Sabai Dee (hello) everyone. I'm now in Vientiane, Laos - the capital city.
I took an overnight train from Bangkok to Nong Khai (Thailand). The train reached Nong Khai at around 09:00, and then I took a tuk-tuk (rickshaw) to the Friendship Bridge border crossing between Thailand and Laos.
I got ripped-off by the Laotian officials who charged me US$42 for the visa-on-arrival. The actual price is US$35. Interestingly, the corrupt officials charge a different amount from everyone. I heard about a family that applied for the visa at the same time and each person was charged a different amount. Quite obviously, the difference between what they charge and the actual amount (US$35) goes in their pockets.
It is possible to bargain with the officials to bring the price down closer to US$35. I didn't know about this until it was too late. Anyway, one cannot risk offending the officials as one risks not getting the visa.
Anyway, the train from Bangkok was excellent. I had purchased a 2-tier A/C sleeper class ticket for around 750 Bahts. The sleeping area is private (with curtains) and clean linen. I slept well.
I'm going to spend 3-4 days in Vientiane before moving to Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage city.
From Luang Prabang, I plan to cross the border into northern Vietnam and make my way into the hill-town of Sapa. From Sapa, I plan to do a 3 days and 2 nights trek to Mt. Fansipan - known as the "Roof of Indochina" - it is the highest peak in the region.
Corrections (July 24th, 2009)
1) The fee for a visa on arrival for Canadians is US$42. So I didn't get ripped off by Lao officials on the Friendship Bridge.
2) Even though Mt. Fansipan (10,312 ft.) of Vietnam is dubbed the "Roof of Indochina", it is not the highest peak of the Indochina region. Indochina is another name for mainland Southeast Asia, which comprises of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Peninsular Malaysia. The highest peak of this region is Myanmar's Mt. Hkakabo Razi, which is 19,296 ft. high. Mt. Hkakabo Razi is the real "Roof of Indochina".