Tuesday, 2 August 2011


A brand new day, a brand new country. On this fine morning we arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos in what can not necessarily be described as 'in style'. No, it was rather and ordeal best described by the words 'vomit' and 'near death experience'. It was a night bus. On Laotian roads. Two things that should NEVER, EVER be combined.

The roads in Laos are far from luxurious, or tarmacked. This is no surprise in a country whose economy is still up and coming and where the short trip across the border from Thailand plainly illustrates different levels of wealth. Whilst Thailand has tarmacked roads, street lamps and a wide-spread mobile phone network, Laos is not so steeped in such infrastructure - this is most noticeable in riding through the Laotian night in what appears to be a converted soviet tank. The Laotian night is pitch black. The constant glare of city lights has not yet permeated this country, which gives it an air of mystery and, if you are stuck for 17 hours in the aforementioned bus, it also gives off a distinct smell of panic and pad Thai in reverse.

But hey ho, we survived - mentally scathed if anything. The highlight of the border crossing into Laos was traversing the great Mekong river from Chiang Khong Thailand to Huay Xai Laos. We did not cross the river by bridge, too boring. Nor by ferry, no no don't be silly. We were given a lift in what appeared to be a rickety fishing boat. And it was AMAZING! It probably would have fit about 10 Laotians and their children, but with four travellers and their rucksacks, thew old wooden boat was groaning in agony. The fisherman looked rather dismayed at the lack of people he could ferry over at 40 Bhat per person - they should really charge for rucksacks.

Upon arriving in the Laotian side of the border we came across the world's most depressed visa official. I saw tears in his tired eyes as he weakly lifted his chubby arm to receive my passport. He slumped back and stared at the cover - and then after an endless couple of minutes handed it to his colleague who processed it. He then slumped back and gave Georgina the same agonising stare he had graced me with, slowly extending his pudgy arm to take her passport, staring at its cover and handing it to his colleague. To be honest, I would be depressed as well if I were the Laotian border guards' "official visa cover reader".

But on we went to the last passport controller, who checked our visas. All was fine until I attempted to take my passport from him, whereupon he said "You learn Laos phrases now." You what now? Yes, whilst dangling my passport in front of my face he made me recite useful Laos phrases like "Sabai-dee" (Hello) or "kalunaa" (please). It was very informative really, just that I kept mispronouncing everything, and that there was a queue forming behind me. And although I am German and queues aren't meant to bother me bla bla bla, six years of living in the UK have made me prone to near panic attacks when I am the main perpetrator in holding the queue up. But the border guard just sat there smiling at me, and encouraging me to get it right - clearly my grasp of the Lao language was of far superior importance than a queue of grubby foreigners. So I would like to say "khap Jai Mr. Borderguard", thank you for your help, I am sure I will be a brilliant tourist in Laos because of your private tuition.

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