Bangkok, Thailand -> Vientiane, Laos


Location: Vientiane, Laos

When we crossed over the Thailand-Laos border, it was in a stressful, confusing rush. We’d been too comfortable in our house in Bangkok, too wrapped up in the city to remember that we also needed to prepare to leave it, and get out of the country before our temporary holiday visas ran out. When we first decided to move on to Thailand, my group planned to spend a month traveling through it. However, when we double checked the time limits on land crossing visas, the Thai government website informed us that American, Australian, and British passport holders all would only receive a 15-day allowance. If we wanted to stay longer, we’d have to buy a 7-day, $60 visa extension. Fortunately, when I arrived at the border, I was given a 30-day pass by the officials. Cody and Liam double checked their visas as well; we’d received the same thing. However, when a few friends that had crossed separately arrived at the border, they were given only 15-day visas. Strange, we thought. Maybe someone had just fucked up on the day we crossed? After all, it wasn’t the first time we’d encountered some sort of governmental inconsistency in Southeast Asia. 

When we finally made our way back to Khao San (reminder to self: never go back to that grimy place in the daytime again) to book train tickets to Luang Prabang, Laos, our next destination, we found out that not only would that full trip be completely out of our price range, but that the winding trek through northern Thailand was so far that if at any point the train was delayed, several of our friends wouldn’t reach the border within their visa time limit. So instead we booked a $30 night train to Nongkai, Thailand, and decided we’d walk ourselves over the Friendship Bridge, the closest crossing point between Thailand and Laos. From there we would figure out a plan.

I know it sounds paranoid that we’d freak out so much about possibly overstaying a visa by a single day, but during our time in Thailand, we’d all heard horror stories about tourists who’d made that mistake. Not only are there hefty fines for an overstay, but we’d even heard rumors about especially unlucky travelers who ended up arrested and jailed for this indiscretion. And of course there’s the infamous reputation of the Thai prison system. As rational human beings, we wanted to avoid that.

When we arrived at Thailand’s departure border after a chilly, twelve hour night train trip, everyone was exhausted and nervous. I’ve found that all border crossings are a bit unpleasant; too many unsmiling faces in uniforms. I made it through without any problems, but Baby was stopped by an official and told to report to the police station within the building. We were all confused; Baby had crossed the same day as Liam, Cody, and myself and none of us had had issues with the length of our stay. We waited, peering back over the glass wall that separated Thailand’s border from the in-between area of the Friendship Bridge that spans the Mekong river. When Baby finally reappeared, he was obviously unhappy. In one hand he held a fat wad of Baht.

Baby hadn’t double checked his visa stamp and he’d overstayed by a week. It turns out that Australians, even though we usually think of them as Westerners, are still considered Asia Pacific nationals, and only receive a 15-day land crossing stay in Thailand (completely the opposite of what’s on the Thai government website). Baby had made the crucial mistake of assumption; when Cody, Liam, and I all celebrated our 30-day visa when we entered the country, he hadn’t thought to double check his own stamp. It didn’t matter what the government website said, that it had categorized us all together. Things in Southeast Asia are never so clear.


  • Laos Visa: $35 (for Americans, $30 for Australians)
  • Train Tickets to Nongkai: About $30 (but if you purchase them at the train station instead of at a travel agent, it’s much cheaper!)
  • Friendship Bridge Bus Crossing: $0.50
  • Overstay: $300-Jail Time

Travel Tips

  • Always double check your visa length! I can’t stress this enough. I’ve seen several people pay overstay fines at borders, now, and they all seem particularly unhappy about it.
  • Plan ahead. Trying to book a train or bus last minute can be taxing both on your nerves and your wallet. As fun as it is to enjoy the moment, make sure you know where you’re going next and how to get there.

Late Nights in Khao San

Location: Bangkok, Thailand

Khao San is one of Bangkok’s tourist districts — probably the trashiest, most popular one for backpackers and young travelers at the moment. From twilight to 2AM the main strip is blocked off by orange traffic barricades. Every building is affixed with at least one neon sign that flashes and emits a festive, unnatural glow. Westerners, tuk tuk drivers, vendors, promoters, ladyboys, and prostitutes clog the streets from edge to edge. Every inch of sidewalk has been claimed by merchants. Some have simply set up a cooler of beers, a metal folding chair, and a cardboard sign with prices scribbled on it while others have full glass carts piled high with fresh fruit, syrups, and bottles of liquor. I even saw a man who had positioned his $1 Pad Thai wok directly in front of the door to a McDonald’s. You actually had to go around him to enter the fast food restaurant (and at the end of the night, while Cody binged on Mickey D’s cheeseburgers, I sort of remember chowing down on a tasty egg noodle dish, possibly Pad Thai style). 

7-11’s and other mini-marts are only legally able to sell alcohol until midnight (Thailand is currently under martial law, not that you’d know that from wandering around Khao San’s wild streets). After that, you have to go into one of the overpriced bars or clubs for a drink. And as the night goes on, the t-shirt stands’ profits increase significantly as drunk Westerners impulse buy $3 printed tanks and ninja pants. Tuk tuk drivers also become more persistent with tipsy-to-wasted clients, offering rides to Ping Pong shows in the red-light district. They flap laminated programs for these magic-show-esque smut exhibitions at potential customers, shouting “pussy ping pong” at passing throngs of young men. The lineups on these advertisements range from the confusing (“pussy rainbow”) to the strange (“pussy fishes in”) to the downright bone-chilling (“pussy magic razorblade”). 

We spent the first half of the night milling around the stands and people watching, chugging Siamsatos. These $1, 750ml bottles of sour-sweet goon are only available at 7-11’s, which, thankfully, are plentiful in Bangkok. In Thailand, alcohol strength is labeled by the minimum amount possible, instead of the actual quantity. For instance, Siamsatos are “at least 8%” alcohol. And it’s seriously a guessing game with them - I’ve definitely had a few that were way over 8%. When 7-11 would no longer sell us Siamsato, we made our way down an alleyway and ended up in a teeny bar, barely wider than a hallway, that was blasting techno beats. We bought $3 buckets of rum, pineapple juice, and coconut milk, and danced until Cody (who was dancing while sitting down) crushed the Asian-sized plastic chair underneath him and we had to get the hell out of there. 


  • Cab ride: $5-7 (depending on where you are in the city/how well you haggle)
  • (If you’re willing) Siamsato: $1 per bottle
  • Toilets: $0.25
  • Street Pad Thai: $1
  • Cheap t-shirt souvenirs you can’t refuse: $3-5 (depending on your haggling skills)

Travel Tips

  • Don’t be stupid about drug usage in Thailand. It’s sketchy as shit here - the cops are corrupt, the tuk tuk drivers are often narcs, and the whole damn country is under marshall law. If you’re willing to risk having a cop walk you to an ATM machine and ask you to empty your bank account or go to Thai prison for a minimum 3 years, be smart about it. 
  • Bangkok’s alleyways have just as many bars as the main strip; check it out if you hear good beats going down. 


Location: Bangkok, Thailand

There’s something intensely beautiful about watching a professional fighter perform. Maybe it’s his physical perfection: the strong, lean body with rippling muscles and thick skin. Maybe it’s the pointed determination in his eyes, the way he embraces the physical combat before him without fear or hesitation. Maybe it’s the fierce devotion he demonstrates as a product of years of training, sacrifice, and discipline — all for such long-awaited, short bursts of sharp movements and unpredictable outcomes. Maybe it’s the understanding that I can’t do what he does, and the respect that that humbling knowledge releases in me. Or maybe I just like the sanctioned violence of these brawls and the bloodthirsty energy of the crowds that follow them. Maybe it’s a little bit of all of this.

I just know that when I see two boxers in a ring, I can’t look away. I close my eyes during gory movies, I become nauseous at the sight of any wound leaking more than a few drops of blood, and I develop nervous sweats even in verbal confrontations. But nothing frightens me about an old fashioned fight, as dangerous as it can be. I’m hooked on the adrenaline rush, the vicarious thrill of watching two professionals punch the shit out of each other.

And ever since I booked my bus ticket to Bangkok, I’ve been determined not to leave Thailand without witnessing at least one serious Muay Thai match. My first day in the city I Googled where I could watch a fight and was disheartened to find out it would cost me at least $30 for admittance, more than I’d spent on groceries for the week. I’d passed a couple Muay Thai gyms in Lat Phrao and debated just showing up and hoping the they’d let me sit in a corner and watch them practice. 

But the martial arts gods were smiling upon me and on my second day in Bangkok. My friends and I had been at MBK all afternoon, and after several excruciating hours, we had finally bought the SIM cards we needed for our stay in Thailand. The mall’s florescent lights, cold, stale air, and twisting mazes of stalls had left me exhausted and hungry and I was relieved when we finally left.

We were climbing the thin, concrete staircase over the main street and up to the nearest train station when I noticed people lined up against the railing, which overlooked the concrete square in front of MBK. I could hear cheering and shouts in the background. When I peeked between shoulders I saw a large boxing ring set up in the middle of a densely packed crowd. Two men in shiny shorts circled each other in the middle of the brightly lit stage. And above them a tacky, orange banner read, “SIANG PURE, PROUD SUPPORTER OF THAI BOXING.”

I called my friends back and we rushed down the steps, ran by the endless stream of shoppers drifting from MBK’s sliding doors. We passed a white tent where two women were massaging a young boxer’s back while another fighter in rolled, red shorts had oil rubbed onto his shoulders and arms, bringing out the definition of his lean muscles. He looked young; maybe early twenties at most. 

The crowd around the ring reached the edge of the street and we shoved our way into the masses of hooting, middle-aged Thai men. The fight was already in its fifth round and the two boxers were gleaming with sweat, their eyes dimming from fatigue. It ended just as we got settled, the stockier boxer knocking out his opponent with a heavy right hook that thudded thickly against his left temple. The winner leaned over the thick red cords of the ring, grinning, and raised a glove in the air in triumph. The crowd cheered. Both fighters were escorted out of the ring, and a few minutes passed, but no one in the crowd moved. We waited, hoping there was more to come.

An announcer’s voice came over the speakers, shouting a new welcome in Thai. Models in stilettos, tight black spandex shorts and matching, stuffed bandeau tops sauntered down a runway leading from the white tent we’d passed earlier into the ring. They held up cards with large, black “1’s” printed on them. Two lightweight, bareknuckled boxers marched out after, their hands, wrists, and forearms wrapped in only thick, white tape. One of them was the fighter in red shorts I’d seen earlier in the tent. He moved slowly and his face was expressionless, but you could sense he was nervous; he wouldn’t look at the crowd, just at the ground. His opponent wore navy, and though he was just as wiry and about the same height, his full chest and back tattoos made him appear older and much more dangerous.

The two walked to their corners and a tinny, flute-heavy song punctuated by sharp drums floated from the speakers. It sounded like a proper war tune, one to energize an army before battle. And the men in the ring began to move in rhythm to the music as it began to play, dancing around the edges, raising their legs and arms in turn and bobbing their heads when the synth clanged. They got on their knees and bowed to the crowd, raised their arms above their heads and rolled their legs out. They looked like true warriors stretching before a death match.

The crowd murmured and bustled during the display. People held up one or two fingers and began passing money to several men to my left that stood below a man with a fanny pack standing on a plastic chair (he had a perfect view of the ring). In one hand he held a slip of paper and a pen. Cody lifted me up onto his shoulders so I could get a better view and several men in the crowd asked me to take photos of them, their fingers held up in peace signs (or v’s for victory). 

The music faded and the fighters walked to the center of the ring, faced each other, and when the referee motioned, bowed, touching foreheads. Then they raised their clenched fists up to protect their chests and touched the ground with opposite feet several times. The tattooed fighter kicked out and his opponent leapt back, dodging it. They repeated this, lightly kicking at each other, testing out possible weaknesses.

Then the tattooed fighter looked up, locked eyes with his opponent and swung his body forward, pulling back his left arm for force, and threw a straight punch with his right fist. Red shorts saw it, but swung to block too late, and the first fighter’s fist caught him on the jaw below his right ear. Hard and fast. He was flung backwards, stumbling on one foot before he hit the ring’s ropes. He fell forward on his hands and feet and took half a step as if he meant to get up before collapsing flat on his stomach. He lay still. 

It was so fast that if you’d blinked, you would have missed the whole thing. The tattooed fighter must have known that his opponent wouldn’t get up; he turned away after the hit, adjusted his shorts, and just watched, not bothering to lift his arms to a defensive position. The crowd went wild, shouting and howling in shock and awe as the referee ran over to the downed man, counted to three, and pointed out the winner. It was a one-hit KO, a rare occurrence in any professional fight. 

The man on the ground lay there for a long time, his eyes open in slits, and a doctor checked his pulse before they were finally able to get him to sit up and hobble over to the side of the ring. He looked like a zombie. When the referee raised the winner’s arm in the air and walked him in a circle so the crowd could see, the fighter barely smiled. He stared seriously into the crowd, bowed, and quietly left the ring.