Songkran Part Two
The rest of the Songkran day was entertaining. All the parade cars and trucks rounded up at a playing field in town. They paraded the Beauty contestants on stage, speeches were made, awards for parade cars and such were made, food was passed out, each village presented a singer and dancers on stage, and of course, over by the Buddha there was lots of water being thrown. Of course I had little clue what was being said on stage. Tok would fill me in occasionally, but it was pretty easy to follow. Tok and I bailed out earlier in the evening. I wanted to get back home. Tok and I went for a walk later on that night. Out in the tobacco fields, under the full moon, I had a written request, but she had to remove it from the earth first. It was quite quite, pleasant.
My 30 visa-on-entry was expiring on the 26th. That meant I had to get it renewed. We had talked to a woman who is Thai, but is married and lives in Texas now. She said just go up to Loei, she had hers renewed easy. Okay. Well, Loei is a town, and also I later found out, a province. Tok said we could borrow Jamlongs motorbike and ride up there. Jamlongs motorbike is a 125cc, has more power for a road trip. So we went to the shop in the morning. They had the bike out getting new tires, and Jamlong said we could just take her truck. Okay, good. I think. Later it turned out to be a very fortunate thing. Oh joy, now I get to drive a car on the left. It is different. Years of always keeping your body to the left side of the lane makes you unconsciously drift to that side. I had to force myself to the right side. The shifter was on the left, which took some getting used to, using my left hand to change gears. And the blinker was on the right, so I kept turning on the windshield wipers where I wanted to signal. Loei is about 2 hours away, and it turns out the city is up over the mountains. Very lovely out there. When we got to town, we went to the police station to ask where the immigration place was. They told us we should go to the station at Chaing Kran, another 100 km to the north. Now I'm glad we are not on the motorcycle. We get to this little town, find the immigration office, and learn that they can only give a 15 day extension. Not enough. The Mekong River ran down below. The station was there for people making the boat crossings back and forth into Laos on the other side of the river. We could take the 15 days, go back home, or drive 200 km further to the international border. Yow. I was already tired of driving, so I handed the keys to Tok and we headed east. The road wound back and forth following the course of the river. Very scenic, passing thru lots of little villages, and getting behind slow farm vehicles. I tried to nap, but there was always something interesting to wake me up for. Along the last section of road, there were topiary animals. Elephants, cows, horses, dinosaurs, giraffe, people. I wonder who maintains them. We didn't get to the border until after 6pm, almost dark. Now I was very glad we were not on the motorbike! What a rigmarole. We parked the car, had to go thru exiting Thailand, getting stamped out, and then take a little shuttle bus across the river on the "Friendship Bridge" to the Laos side. There, they wanted 30 dollars American for a visa. I didn't have any dollars with me – didn't expect to be here. They charged me 1550 baht, which is 41 dollars. Got screwed on the exchange there, but not much to do about it. If you pay in USD, it's 30 of them. If you pay in Baht it's 1550 of them. Filled out an entry/departure card, got all the right stamps, paid another 10 baht (25 cents US) "entry fee". We were in Laos. Tok just walked thru all the gates with me. Didn't show any paper work, just told them she was doing the turnaround with me, I think.
We walked around to the OTHER side of the building, where I went thru the drill of departure, more stamping of paper, another entry fee, and we were out of Laos officially. Took the shuttle bus back over the bridge, went thru the Thai immigration and passport lanes, got more stamps, and I'm good for 30 more days. By now it had started raining again. So it's dark, the visibility out of Jamlongs truck sucks in the dark and wet, and we are a long way from home. I bought a proper roadmap at the gas station, and saw there was a nice fat red-line road going south, then another fat red-line road going west back to Lom Sak. I did not want to drive on two lane twisty secondary and tertiary roads in the dark and rain all the way back. Now I was very very glad we were not on the motorbike.
The thick red-line roads turned out to be the two/three lane divided highways. I was able to maintain 100 kph plus (60 mph) most of the time. But it was high alert driving. The rain was intermittent, heavy at times; some people went really fast, the trucks really slow. Which lane is the "fast lane" anyway? What was a real drag was when the slow truck was trying to pass the even slower trucks, which meant you were sucking diesel fumes and spray and losing ground. And of course have to watch for the motorbikes, and people going the wrong way. Other than that, it was a good drive. The road narrowed to two lanes going west over the mountains, but it was two good lanes, with good markings on curves and even reflectors marking roadsides. Didn't arrive home until 2am. We were on the road for 14 hours, traveled 800km (500 miles); cost me 2300 baht for diesel for the car (62 dollars) ouch! Plus all the afore mentioned fees. That was an expensive adventure. But necessary. I was kicking myself for not bringing my stash of American dollars and a few other things. But we were only going a few hundred km away too get a stamp at an office. But i didn't get the full information, and Tok didn't know what the drill is. Next time I do not leave Lom Sak without dollars and I'll take the bus. Longer time on the bus, probably and overnight trip, but much cheaper for bus tickets, probably 600 baht and I can sleep and read and look out the window. Such is life.
I haven't been online much, as you can tell. I'm doing a lot of things around the house, and I want to get them finished before I have to leave. There is a four step concrete landing at the bottom of the wooden stairs to the second floor. Nothing is square, lengths and widths are all different. We formed and evened the depth of the stairs somewhat, and had the first go at tiles. What a disaster. Came out with a huge dip in the middle, was a hassle to work with the concrete mortar. I didn't like it so I popped all the tiles backup and decided to start over. Tok asked a few questions at the store, they said to use an inch of mortar at least. We were trying to use like a ¼ inch. This time I laid out level lines, and floated the tiles on over an inch of mortar. Made all the difference. The mortar is workable at that thickness, and I had plenty of slack to take out the big dip in the existing surface of the landing. Used a level on all tiles this time also. Looks much much better! But we ran out of cement and sand, only got 13 big tiles laid. Much more to do, figuring out the stairs will be interesting.
So after the trip to the building supply store, I switch gears and knocked a big chunk of interior wall out. More like chiseled and broke it. There was a half room wall on the lower level. Tok and I both had the idea the same day about removing or knocking out the wall. I wanted to make a big mess and noise and dust and hammer things. The noise of the banging brought all the neighbors over to watch and comment. There were people and kids hanging in all the windows and doors, helpfully observing and making comments on what the crazy farang is doing now. After covering the floor with broken bits of concrete block, I was disinclined to have to carry all the debris outside, so I told the two boys in the window "sip baht" to take it out of the house (10 baht, 25 cents) they giggled and I heard "yee baht" (20 baht, 50 cents) and I gave them a thumbs up. By golly, they carted all the busted cinder block outside, spread the small stuff on the muddy path next to the house and raked and smoothed it out. Rock on! [oh the pun] Paid them.
I have a long list of things to do here. One more big job is to move 8 concrete poles to the other side of the house to make a floor, extend the tin roof one sheet length, to make storage for the rice. The concrete poles are left over from a house. They are sitting in to the north of Toks house, very much in the way. Tok didn't' think I could move them, so I used ancient technology. Rollers and rope. I cut up a length of three inch PVC water pipe into 20 inches pieces. It took a big effort to get the crew to understand the principles, but 1 man, 1 women, an elder and a 13 year old girl got one of the poles moved around to the other side of the house. Proved the concept. Try to instruct in English didn't work well, no matter how many times I repeated myself. Showing them got across the point, but not the principal: put the rollers from the back *in front of the pole, not underneath it* They got the point- rollers go under the pole, but not the principle: rollers from the back, when placed at the nose of the pole will get run under the pole as I pull on the thing with a rope.
And there's the new farang style toilet (sit down) to install – easier for mama to use. I asked the store for a mounting flange for the toilet. Don't have them. They just put a piece of PVC pipe under the outlet of the trap. No wax seals, rubber grommets, etc. Guess I'll figure that one out like the stairs. The toilet doesn't have a water tank – they don't have running water here, so you flush it with the bowl from the big tank. But I'll have to build a platform to get PVC drain pipe underneath the toilet, and tie that into the existing pipe that goes to the septic tank. They don't always bother to bury drain pipes. They are run on the ground. Never freezes here, so it's not a problem. Sure makes it easier to maintain and change when all the piping is on the ground instead of in it.
But somewhere in here we're going to take another trip into the mountains. There's a great place called "coffee hill" on the road up. They make espresso, and there are a couple of salas (open huts) perched on the edge of the hill, with a super vista of the valley and mountains. Jamlong is always to rushed to stop there, so I want to go back on our own.
Finally had to book a ticket back to the USA. Big Sigh. I'm not looking forward to the reverse culture-shock, which is always way worse than coming here or any other place I've traveled to. But, I have excellent motivation to pass thru it, and use it to my advantage.
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