So where were we? Oh yes – we had just discovered that rat and scurried back to our accommodations!
You can read about Part 1 of this adventure by clicking on this link Why Take A Two Day Slowboat Journey from Thailand To Laos?
We survived the night mostly without visits from mozzies. Gert was grumpy because our beds were uncomfortable. Actually they were the pits and there was no top sheet!!! Something we’ve noticed a bit of in Asia and not something we particularly enjoy.
When we checked in the night before we were introduced to a gentleman who informed us he would look after us all the way to Laos. We were pretty pleased by this as we’ve experienced plenty of difficulties knowing where we are meant to go or which vehicle we are meant to be on. In fact I slept very soundly knowing not too much brain power would need to be employed for the next two days!!
We were woken for breakfast well before it was ready and slathered on the mozzie repellant as hundreds of mozzies tried to devour us. Breakfast wasn’t quick in arriving so we went back to our room to pack our bags. (I imagine westerners often oversleep and these guys like to make sure you are ready to go to the border). No sign of our guide yet but we got ourselves ready and went to wait at the reception area at the appointed time.
A pickup type vehicle arrived and they started loading all our bags in the back. There was only room for 4 passengers in the car and we had our 5 bags plus two more girls’ bags in the back. Turns out some had to ride in the back with the bags. An effective way to move a heap of stuff and people but not the safest form of transport!! My little bottom was firmly in the cab of the vehicle!!
They drove us no more than 150 metres down the street!
We had to all get out and go to a little counter to make sure we all had passport photos ready to get our visas for Laos. The guy at the counter stuck stickers on us so they would know us at the other side (?) He stuck Jono’s on his forehead – not so great on a sweaty boy’s head before we make the trek to the border but Jono thought it was awesome!!
Keep in mind there’s no sign of my knight in shining armour who is going to hold our hand for the next 2 days!! There’s zero communication and we have no idea how long this will take or what exactly we are meant to do. We just let them herd us around each time they start waving their arms and motioning for us to follow! Of course we are used to this by now in Asia but it’s still a large use of brain cells just to do the most basic things!
Finally the signal comes that we are to go to the border. We have no idea what this entails and we cheerily carry our packs down to the water’s edge. Just before we get there, there is a small office on the right which passes for the Thai departure office. We line up and get our passports stamped as we leave Thailand for the last time. (I do love passport stamps!!)
Down at the water’s edge we discover VERY skinny boats that are to take us to the other side! Brittney definitely doesn’t like boats and I’m as uncoordinated as you can get. When I step into the boat it wobbles in a not-too-small way and the kids all laugh! Little buggers!! Here’s the skinny front with our luggage in it…
Uh-huh – told you it was skinny!!
After this we packed up the camera until we hit the slow boats. (Which is a shame – I would love to be able to show you the absolute anarchy that was to come at the Laos arrivals office!!)
So our boat docks on the other side of the river (this is the first no-man’s land that has actually been a river!) We struggle out at the other side and have to be careful not to sink in the mud or wet sand. Then we have to drag ourselves and our backpacks up a very steep hill (it’s sandy and slippery of course!) When we get to the top we discover a very steep flight of stairs leads to the arrival office. We only get 1/2 way up because there are about 50 people ahead of us in the “line”.
Finally a uniformed man hands us all immigration cards and directs us to tables to fill in the cards. (Did I mention that I have been filling these in for the whole family up to this point? No more – everyone is on their own from now on including Jono!!) The tables are tiled on the top – so filling in the cards is a nightmare! Plus we have difficulty sitting down with our packs on our backs!! It’s hot, crowded and difficult!
We get all the paperwork filled in and go to line up. The line looks like the same 50 people are still waiting so we join the end again. We are standing on steps, everyone has their packs on their backs!!
Somehow we manage to creep forward. I’m not sure how as no-one appears to be leaving. People come and go – right up to the office door. They hand in bundles of passports and wads of cash. Their bundles come right back out within 10 minutes while the rest of us wait. And wait…..and wait…..and wait!!!!
Finally I’m at the front (Gert is dripping sweat and making veiled threats against the establishment!) I discover that you hand your passport through the window but you hang on to your money. Dozens of passports go in this window but hardly any come out. It’s like some terrible horror movie – but with passports instead of people!
Then I discover exactly why that is. We are in Laos. Everything is done by hand!!
There’s a couple of people up the back of the office hand-writing the Visa stickers and stamping the passports. Each one takes a couple of minutes to process and they throw them all into a basket when they are done. There’s no system – this means if yours goes in first it will end up on the bottom of the basket and come out last!!! AAARRGGGHHHH!!!!!
There’s no computer spitting out receipts for Visa payments – there is one man (YES ONE!) hand-writing receipts for each person as they pay for their visa-on-arrival. He has a giant book with little slips in it and the damn thing isn’t perforated!! So every single time he tears off a receipt he has to use his metal ruler to get a nice sharp line. And he’s a fussy bugger. He writes each person’s name on the receipt. Obviously he has difficulty with western names, so he has to scrutinize the passports meticulously to get the spelling right!
There’s a woman at the window and she has to call out your name when she gets to your passport. But she’s not western so she can’t pronounce anyone’s name so it can be understood! She resorts to holding the passports up to the glass and hoping one of us will take the initiative and find the owner!!!
About this time we realise that just about anyone can claim the passports. Since Gert is melting in the heat I banish him to the other side of the line where he can put his pack down. There’s a heap of other travellers standing there too and it is their passports that start coming out through the window. As we call out each name, we now have to wait for the poor sucker to squeeze back through the crowd to pay his money and collect his prize! It takes an age!!
Britt has started to talk to some Australians in the line and I look at my watch. I discover, to my horror, that it’s nearly 9.30am!! We left our accommodation at 7.30am and we still don’t have our visa!
And our guide never showed up. And we don’t know if the boat will wait for us. And we’re not sure who will meet us to take us to the boat anyway. And there’s still 50 passports in the basket ahead of ours!!!!!
Britt’s passport has a blue cover so I can monitor it’s progress through the pile. It’s very slow going and I take my turn at passing passports in through the window of doom!! Soon I’m helping to identify passport owners along with everyone else! You just peer into the crowd and nominate an owner and point. Charades was never this much fun!
It’s finally our turn. The man with the receipt book is happy to give me 5 passports even though I’m only one person, but he insists on writing a separate receipt for each one. I badly want to injure him with his own ruler but I smile sweetly as he finishes his work!!
At 10am we escape from immigration. There’s no bag check. Just a cursory glance at our passports at another checkpoint that looks like they should be selling ice-cream!
A lady bails us up and tells us she will take us to the boat. I’m so relieved. But we have to wait for the other 2 girls to come through immigration. We plonk down on some dusty steps to wait – at least we know the boat won’t go without us now!
Our companions arrive and we have to walk to a little store and we are told to wait. The lady in the store is very kind to us for a bit, then she pounces. She starts trying to sell us a nights accommodation for the stopover and she wants to help us by changing our baht to Laos kip as there’s no bank in the town where we will stop.
We’ve already been told not to bother booking accommodation ahead but the thought of getting off the boat in the dark with all the touts descending is difficult and we get the room from her. Kate is disgusted by this and I have to explain like the old lady I am that she will understand when she has children, you have to make sure there’s somewhere to sleep. She’s not convinced!! The rooms are super cheap – it’s about $37 for 2 rooms with bathrooms.
(Of course when we get there the same rooms are just $30!!!!!!)
Then we have the dance over the currency exchange. I ask the rate and she looks bummed that I have enquired (I’m secretly thrilled that I’ve remembered to ask!!) She shows me on a calculator and I get the ipad out to convert baht to kip myself. We are so paranoid about scams by now that we don’t even trust calculators that are not our own!! I doubt my own calculations as well so I end up doing Australian dollars to kip as well to compare!! When I’ve satisfied myself that I can do basic math and that the rate is OK we do the trade. She tries to tell me I need to exchange more because there’s no bank and you cannot pay with Baht where we are stopping. I decline and she moves onto her next victim…..our two travelling companions!!
That’s nearly 2000 words and we’re not even on the boat yet!! Makes you want to do the trip yourself doesn’t it??????
Stay tuned for part 3 when we start our journey on the boat, find out that we can of course use Baht in the little town and that some in town are light fingered…..
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