Should we have skipped Vientiane? Probably. Maybe I feel that way because we were sad to be leaving Laos and excited to return to Thailand. Our time in the Laos capital was so unremarkable we’ll focus on our epic journey from Vientiane down to Khao Lak in Thailand. I imagine there were things to do in Vientiane, but we just phoned it in. We barely left the hotel, didn’t care about eating local and spent too much time playing Pokemon. Looking back, we just weren’t in the right head space from the get-go as our train from Luang Prabang wasn’t enjoyable, and it set the tone.
The train ride from Luang Prabang to Vientiane
Every seat on the train was full. The Luang Prabang station is far from the town centre. We were apprehensive as our tickets had our names misspelled, so we arrived early in case any problems popped up. Ultimately, it wasn’t an issue as they only looked at the passport numbers and ensured they matched. We were let into the cavernous station an hour before the train was due to depart. There was ample seating for all the passengers but, unfortunately no concession stands or water (good thing we had brought our own snacks). The kids and I played tag in the building with many Chinese tourists taking photos and videos. When it was time to board, we pushed and shoved like everyone else and laughed at the chaos. Demand for the trains in Laos is insane, so we ended up getting our third option, as the others sold out before we could snag tickets. This train left later in the afternoon and had a five-seat across configuration. We managed fine but felt sympathetic for the family beside us with two babies in their laps (kids would ride free if they occupied a lap). Four hours after boarding, we got into Vientiane at dark. We waited in line to exit (you need to show your ticket when leaving the station) and then dove into the chaos of tuk-tuk, bus and taxi touts. We make it a rule not to arrive at a new city in the evening as we try to avoid these scenarios as much as possible. But it was late, dark, and the train station is remote, so we jumped in and paid for a cab. Luck was on our side as our driver was fantastic and charged us the going rate. It was a far 30-minute drive as the train station is on the outskirts. We eventually arrived at our central hotel in time for a late dinner at the night market on the street.
Our time in Vientiane
We went to a mall and replaced a couple of my shirts that were in rough shape. We tried the cinema, but there were no children’s movies scheduled. Instead, we went to a playground and let the kids run loose while we played Pokemon. I honestly don’t know what more to say as upon reflection I can’t believe we spent 3 nights in the city.
Vientiane to Nong Khai by Tuk-tuk and train
We checked out of our hotel in Vientiane at noon on a Friday and let the kids take a tuk-tuk. We knew the next 36 hours were going to be a challenge. Instead of flying direct to Phuket, I was being selfish and opted for the night train to Bangkok (where a cheaper flight option to Phuket was available). For that to work, we needed to cross the border to a small station where our night train would depart. We hired a tuk-tuk to take us to the border train station called Thanaleng. We waited 3 hours to take the twice-a-day train from Laos to Thailand (it actually crosses the border, and the train takes a whopping 15 minutes). In the Thai border town of Nong Khai, we boarded our night train to Bangkok.
Nong Khai to Bangkok Airport by Train
This was the family’s first night train and the children absolutely loved it. The beds were already prepared, so as soon as we boarded, the kids clambered for the top bunks. They must have climbed up and down twenty times before we sent them to bed. What that really entailed was closing the curtain as they watched cartoons on the Ipad. I am pretty sure I fell asleep before they did as the rocking train does lull you to sleep. We woke 8 hours later at the new terminal in Bangkok and disembarked at around 7am. Our train arrived an hour late which worked out in our favour as little is open that early in the morning.
At the train station, we really botched it. We had 8 hours to kill until our flight to Phuket. We did the logical thing and checked our bags in a storage locker at the train station so we could explore Bangkok a little bit. I was proud of myself that I fit our four packs into one locker (this would come back to haunt us). While loading the unit, Isabella managed to rifle through the compartments of my day pack, find my sim card, play with it and promptly lose it on the station floor. After ten minutes of frantic searching, it was found, and we had a “teachable moment” about SIM cards.
Problem solved, we headed to Chatuchak Market as it was due to open in under an hour, and we wanted the children to experience a proper Thai market. To get there, we would take the subway. Fail again. We went through the wrong subway entrance at the station. We tried to exit and course-correct, but Paigey was stopped by security as we didn’t have tickets for the kids (they are free but I digress). Both the girls were upset as security took Paige to the other side of the ticket office to sort it out with the manager. The funny part is we didn’t actually ride the subway as we just went through the wrong turnstile. The unfunny part is that the kids thought mom was being arrested.
Drama aside, we eventually made it to the market. We purchased cheap clothes, sweated in the heat and ate tasty Thai food for breakfast. We had to retrieve our bags at the train station before heading to the airport. It was there we upset our kids again. As we went to open the locker, it jammed and wouldn’t release. I had packed the darn thing too tight. Also, we didn’t have a working phone yet so calling the hotline for help was problematic. Paigey hacked a solution, and we got it sorted out. We hugged our luggage, and I learned a valuable life lesson: Don’t cram electronic lockers to save a couple baht! It ain’t worth it!
Bangkok to Khao Lak
Fortunately, this part went smoothly. We were so exhausted we all slept on the flight to Phuket. We rented a cab, got a Sim and then did the 2-hour drive up the coast to the town of Khao Lak. We checked into our hotel and have never been so happy to receive the complimentary cold towel.
Up next is 5 days of relaxation at our hotel on the beach in Khao Lak
Where we stayed:
- Chanthapanya Hotel: Great location in bad destination
- Night train from Nong Khai to Bangkok: Isabella’s favourite sleep ever
By the numbers:
- Number of hats that flew off the kids during the tuk-tuk ride: 1 -Dad yelled stop and ran after it
- Cost in $ to activate Paige’s phone to solve our luggage dilemma: $15
- Cost of an additional locker: $8 – definitely came out behind on that one
- Amount of time we spent at Thanaleng Station playing cards and eating snacks: 3 1/2 hours
- Duration of the train from Thanaleng Station to Nong Khiaw: 15 minutes
- Kip we left Laos with: 0 – we spent 250,000 kip at the store at the station – that’s alot of money to spend at a corner store in Laos
Ciao for now,
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