Tired of being lied to, cheated, and overpaying for everything, I was determined to make the journey from Chiang Mai to the Laos border for less than the 2800B (1400B x 2 people) that was being charged universally by tour agencies. We began this morning by taking a tuk-tuk several kilometers to the bus station (50B). When we went to buy tickets, we were told the morning bus to the Thai border town of Chiang Khong was sold out. Not wanting to arrive in a new country after dark, we paid 200B for tickets to Chiang Rai where, we were told, we could catch another bus to Chiang Khong. It was a four hour ride to Chiang Rai, and luckily, a bus to Chiang Khong was getting ready to leave just as we pulled in. We hopped on and paid 114B for the ride. It was a little over two hours until we were dropped off in Chiang Khong. The border was still another 2km, which we decided to walk. We didn’t walk out of cheapness, but just wanted to stretch out and walk after a day on the bus; we regretted this as I think it was a bit more than 2km. Eventually, we arrived at Thai immigration and got stamped out. We walked down to the river and took a small boat across the river to the Lao border town of Huay Xai (60B).
There were two observations that I think may be interesting about the border. One is that I could immediately tell we were entering the third-world again, because we had to pay for our visa. The fact that we had to pay an extra “overtime” fee since it was after 4pm, was even more enlightening. The second thing I noticed was that, despite being a communist country, Laos full name is The Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Why do communist states and dictatorships always have ridiculous pro-democracy names? As a sidenote, here’s a few misnomers about Laos. Its actually written and pronounced “Lao” here. The French added the ‘s’ which has become the accepted Western spelling. Laotian, as used to describe the people and language is also a foreign creation. In Lao, people refer to themselves and their language as Lao (like Thais speaking Thai in Thailand). Obviously, I will be using Lao for everything rather than Laos and Laotian.
Stepping into Lao was a big change after Thailand. For one, it looks dilapidated like the third-world. Its dusty and things are made out of wood and cement. The vehicles are old and the buildings falling apart. The little traffic that there was was driving on the right. This was very, very odd for us to see. If that doesn’t express how long we’ve been traveling, I should say that without looking it’s difficult for me to envision the steering wheel on the left side. We also became millionaires many times over as the exchange rate is just above 9930 kip to one dollar. Not that that mattered though, as all the prices in Huay Xai were quoted in dollars or baht. Am I the only one that finds is ridiculous that an obscure Communist country in Asia uses dollars? Anyways, after exchanging some money, we bought tickets for our two-day boat ride to Luang Prabang, which cost us 1230B. That brought the total transportation cost from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang to 1654B, which is approximately half of what we would’ve paid a travel agent for the exact same thing. The journey wasn’t just about the cost obviously. It was an interesting bus ride from urban Chiang Mai through hours of agriculture and then eventually mountains. Spending our first evening in Lao has been fun and interesting as well. And although we glid across the Mekong from Thailand to Lao today (photo above), we’ll spend the next two days on it.