The story about the long way from Mae Sot in the west of Thailand to Nong Khai in the east. In the west as backpackers, in the east again converted to overlanders with Prado being proud to overcome all these terrible obstacles Thailand imposes on all cars driven by ordinary Swiss guys. Definitely a trip needing a certain degree of patience to succeed in a country supposed to be easy-going.
Bangkok, 18th November
Still in Mae Sot. A small town, no must-have-seen-sights. A few eateries and quite a number of watering holes. Maybe not a really fantastic place, but an opportunity to get somehow used to a language probably called Thainglish – or according to certain local information considered to be English. Not easy to learn, but no need to learn too much of it.
To start with: we need to have something to drink. Simply order bia or bill – and you’ll get a beer. Something to eat: there’s flyly and pleily. Of course you know it: it’s fried rice and plain rice – so what’s the problem. If you’re tired of ly you may try taggo – slightly more difficult to know what it is and to remember. But it’s simply Tagliatelle. So once mastering these few words and Thailand should no longer be a problem for anybody. Of course still remains the challenge of ordering gleen or led cully. Nevertheless, for the ordinary pancackers it’s no problem. In the places they visit the only choice is pancake – exactly the same in English and Thainglish. So again easy.
Back to real life. On 18th we take the plane to Bangkok. Now it’s NOK – Airlines. It’s not our specific preference, but the 1’n’only available. Their logo is a pretty stupid chicken painted on the tail and at the airplane’s front is the beak of another chicken. A little silly, somehow looks like Donald Duck Airlines – but at least they serve some muffins, not deep fried chicken feet with 100 year old of fish sauce. 1h 23’ later we land in Bangkok.
We drive to the CBD. Our hotel in 1 of these Sois (small rundown, dirty side roads) of Sukhumvit Road. The area ugly as usual. But it doesn’t matter. We just need to buy new clothes. And the huge shopping malls are nearby at Siam Square.
For transport within the town fortunately there’s the BTS Sky Train. A rather ugly construction high above some of Bangkok’s main roads. So, the cars, bikes and pedestrians move on the ground floor, the fast trains on the 1st.
Nevertheless, even if absolutely ugly somehow these multi-level traffic systems are rather fascinating.
The malls to renew our clothing. There are several. A look at the most famous 1 – the Paragon Mall. Chanel, Dior and Gucci don’t have the size of Martin’s t-shirts. Monika doesn’t like the colours for hers. Finally we find the MBK Mall. Size’n’colours are ok. We get our cloths.
After all that it’s lunch time. Difficult to decide where to go to. There are lots of delicious offers. Some more explicit than others. Finally we find the compromise: the food stall with the speared chicken and the rice noodles prepares us starter and main course; the fast-food chain with the world’s worst burgers but delicious sundaes the desert.
Another glimpse of the skyline, …
Good news: this evening we receive the permit for Prado to enter Thailand. So, finally after 1,5 months we have solved all these bureaucratic delicacies.
Thanx to Phil in Chiang Mai for organising that.
Vang Vieng, 21st November
And there we have to put an end to Prado’s leave. We found it impatiently waiting for us; a little dusty, a tire slightly flat – otherwise safe and sound. Sincere thanks to Monica to make this possible and the owner of her neighbouring restaurant to enable the shelter for Prado and keep it in a good mood during our absence. Maybe it’s really true that Prado felt a little bit in love with the Hilux parked next to it. Whatever – back to real life.
The next day quite busy: we have to renew Prado’s 3rd party-insurance.
Then on to Vang Vieng. Some 200km, 5h over the mountains. Quite a bumpy, narrow road with 10 000s of bends. It’s quite a lonely area; jungle on the left, jungle on the right, in the higher regions fog. Some fantastic views from the top of the mountains and some stretches where bandits are still considered a serious problem. Despite all warnings on the different government websites everybody has to take this road. Probably the bandits are overeaten on all these tourists passing by. So today no problem.
Late afternoon we arrive in Vang Vieng. The area famous for its beautiful landscape with all the karst rocks, the numerous caves and the picturesque river flowing thru this exceptional area.
Just by chance we meet Rachida’n’Günther. Last time we’ve seen them in Switzerland when we had to plan our trip thru China. Now enough reasons to exchange all kind of possible and impossible roadside tales and stories.
Also the town of Vang Vieng is quite famous. Not really for its beauty, but as the ultimate banana-pancake-backpacker hot spot in Laos. Thus endless opportunities to spend the day with interesting outdoor activities like tubing – drifting down the river in an old tube of a car, drinking every few 100m a couple of beers. Arriving in Vang Vieng everybody still able to walk back to the respective accommodation fails and has to repeat the tubing exercise the next day. Those having passed the test may go on 1 of these miserable parties on the nearby island or continue drinking beer while watching a British comedy in any restaurant.
Unfortunately this all results in Vang Vieng town being 1 of the ugliest places we’ve seen on our trip. It largely reminds us to certain of these rundown localities on the Canary Islands. It seems being absolutely oriented towards backpackers, meaning exceptionally overprized accommodation, eateries you wouldn’t recommend to your mother in law with pretty expensive, but rarely eatable food. And of course, 1000s of tourists, maybe not really happy in this unspoilt place but definitely not complaining about the situation. Well, we found a place to have dinner: an expensive, tasteless soup they call gleen cully and something else we forgot. Interestingly we discover that this restaurant prepares its wood oven pizza in a microwave. Unfortunately we forget to take a pic …
Principally we plan to stay another day or 2 in Vang Vieng later on our trip, when driving back to the north of Laos. Maybe that’s an opportunity to take a few pics of this place – in case we can really overcome our inhibitions to this town.
Vientiane, 24th November
Then next morning on to Vientiane, the proud capital of the People’s Democratic Republic of Lao. A few hours’ drive. A guesthouse a little bit outside the CBD. We definitely feel we have driven southwards. Again, it’s hot’n’humid.
The town often described as the Paris of the east is rather disappointing. Pretty small and laid back. Reminds us more to a village than a proud capital of an even prouder country. Not really much to do and to see. Nevertheless, we have a few days to spend here until Prado’s permit to enter Thailand will be valid. Among the main attractions are the town’s famous French restaurants. Of course it’s said to be a heritage of the former Frenchy colonisation. We rather have the impression French cuisine is often dominated by Belgian owners – maybe the guys who had to leave Congo when the Belgians were kicked out in this beautiful country. So time for pizza. Not really French food, but who cares among all these Belgians. And, the pizza is excellent. So if pizza then at Via Via’s.
The next morning to the Thai consulate to apply for a visa. Whoever tells you all these horror stories about this consulate just wants to trump you. So all lies’n’nonsense. It’s straightforward, fast and easy. Then on to the shopping tour. Prado cries for new tyres. Of course, in a capital we should find them easily. Whoever tells you that Vientiane is a shopper’s paradise also trumps you. Definitely nonsense. So Prado has to move on with its old tyres.
… and most important we have to adapt the length of our newly bought Bangkok trousers to our size. So a lot of opportunities for the local economy to offer their services.
Then to the very center of town with its village like roads and an interesting system of electricity distribution.
Another important place: the holiest Wat in whole Laos. Phra Tatluang. Also a new construction with a rather limited atmosphere. But a good place to observe some monk’s activities not seen somewhere else.
Nong Khai; Thailand, 26th November
To Thailand. Just 20km south to the Laos-Thailand Friendship Bridge. Border procedure on the Laotian side a matter of 10’. The Carnet stamped out without any problems, and we cross the Mekong to reach the Thai border.
There are many different counters. All well signed. So we go to 6A: Temporary Car Import. The officer in his nice uniform sitting on the left side of the counter explains us that foreign cars allowed to enter Thailand are those registered in Laos, Malaysia or Singapore. All others are definitely banned to enter the kingdom. For any exemption we should go to counter 7B. At 7B – General Customs – they don’t know anything about this. But we should get everything at 4A. 4A, Immigration can not handle the affair, until we have the certified form from counter 6A. So we go back to 6A expecting to be sent immediately to 7B, then on to 4A to return finally to 6A – a kind of magic circle. At 6A we give whatever documents we have to the officer sitting on the right side of the counter. Oh yes, want go Thailand? – and a form is filled in immediately after having seen that we have the permit of the Department of Land Transport allowing Prado to enter Thailand. No question where Prado is registered.
Confused? No – let’s go on.
With this all important form from 6A we must go to counter 4A. Having this beautiful piece of paper – of course we get stamped in and receive a friendly Welcome to Thailand. Now we can go to 4A. There we get the Temporary Import Permit (TIP) for the car. The smart lady glues a hell of lot of letters into her computer. Suddenly we remark that immigration did not consider our visa. So they limited our stay to 15 days. Patiently we explain this misfortune to Ms TIP at 4A and go back to 6A. Wait a long time because the computer is quite resistant to any corrections. Finally the system accepts our visa and now we can stay in Thailand for 2 months. Back to 4A. A few minutes later we have the TIP, customs have no further interest in us and we’re in Thailand. Just 45’.
So entering Thailand is definitely not problematic. Everybody at the border knows that everything has changed for overlanders – but nobody knows anything about it. Never mind, that’s all about overlanding.
We drive the few km to Nong Khai.
Of course we know that our International Driving License issued by some Swiss bureaucrats is not valid in Thailand. The reason is simple. The US, Japan and Fiji don’t accept the regulation under which this beautiful Swiss document is established – so why should Thai authorities do so. But it’s no problem; our travel agent motoasia in Chiang Mai informed us about this issue. We should just go to the local Department of Land Transport (DLT) and pick up the temporary Thai license. Sounds like a matter of a few minutes …
Luckily we quickly find their offices. At the reception they immediately know where to send us. Many foreigners need dlylyc – driving licence. So up to the 2nd floor, the Department of dlylyc. At the counter we show our invalid International Swiss Driving Licenses and we’re asked to wait little moment. Some time later we speak to a smart lady, obviously the superior to those smart guys at the counter. Politely she explains us that logically all persons having international driving licenses issued in Switzerland are automatically banned from any driving in Thailand. Any avoidance of this rule would immediately result in criminalizing us – then even immediate suicide would not prevent us to be condemned to clean a palm fringed beach at a south Thailand island for the next 20 years. After some discussion she calls DLT in Bangkok to enquire about the procedures to follow. We, on our side, send a mail to motoasia explaining them their responsibility for our miserable destiny because we cannot get a Thai driving license. Then we consider what we may do in Laos the next weeks if we have to drive back today. But motoasia calls the dlylyc department. The lady comes back to us, now telling what we have to do to get the license. Most important a medical test. Then she needs some papers motoasia has to send us and we’ll have to print them out.
Ok. We drive to town. All signboards in Thai – we feel like analphabets. Finally we find a clinic having the capacity to elaborate the medical certificate. We give them our passports, they put our names in a form. Then they sign the paper and put a stamp on it – and we pay 40 Baht (1 Euro). And we are the proud owner of our medical certificate. Great. On to print out a few dozens of pages we received from motoasia, a few photocopies of our passports and our invalid driving licences.
Then back to the office. Here we learn that now we have to follow a class on how to drive in Thailand. 1h and that’s it. With some 50 other scholars we sit for an hour and watch a movie on how accidents happen and how to avoid them. Then we know – avoid all motorbikes, they’re responsible for all accidents and you’re responsible that this happens simply because you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time.
To the office of the smart lady. We learn that by now everything is ok, only the original of our permit to enter the car into Thailand is missing (we only have a printout of it) and a letter of guarantee of motoasia proofing that they take all responsibility should we ever leave a bar without paying our 56th beer. Well, not an easy task to comply with. Motoasia is in Chiang Mai some 1000km away. And their boss is somewhere out. What follows is a lot of arguing but not leading to a really concrete result.
So we have to move on. To the boss of the smart lady. Then exchanging about everybody’s understanding that it is definitely not the mistake of 1 or the other side that we still don’t have the driving licences after 5h of joint efforts to get them. As we all, neither the smart boss neither the smart lady nor we know how to solve the issue we call the smart boss’ superior in Bangkok. A long conversation on the phone, a lot of small talk, a lot of excuses on all sides and then again the statement that we need the original documents to travel in Thailand. Being already her best friend, Martin gives up continuing the friendly, but absolutely fruitless conversation. So we wish each other all the best in this’n’the next life and come to an end of this call. Nevertheless, we get the promises that they’ll do all necessary steps to solve the problem. The boss of our smart lady calls again motoasia to explain them in all details what they have to send us by tomorrow morning with the night bus. As he knows exactly that our miserably hopeless situation is not our mistake he offers us a glass of reverse osmosis water – after he inquired whether we had time for lunch (we did not). And he promises us, that once we’ll have these documents by tomorrow we’ll get the driving licenses in no time, even if it’s Saturday – normally a day off.
Out of office, we go to a guest house in town, admire sunset over Mekong River and have a super spicy Thai dinner and a couples of beers to recover from bureaucracy at its best.
The next morning to the bus station. The envelope with the original documents has arrived. Back to the DLT office. At 9am our smart driving license lady arrives. To start with she takes a couple of selfies in front of Prado. Then to the office. We learn that we’re the 1st victims they have to issue such a driving license.
Quite a number of other office guys are also present. Again all the documents are checked – the old 1’s and those we added this morning. Then pics are taken of all these bureaucratic treasures. Page by page, all has to be digitized. Afterwards one of the employees has to fill in the forms on the computer. Of course the systems breaks down, a little later they get it back to work. Then some more challenges for us: we have to proof that we’re not colour-blind. We stand in front of a kind of traffic light and have to say what se see: Pink, nothing, blue, brown. Test passed. Then a picture of each of us – and the wonder happens. A printer disgorges the Thai driving licences. 1 for Monika, 1 for Martin.
To celebrate the issuance of the 1st and the 2nd temporary driving licenses at the Nong Khai DLT office we all assemble in front of the smart driving licences lady’s office to take a picture as a proof of our eternal friendship.
We thank everybody for their immense support‘n’cooperation …
… then we quickly head on – along the Mekong River. Northwards to cooler climate.
So far our adventures.
Should you need to get more jealous just read our next post coming soon.