Free of China! Hello Laos

Trip Start Sep 05, 2005
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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Wednesday, November 9, 2005

At midnight I realised I was the only one on the bus that was still awake. Mp3 player was nearly dead and I was slightly sleepy so I tried to sleep. The guy in the bed above me had also stopped dropping lit cigarettes on my bed so I assumed it was now safe to sleep!

By 3am I still hadn't got to sleep and was getting very annoyed. However I managed to figure out the only way to fully stretch out and get some sleep, no matter how uncomfortable it was. Just before 6am the bus stopped and all the lights came on. Loads of shuffling around by all the Chinese and loads of shouting by us foreigners to turn the lights off. We assumed we had another 4 hours still to go but we were ushered off the bus as well.

Thoroughly confused it suddenly dawned on us that we were in Jinghong and would have to transfer onto a minibus for the remaining 4 hours! Fantastic!

We were all shattered as none of us slept well and a bumpy minibus ride didn't sound too appealing. It also didn't help when the driver decided it was time for some really terrible dance music at full volume as we tried to sleep!

The road was in a pretty bad state and you could tell from the surroundings that this area of China is pretty much SE Asia. The journey was very slow and at one stage we had to stop completely as some people decided to fell a tree directly into the middle of the road as we approached!

Finally arrived at Mengla after what seemed like an eternity. We had stopped to pick so many people up on the way that they were hanging out the door by the time we arrived. Typical of China there are 2 bus stations in Mengla and we were of course at the wrong one.

So we all bundled into another minibus to head to the other station but managed to persuade the driver to take us all the way to Mohan, the border town, an hour+ away for about 50p each.

China to Laos is the first border crossing of my trip so far and judging by the other peoples reactions it is pretty different to the others. Lars described the Vietnam-Cambodia crossing as a party zone with a constant stream of people walking across. It was empty here, save for the people offering to change up our money. No doubt for a terrible exchange rate.

Filled out the disembarkation card and jumped over the line into Laos! You would think the Laos immigration would be right next door but that would be too straightforward. It was 3km's away! No way I was walking that in the pouring rain with my backpack so jumped in one of the many sangthaew's available. First time I've used one of these and it was great fun.

Once at Laos immigration everyone else had their visas already, we didn't. No worries as they had visa-on-arrival and we actually paid less than they did in China! We then needed to get the bus to Luang Nam Tha but the sangthaew driver said he would take us all the way.....

If you've never seen a sangthaew then it'll be hard to fathom but they are basically a flat bed truck with a couple of benches in the back and a tin roof. Not the most comfortable transport but all thats available. No other option so we said OK. It was now about 1pm so a well needed toilet break was in order before getting on board, but not before stocking up on Beer Lao first!

Beer Lao is said to be the finest beer in South East Asia and after the journey so far it tasted like the nectar of the Gods! Sweet salvation! We had been in the country less than 3 minutes and we had already got our first beer! Thats the way I intended it to be for all of Laos. After the time in China I was truly in need of a holiday and Laos' slow pace of life seemed perfect. I had originally planned to head straight to Vietnam but changed my mind.

Beer quickly finished we grabbed another and settled back for what would be an eventful journey. The scenery in this first trip was stunning and hopefully a sign of whats to come. Small hill tribes nestled within the mountains and plantation fields. Everyone lived in tiny wooden huts on stilts with thatched roofs and they were taking a pounding in the rain.

After about an hour we stopped and there was no where to go. Blocking the road was a huge pile of rocks, followed by a string of sitting cars waiting for it to be clear. We thought that we'd be there for hours so went to help. Felt great to be useful for a change but it was hard work. Took about 20 minutes to clear and we received both thankful and bemused looks from the locals. I was happy it wasn't raining and we were moving again.

Finally arrived in Luang Nam Tha at around 4pm and checked into a hotel. Pretty cheap and the first time I have seen a mosquito net on my travels. Changed my yuan for Kips and headed out for a look around town. Luang Nam Tha is tiny! There are only a couple of streets so it didn't take long.

Decided to settle in a restaurant for some dinner and a few more beers. We had gained an hour upon entering Laos and it got dark stupidly early as a result. We had read about rafting being a speciallity in Nam Tha so we went to find out more. Wasn't white water there so we would consider doing it in Vang Vieng instead.

Spotted another few from the journey and went to another restaurant with them for some more food and beers before heading back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.
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