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Thu Jan 07 2016: Getting Stupa on Beerlaowdark

Well our Thai visa expired. And we didn't get our Green Book (ownership document) for our new motorcyles. Or our license plates.

Which means we can't leave the country on our bikes. It's a long story, but one of the documents that we needed to show to the government expired. It was only valid for a month and I thought we would have already bought motorcycles in that time, but we waited too long and the new motorcycles took two weeks to ship from Bangkok and by the time the dealership submitted all the documents to the vehicle registrar, they had already expired.

We're out of time in Thailand and have to find a place to store our motorcycles while we exit the country to apply for a new visa and then turn around and come back in again.

This is how we're forced out of Thailand

We're feeling pretty devastated. We just dropped a lot of coin to buy brand new motorcycles and now we have to leave the country without them. This was the only reason to get the bikes: to do a visa run on them and explore SE Asia while we're out of Thailand. I feel like we wasted a whole lot of time and money for nothing. Because I was responsible for all the planning and paperwork for buying the bikes, I feel absolutely gutted.

So now we're on the overnight bus out of Chiang Mai. Our bikes are parked in the parking lot of our last AirBnB, as well as our riding gear and most of our clothes. While we were walking to the bus station in the middle of the night, I felt like we were unceremoniously being tossed out of a life we were just getting comfortable with. And on top of it, we're leaving our stuff scattered all over the world: two bikes and most of our possessions in a garage in Croatia. Another two bikes in the parking lot of an apartment building in Chiang Mai that we don't even live in anymore. We don't even know for sure if we're going to be let back into Thailand. This really sucks.

The bus ride was long (11 hours), cramped and uncomfortable. Neda gives an obligatory smile as the sun rises and we approach the Laos border.

We are headed to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. We're on what's known as a "Visa Run", a routine that tens of thousands of farangs perform every few months to continue extending their stay in Thailand. The Thai government likes spendy western tourists. But want to live in Thailand? No. Thailand is for Thais. Permanent residency for farangs is hard to obtain, citizenship almost impossible. And so the farang merry-go-round goes in and out of Thailand. Sometimes it stops in Laos, sometimes Burma, a flight to Vietnam, a bus-ride to Malaysia or Cambodia... all the neighbouring countries that make it cheap and fast enough to travel from and back to Thailand - sometimes in the same day. And the farang, they always return - armed with another 60-day visa, which can be extended for another 30 days in-country and the merry-go-round becomes a quarterly ritual for the western ex-pat living in Thailand.

If we're going to make Thailand home, we'd better get used to this.

You're not supposed to take pictures inside the Thai embassy in Vientiane, Laos... :)

We arrived early in Vientiane after taking all manner of buses and tuktuks to get into the capital city. Our initial observations were that it's not that much different from Thailand - a bit more dated, a lot less tourists. Our first stop was the Royal Thai Embassy. It wasn't hard to find. We just followed the steady stream of farangs to a single building that was open while everything else around it was still closed for the morning. Just like everyone else on the visa conveyor belt, we filled out forms, photocopied our documents and submitted our applications. It takes a day to process them, so we had to return the following afternoon. So it was off to find our hotel. We hadn't slept well on the bus ride over and we wandered the city on foot in a daze, the rising temperature of the bright Loatian morning doing nothing for our weariness.

I hate being a backpacker. We're always on somebody else's schedule, waiting for buses, negotiating with tuk tuk drivers. And now we were lost in downtown Vientiane, unable to find our hotel. And we have two perfectly capable motorcycles sitting useless in another country (well technically four). And despite paring down our belongings to a bare minimum, the straps of our laden backpacks dug into our weary shoulders. whine whine whine.

We did locate our accommodations eventually after asking for directions from just about everyone we saw on the streets. Despite it being 1 km away from the embassy, we must have walked 3 kms in total in the searing heat because we passed it twice without realizing it. Being on foot sucks. I hate it.

Planning out our SE Asia sojourn over Beers Laos Dark

We took a pass on the sweltering Vientiane afternoon by napping in our air-conditioned hotel room. Thank god for little luxuries!

Feeling refreshed, we treated ourselves to a nice dinner at a restaurant near our hotel where we discovered our new favourite beer. It's called Beer Laos Dark and it's delicious. Maybe it was the alcohol, but I also loved saying that combination of words Beer Laos Dark. I'm kind of captivated by how words sound, especially foreign ones. The "S" in Laos is silent, so I spent the evening (maybe a bit tipsy) just randomly interspersing our conversation with "Beerlaowdark". Which may explain why the waitress kept bringing us new bottles of Beerlaowdark. Beerlaowdark. Something about the way the "laowdark" makes your mouth move when you say it out loud. Something about the way the beer makes your head move when you say "laowdark"... 55555

In between all this silliness during dinner, we vowed to get over our surly backpacker attitude. We are after all in a brand new country, so we formulate a plan for seeing SE Asia without motorcycles. Buses seem to be the preferred method of travel in this region - it's cheap and we have the time. We could also fly into Vietnam. Because they have a 175cc engine size restriction on motorcycles coming into their country, we can't ride in with our CRFs. So it makes sense to do it as backpackers. We may leave Cambodia for another time when we are on two wheels. And what do we want to see in Laos now that we're on foot?

Lots to plan.

In the morning, we eat a Laotian breakfast of fried eggs and rice while schoolboys laughed and tittered away at us (or Neda) at the next table

We're feeling a lot rested now and we can finally see Vientiane with fresh eyes. We don't have to be back at the Thai Embassy until after lunch, so we explore the area around our hotel. There looks to be a temple just down the street.

Ever since arriving, we've been seeing the Soviet flag flown everywhere. Being a Sovietphile, I find these fascinating!

Laos has had a relationship with the USSR since 1960, receiving funding and military assistance all the way up to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The ruling political party here is still communist and this flag is more symbolic of that rule than the actual former country.

This grounds is called Pha That Luang and is a national monument. The huge gold mound is called a Stupa

The actual temple is called Wat That Luang and is beside the gold stupa

I also like saying the word "stupa". For obvious reasons...

Come on, Neda! I have kleenex if you need it!

Neda likes taking pictures of these patterns, she uses it as backgrounds for her iPhone. Her last one was of the tessellated tiles of Morocco

Originally the temple was built as a Hindu shrine

Get it on.

A tuk tuk driver finds some solitary shade from the hot sun of the Vientiane morning

This roaming bicycle vendor laughed when I took a picture of her then she turned around and tried to sell me some drinks :)

I think the locals find it funny when tourists take pictures of the most mundane, everyday things in their lives.

Looks like another reclining Buddha

Here's a small one

And here's the larger version - not as big as the one in Bangkok though

Taking a moment to pray

Nice details on the outside of the temple

Vendors outside Pha That Luang

Scooting around Vientiane

Okay, we're off to pick up our visas. Hopefully we're allowed back into Thailand.

It's a major bummer that we don't have our bikes with us, but we've resolved to make the best of it and we'll see the rest of the region by some other means. And I'm sure there will be lots of beerlaowdark along the way!

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