Every guest house and travel agency in Vientiane can organise a plane, bus or train ticket to get from Vientiane to Bangkok easily. And cheaply too. All you have to do is ask. They will then make a simple phone call to see if there is in fact a seat for you, and then off you go.
Although you can take a plane from Vientiane direct to Bangkok, we decided to go by train. We both like train travel a lot. We have blogged about our various train trips between Bangkok and Chiang Mai over and over. As well as other train experiences in southern Thailand. And, the idea of catching one more bus was wearing a little thin. Buses don't have as much room as trains. Planes are quicker but you miss out on a lot of beautiful country side. Train Travel it was. Yippee!
We booked our second class night train sleeper tickets at a travel agent and told them where we were staying so that we could be picked up by their mini van service. The prices for the train tickets varied by 100 or 200 baht per ticket at different travel agents. We booked one upper sleeper berth for me (Tanya) at 900 Baht, and one lower sleeper berth for Andrew at 1000 Baht. The lower berth is bigger than the top berth.
As planned, a minibus picked us up at 3pm to head to the train station just outside of Vientiane in Thanaleng. We drove all over town picking up other passengers including going past our hotel twice more.
Going through immigration at the Thanaleng train station to leave Laos was painless. We waited in line, checked that our departure cards for Laos were still in our passports, and paid our 10,000 Kip departure fee each. We did notice that some people didn't pay this fee, possibly because they didn't know they had to pay it therefore didn't have the money to pay it.
We then waited for the International Train to take us from Thanaleng in Laos over the Friendship Bridge to Nong Khai in Thailand. A few minutes later we were on a train. We really like trains! Even when they are basic trains with hard plastic seats and just fans to cool you down.
The International Train runs between Thanaleng in Laos to Nong Khai in Thailand and back twice daily. The cost is 20 - 30 Baht each, and takes just over 15 minutes to go from one town to the other.
Nong Khai to Thanaleng - 9:00am
Thanaleng to Nong Khai - 11:15am
Nong Khai to Thanaleng - 2:45pm
Thanaleng to Nong Khai - 5:00pm
Fifteen minutes of looking out the window at Laos and Thailand, and we pulled up at Nong Khai train station. Through the border we went. Enjoying the fact that we could speak Thai again. It is amazing how much of another language you get to know by accident given enough time. Unfortunately as it was a ground border crossing, we only received a 14 day tourist visa. We actually asked if we could have 30 days. But the Thai official said no. There is no harm in trying.
We had a couple of hours in Nong Khai before our train was to depart for Bangkok. We changed some of our Lao Kip to Thai Baht at the ticket counter at the train station.
This is when we heard the bad news. There had been an accident so the train will not be running tonight. What? There was an accident on the train line so the train will not be running. Don't worry we will have night buses take you instead. Hmmmmm.
Something to note here. It was the night before a four day holiday. Songkran, the Thai new year. Ours was the last train before they shut down for the holiday. Rumours circulated that the train staff were simply keen to start their holiday.
Our train tickets cost significantly more than a bus ticket would have. Apparently we could get a refund of the difference when we arrived in Bangkok. There was no sign of this when did arrive and we were too tired to be bothered. I would have been very unhappy if I had bought first class train tickets!
We purchased a meal from a restaurant across the road. Pad Krapow Gai. Yum! We bought a few more snacks, a bottle of water and then waited along with everyone else in front of the train station for our night bus.
Our comfy night train was meant to leave at 6:20pm. Everyone started getting a little antsy. The first big bus arrived and people crammed on. Every seat was taken. We saw a local Thai family waiting for the next bus so we decided to follow suit.
The second bus came and we jumped on. We ended up with two seats each. Comfy. Our bags had to go underneath in the storage compartment though so all of our electronics came with us.
At 7:15pm, we finally departed Nong Khai to head to Bangkok. Our travel pillows were pumped up, we had our books and a iPhone with full battery to keep us company. It still would have been nice to be on the night train. We could have been playing scrabble by now.
The bus stopped a couple of times. Mainly for fuel and to let the driver have a few minutes away from the wheel. We powered along until we reached Bangkok Hua Lampong Train Station at 5:24am.
The ride was actually pretty comfortable. We both slept a bit here and there but a lot more than we thought we would. The bus had a clean working toilet, comfortable seats that reclined and blankets to cover yourself. The lights in the bus went out pretty much straight away so unless you had a head lamp, your choices were looking out the window or sleeping.
The moral of this story is that night buses are ok. They are not great. If you really want to catch a sleeper train in Thailand, or elsewhere in Asia, then make sure it is not the night before a major holiday. Especially Songkran.
And we finally arrived in Bangkok.