We are sitting on a rooptop, looking over the Mekong and about 400m from where we stayed last night – but on the other side of the river. The key difference is that the international boundary goes along the river bed and we are now in Laos – or to give it its full title “The People’s Democratic Republic of Laos”. We met someone earlier today from the former People’s Democratic Republic of Germany who had his own views on the form of government here – but that is another story which you will have to read to the end of the blog to discover – but here we are in the PDRL.
It is to state the obvious to say that Thailand and Laos are different, but we cycled down pristine highways in Thailand, passing buildings in a good state of repair (there is money in running a customs business) and reached the border. At this point we hit our first administrative hiccup of the day. Thing is, the vehicles drive on the left in Thailand (so we are feeling comfortable with that) but on the right in Laos (like the rest of the world – so most people are comfortable with that). Thus the “Friendship Bridge No 4” (not 100% sure where numbers 1 to 3 are but recall we crossed one about 100km south in 2019) has to have a peculiar road system so you start on the left and end on the right. Bicycles are not allowed to cross the friendship bridge for “safety reasons” and bikes are stowed in buses instead. That has the “wholly unexpected” benefit for the bus operators that they have a monopoly over foot passengers and charge everyone 130 baht for using the bus, plus an extra fee for carrying the bike in the bus.
But the administrative rock hit the hard place of reality in our case – what to do with 3 wheeled bikes. Did we have an engine? No only our legs. We did not disclose that we could dismantle the trikes and so they scratched their heads and decided (a) we were not a bicycle so we could cycle across the bridge but (b) we were enough of a bicycle that we still needed a bus ticket, and should follow the bus for “safety reasons”. We resisted a smile and went along with this farce, and duly followed the bus along the 4km route. It was fine except on the steep uphill parts of the bridge where we did our best to keep up with the bus and the driver could not believe he needed to go at 10kph! Going down the other side we hit 40kph and almost collided with the rear of the bus.
We then reached the Laos border and went through the complex process of getting visas – first we had to get our passports checked (unofficial additional fee of 20 baht – just handed over as who were we to take the point), then the formal border checkpoint (finger printed as usual) and finally $40 handed over for the visa. All took less than an hour – which was astonishing in the circumstances.
Riding away from the border post we instantly noted the differences – many more pot holes, far fewer modern buildings and a generally deplapided feel compared to Thailand – but happy, enthusiastic and loud people. This is going to be an interesting time! We booked into the Gibbon Experience office, found a guest house, bought a sim card, got local currency (the kip – 20,000 to the £!) and generally relaxed. One of the features of this trip is my ability to be satisfied with mooching as opposed to being driven to complete 80+km per day. My “moochability” quotient has definitely increased with age, retirement and possibly self-reflection. Friends will read this with astonishment but, despite everything, it feels as if David is winding down.
We ambled up to the wat – a lovely “ordinary” temple with lovely artwork. The pictures tell the story. Then we ambled down to the river and met Damien and Adrian, a lovely nurse/midwife couple (we assume) from France who have lived all over the world for the last few years (including in New Caledonia) and are now travelling whilst they work out what to do next. They suggested we might like to come to the “Reading Elephant Laos” project to speak with children who were learing English. We were delighted to do so and spent a stimulating hour with Jackson, aged 16, whose English was better than his confidence allowed. This is a project that seeks to enhance children’s reading skills in both Lao and English. We met the organisers and were impressed with the commitment to giving children better reading skills. Our words – as natural English speakers – were particularly welcome and we probably did more to assist the pronunciaion of the teachers than assist Jackson.
Back to the guest house where we sat on the terrace and watched the sun go down over the Mekong and then out for a delightful evening meal with Damien and Adrian. Laos feels like our sort of place.
2 thoughts on “Day 23: Friday 27 January : Chiang Khong to Huay Xai : 30km”
Another delightful read!
What a great day. How fab to meet the people too x