In 1988 I travelled from Bangkok to Nong Khai, on the banks of the Mekong River in Northern Thailand, on the strength of a rumour that the river crossing border to Laos and its capital Vientiane would open; we sat there for three lazy days and nothing happened.
More than thirty years later and 25 years after the Australian-built Friendship Bridge across the Mekong opened, I tried again. The train from Nong Khai (running since 2008) travels, twice a day, the 3.5 km to Thanaleng in Laos, where buses and taxis ferry travellers to Vientiane. It’s a dusty train from a dusty station but is greeted with great excitement by the small number of locals and travellers that take it.
Vientiane is a quiet city where it’s still possible to step back in time, busy monasteries, hidden memories of the French, delightful restaurants and cheap local beer.