Back in the early 1990s I used to escape Bangkok by taking the overnight submarine-train to the end of the line at Nong Khai. Buffalo grazed by the tracks. There wasn’t a backpack in sight. I remember taking a perverse pleasure in being the only foreigner to get off the train, and wearing brogues and a suit. I would then cross over into the People’s Undemocratic Republic of Laos by boat (they hadn’t built the bridge then) to a) try and sort out my tangled business affairs and b) make a bit of extra wedge by delivering consignments of Physignathus Cocincinus or Thai Water Dragon on behalf of an Austrian ex-con called Otto K (who makes guest appearance in Zen City). I used to carry the little blighters in specially converted egg boxes.
Vientiane had a curfew on those days and militia would prowl around on motorbikes searching for foreign miscreants. The “Russian Club” was a wonderful restaurant overlooking the Mekong that once hosted Soviet advisers. In my day it featured an enormous blue parrot, a beautiful head waitress with very long black hair called Bernard and I was locked in the toilet (but not with the parrot or, thankfully, Bernard) by a heroin-addicted friend of mine who was being very silly.
Men in white coats used to inspect the Vientiane watering holes, Joan Jet and the Blackhearts were on at the only nightclub in town and all the girls wore traditional pha-sin. I should add that Bier Lao on draught, not the bottled stuff, is – was – excellent.