Welcome to Laos
Trip Start Sep 28, 2009
92Trip End Apr 22, 2011
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The rickety old bus dropped all the locals off and just left a few farang (Thai for Foreigner). The bus was full when it left the depot for the border town of Chiang Khong way up in the hills. A shout from the driver announced a woman with a kid and two parcels for the local garage were getting off. Two minutes down the road (again no bus stop signs just get off when you want) a man and his wife get off and the conductor collects a dozen eggs from the street seller. This goes on for about 40km of our journey until it is just the white folk left to get off at the border crossing.
We handed our passports in through a little window marked departures and walked down the hill to the river where a long boat is waiting to take us over to Laos. Five minutes later we stood on Laos soil, or mud as the river is really low in the dry season and we had to walk up the mud bank to get to passport control.
We book into the first guest house we found, nice and clean with a hot dribbly shower. There isn't much to the town a few restaurants, an internet cafe (no free wifi) two bare looking store selling crisps and coke and a few tourist information shops. First thing you notice, the tourist information shops don’t grab you and try and sell you every package under the sun, in fact it was actually hard to get any information out of them. We were prime candidates as we had no plan how to tackle Laos at this stage, no Lonely Planet to guide us and no concept of what the exchange rate was yet.
We found a cool little bar, had dinner and sampled the local drink. Gary had a Beer Laos, following the motto when is Laos drink Beer Laos, a motto I think he made up. I on the other hand opted for a clear liquid with large fruit/honeycomb floating in, called Honey Whiskey. It was ok but I couldn’t drink too many and probably wouldn’t be walking straight if I did, still I slept well that night.
Our first job the next day, after getting no help from the locals on the previous day, was to buy a map and download some pages of the SE Asia Lonely Planet to guide us. We spent the afternoon sitting on our bed planning our route and putting purple stickers on the map.
One of the things I really wanted to do and talked about for months before we left, was the Gibbon Experience, this for those of you who don’t know is living in a tree house for 2 nights in the jungle and getting about by Zip wires. What a nightmare trying to book it though, twice we went into inquire and twice the girl just looked at us and pointed to the information folders. We told her we want to book,
’You can do that online’ she said unhelpfully and picked up her mobile phone. Waiting patiently we asked, 'So we can’t book here?’
‘Yes or on line’, was the reply.
’So can we pay by card (you are talking over £300 to do this)?
‘Yes but our machine is broken’,
‘So we have to pay cash?’,
'Ok when is then next leaving?’
That’s no good we can’t get enough cash out in one go here, it would take 6 days to get that amount out, we are limited to 7000 kip which is just £54 out the ATM.
‘The one after that is on the 11th March’.
That’s no good we need to get moving. We checked online and this is the only town that does the Gibbon Experience and the unhelpful girl is the only person to speak to. So sadly we will not be zipping through the trees like flying foxes and meeting cuddly gibbons.....but there is always next time.
This town and the people in it don’t look or act much different from the Thai’s but that maybe because they are a border town and therefore some could be Thai. The only differences at this stage is their money, £1 = 12,851KIP which makes a coke 5000kip and very hard to get your head round. Another oddity we have seen here are the girls carry umbrellas on their scooters, if they are on their own they ride one handed or if they have a friend they hold it for them. We think it’s to keep the sun off them but who knows.
Next stop is a town called Luang NamTha the first leg of our tour through Laos.