As I mentioned in the last post, we planned to get an 18 hour bus from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang in Laos. Everything was planned. You had to get the bus from the bus station which was a little way out of town. We were doing the journey with Conah, the guys from Stockport. We got up with plenty of time and negotiated a taxi to the station. We queued up for our tickets and were told that todays bus was cancelled and the next one was in two days. We had already checked out of the hostel and our visas were running out so we had no choice!
Well it was time to start proper backpacking — we knew there was another route but it meant gettting public buses and crossing the border ourselves!! As we walked away from the ticket counter a japanese guy (Hajime) was just being given the same news. We banded together to get to Laos. Annoyingly we had to get another taxi, back to where we had just come from to get the public bus! Then it was a 2 hour bus to Chiang Khong – The public bus had very hard seats and no windows but I really liked it! It felt more like actual Thailand rather than what is put on show for us. We got to the border crossing at 3pm and I knew the last bus from the station in Laos to Luang Prabang was 4pm. We should be able to make it – The town was ten minutes drive from the border.
After doing the usual passports, and filling in the paperwork (what is your inside leg measurement and when did you last scratch your ass?) we were in Laos!
However there is a stretch of land which is called the friendship bridge that you can’t walk across if you are a foreigner. You have to wait for a bus. OK. It’s 3:30 we can still do this, it’s ten minutes away. We sat and waited for the bridge bus. And waited. We were then kept waiting for another half an hour for a bus to come and take us 100m across this bridge and all hopes of my plan had gone out of the window. At this point we had picked up another friend, Amber, from the US who was getting the boat from Huayxay, the next town in Laos. We decided that we would go to the local bus station in the town and see if there was a local bus.
A gaggle of songtheaws were gathered as we disembarked the bus. They wanted silly money for the short trip. So we started walking. However as the price for the ride came to a quarter of what it was initially, we agreed to get in. (Top tip for asia – walk away and the price goes down – side note – this does not work in Vietnam!). The first bus station had no buses however we realised that this was the tourist one and not the local one. Our songtheaw driver had buggered off too! We walked what seemed like hours to the local bus station with our heavy backpacks in the blistering heat. I don’t know why but every time I’ve been a similar situation since, I’ve remembered what Amber said then – “The struggle is good”. At the time I did not agree one bit. The struggle was sweaty and tiring. But I get it. When something is difficult, you have different experiences than what you expect, plus you appreciate things the next time you have got it easy!
We arrived starving and sweating our tits off! The place around was quite barren – there was building work going on but not many people or sign of life.
As I had thought, there were no more buses until the next day so we decided to stay in the town that Amber was in. We figured if we turned up at her hostel there might be a bed, even though it said fully booked online. None of us had internet to google anything so we had to hope for the best.
We did out trick of walking away from a songtheaw driver again and found another one who took us to Huayxay. It was strange, the town was dusty and seemed desolate but the driver’s young daughter who was sat in the back with us, still had a smart and expensive Samsung!
We arrived in Huayxay main street outside Amber’s hostel and literally, as we stepped off the truck we saw Matt from our hostel in Chiang Rai! He wasn’t even meant to still be in this town, and we were never meant to be coming here – things are so random sometimes. There is only one bed at Ambers (and incidentally Matt’s) hostel so we let Conah have it. He has been poorly and seems more knackered than the rest of us. Me Andrew and Hajime set off to find a room. I had never arrived somewhere and not had accommodation so I was a bit worried. However the first place we find had a triple room and I realised that you don’t really need to book most places in advance – I probably do plan things too much. We decided against the first room as the fan was a bit naff, however went for another room just down the road. We shared the room with Hajime, whom we had only met 12 hours prior!
We then went out for tea, myself, Andrew, Amber, Matt, Conah, and Hajime at a cafe over the road. We were all so starving! This is why the struggle is good and Amber is right. I was stressing and hot and tired that day – waaaay out of my comfort zone, but we had a really great night, talking, eating and drinking in what was essentially someone’s living room!
There was the cutest cat that demanded attention which was great. Also the cafe owner came out after we had finished, with, what we presumed was a dessert menu, as he was saying “anything else?”. Nope. It was a bag of drugs!! OK, so Laos must be pretty liberal! We politely declined, laughed and went to bed ready fo the journey the next day, which went without a hitch. We got up early and got the 8:30 bus and finally made it to Luang Prabang in the evening!