. When they open the doors for the bus the fighting starts again with people litterally climbing over each other in the rush to get on the bus ahead of someone else. I leave them to it and then edge our way onto the bus and stand for the 15mins journey to the bridge. Getting off the bus I feel like a cork coming out of a champagne bottle. At least with our bag being one of the last to go the bus it is one of the first to come off and as we get to immigration there are only two people in front of us. Unfortunately as the other bags come off everyone starts to converge on the small office. I grab a couple of shirt collars and suggest that they might want to queue and a Lao official sees what is going on and makes an effort to control things. A degree of normaility briefly returns. We move on through without too much difficulty. As everyone is forming up to rejoin the bus it appears that bus intends to make two trips over the bridge to break up the ex\cessive numbers of people it was carrying. News of this soon spreads and of course everyone wants to be on the first crossing. Someone appears who seems to have some authority and along with a group leader they sort out who is getting on the first bus and who isnt. We are stood right by the door and I am trying to blag a place on this first bus with the chap who appears to be the boss - no luck. Then just as it appears that the bus is full and is going to leave he calls Jai and myself forward and we stand on the steps just inside the door for the 5 min crossing of the river
. Being last on and carrying our bag means that we are first off and first to Thai immigration. All of the Vietnamese 'people' now have the task of completely Thai arrival cards in either English or Thai. All of our paperwork was prepared in advance and we are the first through with no problems at all. We even have time to have a laugh and joke with customs as they search our baggage. Apparently they love the Vietnamese coming (?!) and every bus throughout thje day is more often than not a fight for places. We sit to wait for everyone else to pass through in slow time and chat to the man in charge. Apparently he is the 'boss of the bus' and I guess has something to do with the people who run the buses as he says he travels across the border about once a month just to check on how things are running. I could offer a few comments but decide its best to just shut up and ride it out. Our bus has returned to Laos to pick up the second hoarde and after dropping them off at Thai immigration drives around to pick us up and take us to Nahkhon Phanom bus station about a 20min drive away. We stay in our seats until the bus is empty then make a leisurely departure. We take a tuk-tuk to the hotel that I am planning on staying at, The Grand Hotel. It may have been 'grand' at one time but now is decidedly less so. We are shown an aircon room with bathroom that is OK and decide to take it regardless. When we get back down to reception another member of staff has arrived and tells us that she will give us a better room
. We check in then find that our new room, whilst not very big, is spotlessly clean, has aircon, bathroom, and a large flatscreen TV fixed to the wall. It is quite nice and we flop on the bed exhausted after a stressful morning. I make a vow never to cross the border from Tha Khaek to Nakhon Phanom again and to tell as many people about it as possible. My hip is playing up by now so I send Jai down to reception for some hot water for a coffee whilst I stretch out and have a rest. We have not eaten anything yet today and by 11:30 are both hungry so walk the 100 yards up to the river for a snack. It looks really nice here with a paved promenade running besides the river for what looks like the entire length of the town with great views over to Tha Khaek and the Laos mountains behind. I have read the mountains described as giant anthills and that seems like a fair description of how they appear from here. After eating we go for a short walk along the river stopping first at Wat O-Kan where there are a couple of wooden Buddhas that alledgedly floated over to Thailand from Laos many years ago. They are now behind a heavy metal grill, presumably to stop them 'floating' back to Laos at some time. We then pass the ferry and immigration offices where we should have arrived if 'farang' were still allowed to use the boats - if only ! Nakhon Phanom which apparently means 'City Of Mountains' was an important place during the Vietnamese War with many refugees from that country fleeing here and settling.
In 1960 the Vietnamese community constructed a clock tower near the riverfront to show their gratitude in thanks for the friendship that was shown them. There wasnt much friendship being shown by anyone at the border this morning !! Most of the refugees went back when the fighting stopped although there still seems to be a sizeable Vietnamese presence here. We strolled around town and visited the Indo-China market which is just like its equivalent in the other towns that have border crossings to Laos. It sells all sorts of largely junk that is manufactured in China, Vietnam, Korea, Vietnam, etc and brought here for sale. No-one seemed to be doing any buying today and I am surprised that they can sell much of this stuff any day ! We head back to the hotel for a rest as temperatures have climbed again early afternoon. Head back out about 3pm and walk south passing Wat Sri Thip which like all of the temples in town is in immaculate condition. A beautiful Buddha resides here and the house of the temple master - abbott ? - was constructed in a European style and now has a Siam Architecture preservation oder on it. We continue as far south as we can go on this road and then turn towards the river. We pass Wat Muhathat otherwise knwon as Phra That Nakhon which is the large white chedi that we can see from Tha Khaek across the river. This chedi is particularly worshipped by those people who were born on a Saturday. We are both Wednesday babies so move on. We continue south past Wat Phra In Plaeng which houses a 1000 year old Buddha
. We end up at the Mae Nam Kong Grand View Hotel which as the name suggests sits directly above the river and does indeed have great views over to Laos and its distant mountains. The 'Rough Guide' travel book recommends the food here on the hotel terrace but after eating a relatively expensive Tom Yum that wasnt very warm and wasnt very good and with poor service we certainly wouldnt recommend it. When our drinks were first brought I complained that my glass had a large chip in it and was told that it was OK because the chip was on the outside... We sit and enjoy our drinks anyway watching a couple net fishing in the river whilst a group of young lads play a game of football on what can only be described as a beach. JUst above the sands is a ribbon of land that looks like it has been built up with river silt and is now in use as a flourishing vegetable garden. It looks like allotments with lots of people having their own small plot to work. We follow the riverside walk all the way back into town passing, or more accurately being passed by, loads of joggers. There are lots of family groups sat out picniccing and a couple of large groups of mainly elderly people indulging in some gentle aerobics. I politely refuse an invitation to join in ! In the glow of the setting sun it all looks like a really nice spot. As we near the ferry terminal I spot a lamp post that is decorated with an illuminated boat. Each October they have a large festival in town which culminates with boat races on the river between crews from Thailand and Laos. We reach the Vietnamese Memorial Clock Tower which is now also illuminated then briefly back to the hotel. We had intended on walking back to the river to sit and have a beer at one of the small food stalls but when we returned they were all closing up for the night although it was only just turned 18:00. Instead we return to the hotel where Jai goes to the room for Thai TV and I sit in reception with a coffee and update travel diary.
Up at 06:30 for a coffe from reception then stand on one of our balconies watching Tha Khaek wake up. Wake up very slowly so it seems as there is hardly a soul around. I am still disappointed that we cant use the ferry this morning but ... We take a skylab to the bus station and to my surprise there are hoardes of people crowding around the ticket office for the International Bus and the office isnt even open yet. They are young Vietnamese lads coming to Thailand and Bangkok in search of work. They are fighting and jostling for position for some time before the office opens but when it does the scarmble starts in earnest. I stand back for a few minutes then realise that if I want to be sure of getting a ticket for the first bus then I have little option but to join in. In spite of the dodgy hip I raise my elbows and wade into the scrum of people standing on a few toes (I hope) on my way through. By the time that I have tickets for the 8:30 bus I am tired, angry and stressed out and the day is only just starting