Nong Khai and the unexpected guest.

Waking up on the train and spending the last hour chatting to a fellow traveller who had engulfed my nostrils all night with an interesting smell was an interesting way to start the day. We arrived in Nong Khai after 9 hours and were immediately set upon by tuk tuk drivers wanting to take us to the border, we just wanted to go to the hotel! So we agreed our price and set off through a calmer, laid back city.

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The hotel was just out of town, we would find out how far later on. We arrived to big Sawatdee smiles and managed somehow to get into our room at 8am. I’m not sure whether places just don’t care for check in times of the room is ready or if they feel sorry for us as we look a mess 90% of the time.

The hotel itself was alongside the Mekong river, surrounded by fields and exotic foliage. After watching/reading/hearing so much about this immense river it was great to finally see it. A great brown snake slowly slithering towards the ocean.

The hotel room was great for the price (a fiver each) with a single bed pushed up to a double to make for some interesting sleeping arrangements. Some who are reading this blog will know I’m not great with creepyw crawlies and I have found myself looking over a room for potential entry points or hiding spots. This room was no different.

I asked Liam to look under the bed if I lifted the covers and he refused, so I jokingly lifted them and next thing a lizard came scuttling across the side of the bed! Liam and I jumped a foot in the air screaming to Leia that we had a guest. Lizzie the lizard! We soon realised that lizzie had brought the whole family and that this hotel was crawling with cute little lizards. A bonus as they’d keep the creepy crawlies away.

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Anyway, we headed out to Sala Keoku, a sculpture park designed by a Laos man inspired by Asian mythology. I agreed a 200 baht price with the hotel lady and a guy gave us a lift in his truck, but when we got there he charged us 300! I was sure I heard 200 but we realised later this was his own little scam. It was only 60p each extra so we paid and headed to the park.

Sala Keoku was incredible, it’s only small but the statues were crazy. Some of them towering 50 feet or so above you. The highlight being a multiheaded snake that was so big it blotted out the sun. It’s just a shame we couldn’t read Thai as there was writing underneath all the statues.

There was a wheel of life which you entered through a big mouth, elephants, snakes, Buddhas, archers, skeletons and warriors. We all loved it and it gave us some great photo ops.

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We then headed to a nearby crocodile farm, something that hadn’t been on any lists of things to do in Nong Khai which should have been a warning. We were expecting lush watery pens with different crocodiles. What we got was two Thai lads pulling and prodding the crocs around a concrete slab with a bit of water around the outside before putting their hands and heads inside the crocs mouth. We weren’t impressed and it just felt sad that a Buddhist country could treat animals this way. The most exciting part was seeing a giant Centipede make it’s way past us all.

After this downer we jumped in a tuk tuk after Liam spent 5 minutes explaining we would pay 100b for all of us to get back into town, not 100b each. We got dropped off by an ATM in what we thought was the centre of Nong Khai. We got this very wrong. After walking for about an hour last the same shops selling different equipment and food we thought we would walk along the Mekong so went through some markets and emerged onto a promenade full of restaurants and bars looking over the river to Laos.

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After walking past the busiest restaurants that were excluded by a hot and bothered Leia because they had no air con we ended up in Brendans. An expat restaurant bar selling Thai food alongside cooked breakfasts and steak.

We ordered chicken and cashew, pork and cashew and prawn sweet and sour. They came and they were all a weird shop bought looking sweet and sour sauce with carrots onions and tomatoes. Things I hadn’t really seen much of so far in Thailand. Leia wolfed hers down but I was dissatisfied after the amazing flavours of previous meals and left half of it, something I rarely do.

(Partly) Filled up and undecided on what else to do we headed towards a park that looked close on the map and was heading back to the hotel. After walking for an hour there was still no park and we were on the outskirts of town. Liam checked where we were and we were a 30 minute walk from the hotel so we set off to relax and get ready to hit the town on a Saturday night.

The walk was horrendous, the sun wasn’t too hot but along the road there were several stray dogs that took a liking to Liam and his bright yellow t shirt. I marched on and it was actually nice to see different homes, shops and restaurants on the walk. I think the locals found us very strange to be trekking up this main road. We made it back in one piece after Liam fended off the dogs with his bright green brolly.

We chilled out for a bit and planned the next few days in Laos and also checked out some Ha long bay cruises. Got ready, and slapped the deet on.

We accidentally interrupted the hotel owner’s family meal to catch a ride into town, this time ensuring everyone heard the price. The guy dropped us into town on the back of his van and pointed us in the direction of a few restaurants. We used the universally acknowledged method of choosing a restaurant by going into one which was busy with locals.

We ordered 3 Chang and had our first warm beer with ice experience. I ordered a hot and sour salad with pork which is making my mouth water just thinking about it. The flavours were intense, however it was one of the hottest things I’d ever eaten. My mouth was burning, it was eye watering and according to Leia (who laughed) and Liam my face was bright red. I just couldn’t stop eating it! I love spicy food and this was no exception. I had to chug down my beer just to ease the pain to a modest tingling sensation. Liam also had a spicy dish of pork mince basil and rice but wisely picked the chillies out and Leia went for the safe choice of fried kale and pork. All three tasted great and makes me excited for what else we’ll try.

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In the afternoon we had noticed a stage being set up on the promenade so after paying the bill we made our way through stalls and stalls of food and gifts to the river. Keeping our eye out for ice cream. As luck would have it a young girl jumped out tempting us to a stall selling fried ice cream. Liam had lemon and Leia and I opted for cookie and cream flavour. It was delicious, cornflakes on the bottom the fried ball of ice cream then drizzled with sauce and sweets. We couldn’t get enough of it. With big grins on our faces we went over to the stage to watch Thai people do their version of a barn dance. Crazy country music blared out over the river while they danced in sync with each other. It looked really fun but even a man insisting we dance couldn’t get us down there, our bravery would need to be built up.

It was such a great atmosphere and a real Saturday night. We ended up in a bar full of local teenagers drinking vast amounts of whiskey and beers and smoking like chimneys.

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This was all soundtracked by a girl and guy act with a guitar and box for the guy to drum. It was a perfect evening. Due to the time difference at 9pm a big screen came to life and the Chelsea v West Ham game came on. Many of the Thais seemed to be Man Utd fans so Chelsea got a lot of boos which I enjoyed.

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The bar workers came to the table to fill up glasses with beer and ice but somehow always did Liam’s glass and never mine! Maybe they were hinting I didn’t need anymore. After a few beers we went back to the hotel, refusing to pay the tuk tuk driver more than 100b to get us there. Maybe we were finally getting good at this whole thing.

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