Flashback to early October in 'sort of sunny' Melbourne. I'm all set to apply for my visa for India, when a nice, kind, helpful soul tells me that I can save myself the effort and apply in Bangkok. "That would be absolutely fantastic!" I thought. "But I'd better check online first - rather be safe than sorry..."
Everything online checked out fine. "Yes, you can apply for your Indian visa in Bangkok." hundreds of blogs, websites and stories were telling me. Perfect. That gave me more time to go and support my new team, The Blue Jays, with my new Canadian friends. It was a HUGE game, (apparently) and it was my duty to go and show my support.
Anyway, skip forward a couple of weeks, and I'm stood in line at the Indian Embassy, Bangkok. It no longer really matters that the Blue Jays won, (even though in our drunk celebrations I won $100 at the casino,) because after a hot and sweaty wait, I finally reach the front of the queue to be greeted with a very short and blunt "You cannot apply from Thailand on a tourist visa. You must go to Laos. NEXT PLEASE"
Oh. Looks like I'm going on holiday then... A fairly costly mistake, it's probably time to start being more careful with planning to make sure I'm not wasting money on anything else unnecessarily...
So, back to the present... I'm making my way down from Phu Chi Fah to Chiang Rai. It's a Thursday morning and I need to be in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, before 4pm on Friday in time to apply for my visa before the weekend. I know that I can get a bus directly from Chiang Mai to Vientiane, but can't find any information online about Chiang Rai to Vientiane. I've definitely got enough time to get back to Chiang Mai and get on the correct bus there to make it in time, but I also might have enough time to visit the White Temple in Chiang Rai and then try and find a bus that takes me to Vientiane.
According to practically every single person I've met in Thailand, The White Temple is a must see - a do not miss. I make the snap judgement to go and see the temple, telling myself that if there are buses from Chiang Mai to Vientiane, there are sure to be buses from Chiang Rai too.
Cut a really long story short, I HATED the White Temple and there are no buses from Chiang Rai to Vientiane. The White Temple was overcrowded with tourists to the point where you were not allowed to stop in front of it for a photo, and you definitely didn't have time to look around. I pretty much had to battle a thousand Chinese tourists to even get a photo at the side of the goddamn thing, before being ushered out - and then to top it all off, the buses from Chiang Rai take you to Huay Xai - the Northern border of Laos, rather than Vientiane, which is a lot further south.
Obviously the resulting twenty six hours that I then had to spend on a bus (as opposed to the nine hours I would have spent, had I gone to Chiang Mai) meant that I didn't make it to the embassy in time to apply for my visa before it shut for the weekend, which automatically added an extra three days onto my little 'holiday.' It really was time to start being more careful with planning to make sure I wasn't wasting money on anything else unnecessarily...
The first night was eventful, to say the least! A couple of us got invited to watch a free football game - Laos vs Vietnam. I acquired a free football shirt, got right involved in the chants (even if I had to make up the words a little bit) and at the end I got to meet my (new) favourite player. Laos won and there was an incredible atmosphere.
On our way to the football match we gatecrashed a wedding. I felt a bit bad because I was in a football shirt, and it was someone's wedding, but they were extremely happy to have us there - it felt like we were the star attraction. Everyone wanted to dance with us, have photos with us and pour shots of Johnnie Walker down our throats. I'm not even sure how I end up in these situations. Laos is a little crazy.
As crazy as the people are, Vientiane is pretty boring. There's hardly anything to do there once the supply of free football games and weddings has run out, and it's quite expensive too, so once I'd applied for my visa at the Indian Embassy ($164 USD!!!!) I made my way up to Vang Vieng for a few days.
Vang Vieng is full of adventures. There's zip lining and kayaking and bike rides and tubing. A little summer paradise of activities and outdoor fun. Unfortunately for me, it absolutely hammered it down with rain for the entire duration of my stay, which meant that most of the activities I wanted to do were out of the question. I figured that I'd have nothing to lose by going tubing, as you end up getting wet regardless of the weather.
Tubing in Vang Vieng is a must do. I'm not really a drinker, but when you take part in an activity which involves floating down the river just to visit bars, it's sort of a given that you're going to end up drinking, so you should just embrace it. (Plus, it was US Election Day, and the result made everybody want to get drunk anyway!) At the first bar I played my first ever game of beer pong (and lost) and my first ever game of 'flip cup' (much preferable to beer pong.) The staff at the bar then told us we had to play 'musical tubes' - I wanted to opt out but they encouraged us to all play, so I decided to get purposely knocked out in the first round (In the same way I used to do as a kid, at parties whilst playing 'musical chairs.') Things didn't exactly go to plan, and when the music first stopped, somebody accidentally knocked me into a tube as they dived for one themselves.
Once I was in it, I was in it to win it, and win it I (nearly) did. A close second, but the prize was still the same as first, and I found myself with a free bucket and three of those horrible shots where they just pour the alcohol straight into your mouth from the bottle. I'm quite confident in saying that this was the point it all started to go horribly wrong, and I found myself retracting my previous statement of 'I've got nothing to lose' as I watched my GoPro fall, in what felt like slow motion, from my hand to the river and slowly sink to the bottom, never to be seen again. The iPhone took a battering too - the dry bags that you buy in town are most certainly not dry, and as a result, my phone spent the next three days in a bag of rice (and sadly didn't make a recovery...)
There are no more photos from Laos, because I was phoneless and GoProless and it was far too wet to use my camera. I returned to Vientiane on the Friday to pick up my visa - hoping they'd give it to me fairly quickly as I had a bus to catch to Chiang Mai to make sure I was back in time for Loy Krathong Festival. There was no reason for there to be any issue, but I arrived at the Embassy during my allotted time, to find that they hadn't even printed my visa. Over an hour later, visa in hand, I ran to the bus station and just about managed to make the last bus to the Thai border. Unfortunately, by the time I'd been through border control the last bus to Chiang Mai was already seven minutes gone, and the next one wasn't for 24 hours. I had two choices. Pay 300 baht for a room for the night and wait for an entire day to catch a nine hour long, 800 baht bus (which wouldn't get me to Chiang Mai on time,) or to get on the 400 baht, nine hour long bus to Bangkok, just to get straight on another 400 baht 14 hour long bus to Chiang Mai, arriving in time for Loy Krathong.
I went for the bus to Bangkok, because it worked out cheaper as well as getting me to Chiang Mai on time. I still haven't decided whether or not that was the right decision....
I managed to spend more money in one week in Laos, than I did in an entire month in Thailand. The moral of the story? Don't ever trust the internet....