Day 62 – Welcome to Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos

With a looming overnight bus this evening I opted to try to stay up as late as possible.  It helped that I was staying in my own room in a guesthouse and there was no one to bother by being up so late.

Around midnight I was starving so went outside to find absolutely empty streets.  It didn’t matter though cause, as is with many streets here in Thailand, there was a 7-11 open just down the road.

My midnight snack was the authentic Thai dish known as a sausage and cheese sandwich.

Yum.

I went back to my room, watched a movie, and before I knew it it was creeping up on 4am.  This was easily the latest I had been up since my trip began.

After a few hours sleep I went next door again to get yet another order of that yummy pad thai I had last night.

My night bus wasn’t leaving until 5pm but I figured getting there would take at least a couple of hours seeing as how the border crossing was 10km down the road and I had to cross both the Thai and Laos border.

By noon though I just wanted to get on with it.  I figured it was better to just hang out near the bus station in Laos for a couple of hours rather than hangout in the courtyard of the guesthouse here in Chiang Khong.

Plus, this way if anything went wrong I had time on my side.

So, at noon, a full 5 hours ahead of my bus’ departure time I hopped on a tuk tuk to get me to the Thai/Laos border.

Now up until fairly recently the border was actually right at the main center of both towns of the border – here in Chiang Khong and in Huay Xai in Laos.

For whatever reason they decided to build a new bridge and move the border 10km down the road.  Now instead of simply crossing over to Huay Xai you are forced to hire a tuk tuk for 150 pesos ($5) to get to the border and then another one on the other side for 100 pesos ($3).

I think they moved the border just so the local tuk tuk drivers could cash in but what can you do – the border is where the border is.

I got to the border and went through the Thai border no problem.  From the exit of the building you can see the Laotion border building less than a kilometer away.

Of course that new bridge they built doesn’t allow pedestrians so you have to get shuttled over on a bus for 25 baht (90 cents).  Luckily I didn’t have to wait too long as I must have arrived just before the next bus was scheduled to leave.

I walked into the Lao border station and followed the checkin sign.  I noticed other people were filling out an immigration form on the counter but couldn’t find any forms so I just lined up to ask for one.

Got one, filled it out (always feel like I’m writing an exam) and went back to the man in the booth.  He asked if I had my visa yet, to which I said no and he directed me back outside the building.

Sure enough I had just followed the herd of people inside and hadn’t noticed the visa on arrival windows outside on the right.

I filled out yet another form, paid my visa fee of $42 and a $1 overtime fee because it was the weekend.

While I was collecting my passport back I noticed Shannon from Netherlands who was in a quandry.  You can only pay for a Lao visa using US dollars but she had none.

I lent her the money she needed and waited for her to get all her paperwork in order.  We popped back over to the immigration booth together, got our passports stamped in and were now officially in Laos.

She went to the ATM on the other side and took out some Laotian Kip to pay me back and now came the fun part.

Getting from the Lao border station into town.

We had to hire a tuk tuk but we would soon be victims of supply and demand.

Keep in mind as you read this next little bit we are literally at a stalemate over $1..

Myself, Shannon, and a couple from Portugal (Luis and Sara) went to the man with his tuk tuk and asked how much.

100 baht he said.

Even though we were now in Laos we were quoted in Thai Baht alot here because of its’ proximity to Thailand.

We all looked at him and came to an agreement that 100 baht was way too much.

We counter offered 60 baht.

He just laughed and said, no, 100 baht.

So we just sat down on the curb and waiting for the next batch of people to arrive and figured the price would come down with more people on the tuk tuk.

We waited.

And waited.

And then we finally caved.

Okay, all 4 of us – 100 baht – we go now.

We went inside and waited.

And waited.

Finally, frustrated that we caved in and he was still waiting for more people I hopped out and went to talk to him.

The only thing I got was an agreement that it would be 60 baht for me because I was only going to the bus station which was only 3km away.  The rest would still have to pay 100 baht.

The problem with all this was there was no negotiating power on our side.  There was only one tuk tuk and we were at his whim.

Finally, an hour after we first arrived another bus pulled up and he snagged a few more people.

Of course when he went to collect the money my 60 baht agreement – well, he had never heard of that.

I just held out my 60 baht and waved it at him telling him he said 60 while on the bench.

He finally succumbed and took my 60 and we were finally on our way.

Small victory but I’ll take it.

I was dropped off at the bus station while the rest of the group went the further 7km into town.

It was just after 2pm and the 5:00 bus I soon found out was actually a 6:00 bus which meant I had a good 3, 3 1/2 hours to kill.

After buying my ticket to Luang Prabang (14 hours, 145,000 kip, $17) I asked the lady how to get into town as I figured the town was pretty small and I’d probably bump into the others.

She said to catch a tuk tuk for 10,000 kip ($1).

Problem was the bus station was literally in the middle of nowhere and there were no tuk tuks to be found.

I started walking towards the main road and after a kilometer things were looking bleak.  I asked at a gas station if I was at least heading in the right direction but she didn’t understand English.

I saw a luxury hotel across the street so walked up to it but found it was actually under construction so no help there.

That kind of made me laugh.

Finally I hit a corner and a tuk tuk slowed down and stopped.

I knew I had no negotiating power so I just went with what he said which was 60 baht ($2) for the 6km trek into town.

Once in town I figured I’d at least knock out a couple of things on my to-do list which were going to an ATM and getting a sim card for Laos.

Check and check.

I then ran into Shannon and we went down to the riverside to have a bite for lunch.

Funny that you could literally see Thailand from there – it was so close.

As we were perusing the menu Sara and Luis also walked up (told you it was a small town) and we all sat together for lunch.

Pad Thai again!

Not quite as good as the offerings I had in Thailand but, well, this was Laos after all.

Around 5pm I bid farewell once again and headed out to the main street to catch a tuk tuk back.

Sigh.

None around.

I walked up to one and they quoted me 100 baht, I laughed and told them I had only paid 60 baht to get there from the bus station.

They seemed unmoved and nor did they have to be – after all, this was a buyers market.

I walked away from them but didn’t find anyone else so I begrudgingly went back, tail between my legs, and ponied up the 100 baht ($3) for the ride back.

Not the best introduction to Laos.  It felt alot like my time in Vietnam.  I’m just hoping it gets better once I’m away from a small border town.

At 6pm our bus departed and to my delight I found the seat next to me empty so I could at least stretch out.  Even though the journey was overnight this wasn’t an overnight bus per se as it didn’t have any beds, just seats with blankets.

I made the mistake of not changing into warm clothes and had to endure a cold air conditioned ride through the countryside of Laos.

I bundled up best I could in the blanket and stretched out for the long haul.

All the movies I had downloaded in advance of this long trip were all for naught as I discovered, much like reading, watching movies while on bus doesn’t do good things to my belly.

It didn’t help that the ride was super curvy and it seemed to be going back and forth every minute

I actually stopped watching a movie half way through and thankfully our next rest stop was mere minutes later so I was able to just get out, get some fresh air and walk around a bit.

I chomped on an orange and bought some bubble gum to help.  One of the girls on the bus also gave me a motion sickness pill.

With all that, the rest of the ride was a piece of cake.

Sure, it did take forever (14 hours) and I got very little sleep but by 8am we were pulling up to Luang Prabang.

Asia Trip 2014, Trip Journal

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