On May 12th, our Laos visa expired and we needed to cross the border back into Thailand. That morning, we caught a tuk-tuk from our hotel to Talat Dao - New Market. As our tuk-tuk slowed down, before we could even get out of the vehicle, several men were offering us a ride to the border. We accepted a ride for 80 cents per person on a "taxi," which looked much like a sangthaew that had been referred to us a "bus" back in Champasak and Don Khong. Whatever it was called, this was the vehicle that would take us to Chong Mek, the city on the border of Laos.
After an hour, the taxi dropped us off in area without a lot of direction of where to go next. So, along with another confused traveler from Belgium, we simply started walking. We had read in our guide to be on the lookout for a building with a green roof. After a few minutes, we spotted it, and made our way to a little window where a man stamped our passports and sent us on our way. We went in search of money exchange next to get rid of around $25 in Laos kip that we still had on us. We walked in circles from building to building, only to find ourselves back at the first one where the exchange counter was hidden in the back. Finally, we walked in the direction away from where we were first dropped off and found yet another building without a lot of signs that was Thai immigration.
With our passports stamped, we got in a taxi pickup truck with the traveler from Belgium and another tourist and the driver took us on the hour-long trip into Ubon Ratchathani.
People say to get off the beaten path, go somewhere different when you travel. Well, we are sure that few other travelers make a point of hanging out in Ubon Ratchathani. Ubon Ratchathani is not a beautiful city. It is rather grim and industrial. We had picked this destination as our jumping off point to get to Yasothon for the Rocket Festival, because the only places to stay in Yasothon as listed in our guidebook were full. So, we planned on hanging out in Ubon Ratchathani on the 12th and 13th and travel back and forth by bus to Yasothon for the festivities on the 14th and 15th.
Once we put our stuff down in our hotel room (which looked much like a small classroom with its linoleum floors) we set out to find a place to eat. This was not easy as none of the restaurant signs were in English and the places didn't look so clean or inviting. We finally settled upon a bakery that offered a few simple Thai noodle dishes that would tide us over. We wandered about the city and tried to find someone to speak to at the tourist bureau. We did not succeed - the booth was closed at 3 in the afternoon on a weekday. Perhaps this was due to lack of business!
We then tried to find the bus station where we could figure out the schedule for buses to Yasothon. We walked, and walked, and walked. Apparently, the station must have moved since our guidebook came out with its map as it was not where we thought it would be. It was dark and late and we decided to catch a tuk-tuk back to the night market for dinner.
This is where our luck ran out. We bought some item that looked like won-tons, with a mystery filling inside of a gooey rice paper exterior. It doesn't sound appetizing, but we had something like this back in Luang Prabang and had really liked it. For drinks, Carrie got a banana shake and Gregg bought a bottle of water. We sat down to eat and mid-meal, Carrie began to feel nauseous. Gregg felt fine and even had meat on a stick as a second course. We made a short walk through the market but then called it a night and went back to the hotel.
Waking up the next morning, Carrie still did not feel well, so we decided to check out of our hotel and go to one of the nicest hotels in town where she could rest. We moved to the Laithong Hotel, listed as a 5-star hotel in their brochure (that's a bit of a stretch) for $33 a night. One thing we did like about the city was the pricing.
From the 13th through the 16th, Carrie spent the vast majority of her time in this hotel room nursing the cursed stomach ailment that had taken hold of her. Gregg came down with a similar bug on the 14th and he too spent a couple days holed up in the room. We left only for short trips to nearby 7-11, where we picked up highly processed packaged foods that we knew and trusted to not be toxic to our tender stomachs. When we got married, we swore to stick by each other through both sickness and health. This was our chance to test the sickness part, as we took turns making trips to the bathroom, taking our temperatures, and consoling one another.
Carrie had a horrible book to read (do not check out Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island - the author just complains on and on), and Gregg finished his book early on the 15th. There was nowhere in to get a new English language book or English language newspapers nearby, so we spent a lot of time watching movies on the Starz movie channel. Our list of movies, many watched in their entirety:
My Cousin Vinny
Life or Something Like It
Rules of Attraction
Cold Creek Manor
Sleepless in Seattle
and some nameless Kung Fu parody movie
We started take the miracle drug, Cipro, and are pleased to say that we did indeed recover. By the time we left Ubon Ratchathani for our next destination, we were feeling around 90%. We can't say much for the town, but we are thankful for 7-11 and the comfortable hotel rooms at the Laithong Hotel.