The Slow Boat to China (Vientiane, Laos)

Vientiane – Chinese Visa – Trouble on the Horizon – The Result

Vientiane was a dull city of a half million people; you would never guess Laos’s capital if it wasn’t for the embassies and inflated prices.  A strange breed walked Vientiane’s streets at night: crazy Lao ladies, beggars, 8-year-old punks smoking cigarettes, the usual middle-aged European sex-tourists, drug-dealing tuk-tuk drivers and the dark shapes of prostitutes whispering from the shadows.

I checked into a drab, $2-a-night crash pad and selected the least disgusting bunk in the 20-person dormitory.  None of the travelers I met was enjoying their time in Vientiane – all were waiting for visas and all were of the same opinion – this place is horrible, boring and expensive; get your visa and get the hell outta here as quickly as possible!

I followed their advice. I woke up early, put on my nicest clothes, and rehearsed my plea on the way to the Chinese embassy.  The Chinese are reluctant to issue tourist visas for more than 30 days, but I needed more time: maybe six weeks to see the sights and about one week to organize my tickets on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  Getting a 60-day visa would be crucial to organizing the Trans-Siberian; with only a 30-day visa I would have to skip most of China and spent my time in the Central Ticket Office in Beijing.  I needed the Chinese to grant me an exception.  I turned in my application and spent the next four days researching the Trans-Siberian and planning my next moves.

I was shocked by what I discovered.   Not only was the Trans-Siberian going to be more expensive than I expected, it seemed nearly impossible to organize the necessary visas and tickets.  For a moment, I thought it would be impossible.  Too much money.  Too many hassles.  I looked at a map of the world: I had only traveled about an inch and a half in three months and Moscow was about a foot further!  The distance was intimidating.

But what were my other options?  Scrap my plans and fly to Europe?  For what?  The only reason I would go to Europe was because the Trans-Siberian terminated in Europe.  Hell, the main reason I was in Asia was because the train started in Beijing.  Beijing to Moscow. Asia to Europe.  The Trans-Siberian Railroad.  It was the heart of my journey, the ultimate goal.

No, I could not give up.  If I had to skip Angkor Wat, I would.  If I would arrive in Moscow starving and penniless, so be it.  I was determined to get on that train, and I knew I would make it no matter what.  Gumption, determination and a dash of naïve faith in my own abilities were all I had going for me, so I crossed my fingers, and cast my fortunes into the wind.

***

Four days later I showed up to the Chinese embassy to pick up my visa.  And the results?  Drum roll………….YES!  I got a 60-day double-entry visa, granting me to 120 days in China and allowing me plenty of time to organize the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  My dream of the Trans-Siberian Railroad was no longer in danger.

Everyone told me it was impossible to get a 120-day visa but I dismissed the naysayers, jumped through the hoops of Chinese bureaucracy, and got what I wanted. Maybe this crazy over-idealistic dream of mine would come together after all.  Only time will tell.

For now I follow the Mekong south to the colonial town of Savannaket, deeper into the tropic heat, towards the famed Temples of Ankor in neighboring Cambodia, and one step closer to my dream of the Trans-Siberian Railroad!

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