Although you can get most necessities in Vientiane, shopping trips to Nong Kai on the Thai side of the Mekong river are a popular weekend activity for expats and locals alike. Last weekend we joined the crowds after a colleague asked if we fancied a trip to a real supermarket. Or as he put it on our way to the border, on-the-job training in border crossings. Here are some of the lessons I learned when I crossed the Friendship Bridge for the first time.
#1: Get there early. We were at the border around 10am and so were a lot of other people. Luckily (and really only thanks to our colleague’s wife who wiggled her way to the top of every queu with all our documents) we only spent about 2,5 hours on border duties that day. Apparently this can easily double.
#2: Have all your arrival and departure cards filled in before arriving at the border. You need one of each for both countries, that makes a total four for a quick day trip. Better stock up on the cards on both borders so you can do the same next time. Also remember to smile when the Thai border control takes a photo of you.
#3: Thai supermarkets don’t appreciate if you takes photos of their fish counter. Of course I only found this out after snapping away. But you see I couldn’t help it with some of the following on display: blue-legged crayfish, stingrays, dozens of crabs in multiple shapes, sizes and colours, pink fish and giant frogs. Contrary to my initial fears they did not confiscate my camera, but it’s the dinosaur of a computer I’m using that’s simply refusing to recognise my camera so that I could share any pictures today.
#4: Real leather shoes are almost impossible to find. And just guess how comfortable fake leather shoes are to wear in +35 degrees Celsius. Especially when they’re black. But then again you can quite comfortably kick them off when hiding behind your desk in the office and they only cost about 8 euros.
#5: Ear plugs would be really handy if you plan on heading into a Thai shopping mall for lunch. At least when there’s a live lunchtime pop concert going on in the food court. Noise in general in this corner of the world is something quite disturbing far too often. Stereos appear to have only on/off switches and as people are exposed to dangerous levels of decibels from a very early age, they’re probably half deaf by the time they reach adulthood and thus the locals don’t seem to bother too much about noise. Yesterday I attended a Lao wedding for the first time and it was impossible to have a conversation with anyone but the person sitting right next to you, as leaning in was the only way to hear what the other one was saying.
Now that I’ve added all sorts of house items to my pile of belongings I can’t wait for the end of next week when I will finally get access to my own apartment. In particular I’m itching to start using my flashy new ice-crushing blender… One of the finer aspects of life in a tropical climate is that fresh fruit is readily available and for a fraction of the price it costs in Europe. Some are available year round like jackfruit, tamarind and pineapple, whilst others such as mangoes come in a more seasonal fashion. The other day I heard over lunch that the sudden drizzle was in fact mango rain which promises a juicy season for mak muang in May-June. Yet another thing to look forward to.