We got a late start from Vientiane and didn't get to the border until near noon. We were worried about the cross over at lunch time. We soon found out that The Friendship Bridge from Laos to Thailand doesn't close for lunch as we were previously told. We stood in line and ran into our first and only problem. Apparently the customs agent in Laos, when we crossed at Na Meo, didn't fill out the correct paperwork for our motorbikes, and we had to leave our bikes and Buddha at the border while a customs official on the Laos side ushered us to his supervisors office. There is a green piece of paper that shows ownership of the bikes that they didn't give us which is required when leaving Laos.
The Laos Border
The Thai Immigration House
Stuck in Laos - Crossing The Friendship Bridge from Laos to Thailand
Nervously we stood there and listened to what was going on between the custom official and the supervisor. We couldn't understand anything but, we could tell by body language the supervisor wasn't happy. We were then directed to follow the agent to another office.... the Chief of Customs!!! We arrived at an upstairs office where a nice older gentleman sat and heard the customs officer out. The Chief asked us if they gave us paperwork (in English) to which we replied he hadn't. He then said it was ok, but the next time we go to Laos, we need to make sure they do that for us. He was very nice and apparently we caught him on a good day. We were escorted back to the border and told we could go. We hopped on our bikes and rode on the Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River to Thailand.
Getting Through The Border to Udon Thani
When we arrived at the border on the Thailand side, the process was smooth and effortless. We got the paperwork for our bikes, and were stamped for a 60 day vehicle visa in Thailand and within an hour, we were on our way. Couldn't believe how efficient and kind everyone was at the border. Really, the easiest border crossing yet in any of our travels. We rode at about 70km per hour to the next city Udon Thani. We tried to find someplace to eat, and found it difficult. We were looking for a nice café to sit and relax and have a good lunch. Being in Vientiane we got spoiled. We finally settled on an eatery on the side of the road with less than good food of chicken and white rice and little else. The people serving it were flat and expressionless. The people so far in Udon Thani, are not as warm as the Thailand we have heard of. We packed it up and rode some more on the spectacularly straight and virtually pothole free roads of Thailand until we got to Khon Kaen.
Another interesting point. The road so far has been alternating between 4 and 6 full lanes wide, and there is also a dedicated bike lane on the side of the road as well. The way to Khon Kaen was reminiscent of Ohio roads except for driving on the opposite side of the road. We cruised on the left side of the road through flat farm land in wide open spaces at 70km per hour!!! It was great and the fastest we have gone yet on our trip! What a Southeast Asia oasis Khon Kaen is! We arrived in town and passed a gigantic western style mall and even saw a Starbucks! The excitement of being in a place so familiar if not far from home put smiles on our faces.
Hotel Room In Khon Kaen
Khon Kaen - Our First Dose of Western Influence
Khon Kaen is a fairly large city with a Regional Heart Hospital, Malls and opulent hotels. We decided to stay at the Charoen Thani Hotel. A little expensive for Southeast Asia, but we didn't mind after staying in so many places, with always something sub-par for western standards. The price about 60 dollars a night, but this place in the States would be well over 300 dollars a night. Flat screen TVs, robes, king sized bed, with 4 fluffy pillows, a lounge couch, central air, bathtub,pool, jacuzzi, sauna, bell hops and free (incredible) breakfast. We settled in and went to the mall.
We dropped by the Central Plaza Mall and ate at KFC and then had a Swenson's Ice cream for dessert! AWESOME! There was a front courtyard area with fountains, live band, and huge Christmas tree. We almost forget it was Christmas time here. Being so far removed from western culture and Christian culture in particular, it doesn't seem that Christmasy here. But this helped us feel more at home. Apparently Thailand has more Christianity than the rest of SE Asia. We have even seen some churches and Christian schools as well which we haven't seen anywhere yet in Southeast Asia.
Golden Buddhist Temple
The Thai Buddhist Monastery
Today we decided to stay another night and enjoy the luxury. We hopped on the bike and drove around town and we chanced upon aBuddhist temple. HUGE... GOLD... and Decorative... we stopped by to check it out. We realized as we were driving around that we have been here over a month in southeast Asia and haven't even been in ONE Monastery. So we had to stop at this one. One of the biggest we have seen.
The inside was decorated in gold with Buddha statues and other buddhist statues strewn about. The whole of the square temple had murals on the walls depicting life in Thailand years ago. Great artwork. We took some pictures for a while and then and headed around a nearby lake and took in the sights. Tonight we go back to the Mall to get our "Western" out of us, and eat at McDonalds of all places. Shelly is craving a quarter pounder and although McDonalds is really the last place I would eat in the States... I will enjoy a Big Mac tonight.
Plans To Ride an Elephant
We still don't know our plans for the rest of Thailand, but know we are going to head out in the morning for Bangkok. I spoke today with our friend Kish, who we met in Vientiane, and he suggested we visit a place called Khao Yai. I looked it up, and they have elephant excursions in a "monsoon forest". Not sure what the difference is between a regular rain forest and monsoon forest, but I think we might head out tomorrow and go there and check it out. It's on the way to Bangkok from where we are, and it looks absolutely amazing. Plus, Shelly and I are dying to ride an elephant. Should be an amazing week coming up. While all of you are shopping at malls and dealing with idiot drivers on the roads, we might just be under the canopy of a monsoon forest riding an elephant.
The King of Thailand
The King Of Thailand
One more interesting point. The King of Thailand is like a huge celebrity here. His picture is EVERYWHERE... even in the temple. Apparently he was a monk at one point in his life. Every city you come to in this part of Thailand has the picture of the King either in robes or his regular clothes (and pictures of the Queen as well) on either a banner or large cement-like bridge over the road. We are not talking just a picture... a huge picture. Just about every restaurant and store also has a picture somewhere of him too. I don't know of another country where the King is so prominent as here. They love their king and have a great respect for him and the family. Long live the King.... We love his country!