of the Chongmek Boundary Post|
|Write your immigration forms here before proceeding to the Immigration Counters at the next room.|
|ATM machine just outside the Customs Hallway.|
|Chongmek commerce just outside the Border Post.|
|If you arrived on a tuktuk (instead of a point-to-point bus), then you can get your next ride here. Tuktuks wait at the parking space. Haggle hard.|
For a more complete information, here's my Ubon to Pakse border crossing (Chongmek to Vangtao):
|Ubon's main bus terminal|
|Ratchaboot Road - the street along my next hotel, Sri Isan Hotel.|
|My 68-baht taxi as it moves away from my hotel. There is a huge 3-story sprawling market beside the Moon River.|
|Sri Isan Hotel in Ubon Ratchathani|