Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Houay Xai to Chiang Khong to Chiang Rai

Up early and a couple of Lao Coffees later its border crossing time. The border crossing in half way down the main street. This is probably one of the easiest (lax) crossings you could do. Hand your passport in at the window and receive it back with an exit stamp in about 30 seconds. You can themn go back into town and spend your remaining kip before jumping in one of the waiting longtail boats to take you across the Mekong to Chiang Khong (5,000 kip – pay on boat).

Thai immigration on the other side is just up the hill. Fill in the arrival card and enter visa free in about two minutes. Wainting songthiews can take you to the bus station for buses to Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai (20 baht per person).

The bus to Chiang Rai was 54 baht and took 3 hours including a stop for axle welding and the rivers lunch. We arrive at about 13:00 at the bus station and walk the ten minutes or so to Ben Guesthouse. Again this is a recommendation from Travelfish which comes up trumps. It is in the quiet area of town about 10-15 minutes walk from the night market. It is an old teak house with incredibly friendly staff. R=Rooms 150-300 baht depending on fan/AC/shared/ensuite. A very relaxing place after three days of travelling.

Houay Xai

A sleepy border town however unlike Pakbeng it does not seem a trap. Had planned to stay at the Sabaydee Guesthouse however it was full. Tried the Oudomaphone across the road that was about the best accommodation I stayed in Laos (US$5, 200 baht). The rooms were tiled, had hot water showers and were immaculately clean. Recommended.

We were all completely knackered and eat a good Chicken with holy basil and rice at the Riverside Restaurant and I was in bed by 21:30. A very long day.

Tommorow is the border crossing into Thailand and onto Chiang Rai.

Slowboat (Day 2)

Up at 07:30 and had a quick coffee or two and purchased an overpriced and underfilled sandwich from the waiters come drug dealers at Bounmy Guesthouse. Strolled down to the slowbaoat pier in Pakbeng. Bought a ticket tp Houay Xai (85,000 kip). I ws directed to a much smaller boat than the day before.

Now the yanks were getting twitchy. The planned to get to Chiang mai in Thailand that day. i kept my mouth firmly closed. When asked El Capitane said he did not know when we would arrive at Houay Xai, maybe four or five. I had heard before that the slowboats deliberately dilly dally so everyone misses the border closing at 18:00. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Everything went fine until about three thirty when the crew decided to stop at every village on the banks of the Mekong for a Beer Lao or two

By 17:00 tempers were becoming frayed and he finally admitted that due to the currents we wouldnt make Hoay Xai until 18:30. However he could drop anyone who wanted to make the crossing off at the speed boat pier and then they could get a tuk tuk at a cost of 5,000 kip each which would get them to lao's immigration in time. The Tuk tuks packed with irrate Americans reached the border at 18:05 - it was shut.

It didn't bother me but this is an obvious ply that fills up guest houses in Houay Xai and andds to the governments coffers in visa overstay charges.

We were not bothered anyhow but its worth knowing if you time poor and have no days left on your visa. They do the trip every day and could easily start at 08:00 or 07:30 and be in plenty of time. The trip took about 10hours