Catching the wrong bus, a spot of haggling at the airport, and mingling with 8 million people.

Day 28: Today it was time to pack up our stuff again, and head to the airport for our flight to Bangkok. We’ll miss Laos, which was an always-interesting and awe-inspiring start to our trip, but we’re also looking forward to a whole new set of adventures in Thailand.

We decided to catch the airport shuttle bus, which stops about 5 mins walk from our guest house. We were in good time, and a little surprised when the but arrived a bit early. We called out to the driver “airport?” and he nodded, so we climbed on.

Wattay International Airport is only a few kilometres outside the city, so despite morning traffic, before long the driver shouted “airport!” to us. We clambered off the bus and stood looking around. We could see the airport, but we weren’t actually at the airport, it was still some way away. Guess we must have caught a regular bus service that stops close by. So we hauled our backpacks on and walked along the road and down the avenue to the airport. Not too bad.

We hung about until the check in desk opened, then started queueing. AirAsia economy had two check in desks open – but in reality it was only one, as the second one was blocked by a family who had two bags that were so large they were like wardrobes on wheels. They couldn’t even fit them on the weighing scales. There was some serious negotiation going on about excess baggage charges, with a calculator being passed back and forth and lots of animated voices – first time we’ve seen anyone haggling at the airport. Meanwhile our queue snaked forward slowly, one by one, until we got to the top – thankfully despite a couple of small purchases, our backpacks still weigh only 10kg (Lil) and 9.4kg (Jim). Having said that, we’d be happy to turf some more weight – when we’re moving around so much, the lighter the better.

Then through security, and through passport control. One awkward moment when the immigration guy asked Lil where she stayed the previous night and she drew a huge blank for a minute, which felt like an eternity. Eventually she spit out the name of the guest house – the guy stared at her for a bit, then raised his eyebrow and waved her through.

We both find air travel a bit frustating; it’s a never ending ritual of shifting from one queue to another, taking up a chunk of a day for an hour’s flight. And everything at Vientiane airport just seemed so slooooow.

Eventually we found ourselves on our flight – our first time on AirAsia, and while it’s budget and no-frills, it’s fine for a short journey. Interesting Super Saverman advertising on the overhead lockers too.

We got to Bangkok, eventually worked out which arrival queue we should be in after queueing in the wrong one (not visa on arrival, just foreign passports) – and made our way through to the arrivals hall. Mark, who runs our guesthouse, had offered to pick us up from the airport and we gratefully accepted. He was waiting for us outside the 7-11 in the arrivals lobby (every country we have ever visited seems to have 7-11 stores – useful landmarks).

Mark had parked about 15 mins walk away – he explained if he parks any closer, it can take an hour or two to get out of the airport. As we walked and looked out the airport windows, we could see what he meant. Lines and lines of cars and taxis in a bottleneck outside.

The trip from the airport to Watthana, the district we’re staying in, took almost an hour exactly. There was so much traffic – however Mark commented that that was a super quick journey. All the traffic came to a complete stop at one point, to let the Royal Family go through – they were out and about in the city.

We reached our guesthouse. The online description made it sound like a guesthouse or upmarket hostel, however it turned out to be a deluxe self contained apartment – it’s fabulous. Premium furniture and bed linen, our own entrance, living room and kitchen – we scored really well on this one.

This evening we wandered out to take a look at the local area. It’s a confusing mix of new and old, as Bangkok continues to develop. Everything from flash Michelin-rated restaurants to local bars and small beaten up carts by the side of the road, selling chicken on skewers and coconut juice. Everywhere is packed, loud and seems just a little crazy after spending weeks in laid back sleepy Laos. So far we haven’t spotted any VIP buses – in fact all the buses we’ve seen so far look ancient, with no windows and no doors.

Over the years Bangkok has grown rapidly, with little urban planning or regulation. The result is inadequate infrastructure and a haphazard layout with congested traffic and severe air pollution. The population of Bangkok is already well over 8 million (way more than the entire population of Laos), and by 2030 it’s expected it will grow to over 10 million, to become one of the world’s megacities.

We wandered into a local shopping mall to get SIM cards, and the first stall we passed was selling Hokkaido cream buns. They looked amazing, and feeling a bit peckish before dinner, we decided to give them a go – absolutely sensational. We’ll have to be careful over the coming days or we’ll find ourselves in constant bun top-up mode. Thankfully there’s no fear of us getting porky though – Jim has already lost a heap of weight from all the walking and cycling, and Lil is shedding pounds too.

We wandered up and down laneways and roads for a bit, then settled on a Japanese restaurant for dinner – superb food, and lovely welcoming people.

Then home for an early night. Tomorrow we’ll head out to start exploring Bangkok – we’re here for a week, so lots of time.

More tomorrow.

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