The Trip to the Thai Border    

View of Thailand from Laos
I was awakened early this morning by... surprise surprise... another storm. Fortunately tuk tuks had gathered outside a nearby guesthouse so we didn't have far to carry our bags in the rain.

We got a tuk tuk to the bus station and were dismayed to see that the bus was already full, including the seats in the aisles. They were still selling tickets. 4 backpackers stood outside of the bus looking rather lost and hopeless. They had bought tickets but couldn't figure out how to fit on the bus.

Rowshan went to the counter to try to find a solution. There were 6 of us that wanted to go to Huai Xai but did not want to stand squeezed into a few inches of floorspace for 4+ hours. The next bus wasn't until 1:30 (though people also said it was at 2). The 1:30 bus was a big bus which stood empty behind the packed small one. "Can't you send everyone in the big bus?" They said "no." With a bit more discussion, Rowshan chartered a minibus for the 8 foreigners who couldn't fit on the bus. Even though we had to pay more, we'd get to the border before it closed for the day.

As we were loading the van, the ticket woman came up grasping the 800,000 R had paid her and informed us that since we paid 800,000 we could take the big bus which would leave at 12. Rowshan shouted, "Do you think we are stupid?!!! We just paid 800,000 for a van now. Why would we want to pay double the ticket price for the regular bus?!" (which contrary to what she said would probably leave when it was full). Anyway, we left in our minibus.

The road wound back and forth but was smooth and fairly new. This turned out to be a bad thing because the driver was having way too much fun driving on it. He sped doing his best to drive in a straight line along the winding road even if it meant driving on the wrong side for a bit. When he couldn't cut the curves, he sped around them, sending everyone and thing flying back and forth. I was grateful the bus had seat belts. I got the feeling he was like a kid driving a toy car-- foot to the gas--- quick extreme steering technique. He just needed to be making "vroom vroom" noises.

He ran over a rooster which caused me to cry, "Oh No!" but Rowshan insists the rooster survived-- maybe he was in between the wheels. The driver did slow for cattle and people. He even honked at dogs.

One thing I noticed is in Laos there seems to be a certain disregard by animals and humans for the hazards of the road. Kids sit playing on it. Women chat on it. Dogs sleep in the middle. Chickens run back and forth on it. I get the feeling most people regard the road as a sort of community space which conveniently dries quickly after the rain, and is perhaps the only non-muddy outdoor spot. The cars are just trespassers through the village. Maybe everyone is still used to the dirt roads and don't realize how dangerous the speeding cars are.

About 1.5 hours into the trip we passed the bus which had left 1/2 hour before us. Then we had a toilet/snack break. I was impressed we stopped at a place with an actual toilet and not just a spot of non-village space for al fresco peeing. The bus passed us during our break but we passed it again during its toilet break which was al fresco in the field.

I should also add at one point, after everything went flying to the right side of the car after a speedy curve, Rowshan asked the driver to drive slower. The driver apparently didn't understand but took what Rowshan said as a compliment and smiled and said, "Thank you." As we'd gotten down the mountains, the air became hotter and clearer-- great for trekking.

The driver dropped us off in Huay Xai, a block from immigration and the boat dock. He smiled and said, "Thank you" so we smiled and said, "Thank you" as well. It was one of those drives that made me wonder if I'm not tempting fate a little too much and perhaps should go back to the US before I end up dead in a car crash in some developing country. However, I couldn't feel mad at the driver because he seemed so child-like in his blissful ignorance of traffic rules, numbers on road signs, which side of the road to drive on, and how to drive.

We went through immigration easily and took a long boat across the river to Thailand. At the boat dock a group of costumed Thai dancers, a kid's group, posed for photos before returning to Thailand.

Thai dance troupe heading back to Thailand

Thai puppeteer
Soon we were in Chiang Khong and through immigration. Rowshan made a mistake on his arrival/departure card and ripped it up while asking for a new one.
"Very good," said the guard (I guess, with sarcasm or perhaps he just got "good" and "bad" mixed up) "Don't do that." He stapled the pieces back together and made Rowshan correct the mistake on the torn card.
"You very bad," the guard said. He still let Rowshan in and gave us both the 15 day visa exemptions-- enough to hold us over until our flight to the Philippines.

We quickly found the bus to Chiang Rai which ran by a schedule-- leaving whether it was full or not. We got 2 seats to ourselves.

The landscape consisted of dry flat areas and farms with small mountains. Rowshan was happy about "the variety" but I found myself missing the beautiful lushness of the green mountains and red earth (which had slid over the road at sections due to mud slides).

As we drove through towns, kids threw buckets of water at the bus making the ride kind of like a drive through car wash. Songkran starts soon so things will just get crazier. As we drove on through, I thought the kids seemed tired looking as if they had spent the whole day dousing cars and it had become work. Some didn't even stand up to try.

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