February 17, 2007

181206 Chiang Khong - Huay Xai

Today's route:

Had planned a clockwise loop around north Lao:
  • everyone else seems to take the counterclockwise direction
  • easier to find boats heading downriver along the Nam Ou
  • leave Luang Prabang (& shopping) for the last
  • clear the infamous highway (HWY) 3 right at the start, so that all other roads in Lao would seem great by comparison =P
  • boats heading upriver along the Mekong are far emptier as most tourists travel downriver (which means downriver boats get all the touts, overcharging & overcrowding)
Chiang Khong immigration at the north end of town looks more like a ticket office - no gates, no fences, no barbed wire...just a short building that anyone can walk right past & hop on a boat to Lao (or even China) or on a bus to anywhere in Thailand. No one would realise till much later (if at all), at some river checkpoint or police roadblock. This hard-to-police section of the Mekong has become the latest escape route for North Koreans fleeing across China & north Lao into Thailand in order to seek UNHCR help & repatriation to South Korea.

immigration officer: 5 baht departure tax
cat hands him a 5 baht coin
immigration officer: no, you can go, your friend pay for you
*look right look left* Thank you but what friend...?!

Freakish...Mr. Immigration Officer has a 'third eye' that can see 'people' that are invisible to the cat's eyes...


Walked down the slope to the riverbank, past a pile of backpacks with Air Asia baggage tags marked CEI & a girl wearing a NTU Hall ? windbreaker, & was directed to an empty boat after handing over 20 baht.


Shan-style drum tower of Wat Chom Khao Manirat in Huay Xai on opposite bank:

PC180017 PC180018

& then backpacks, windbreaker & their owners got on....

cat: are you from Singapore? from NTU?
NTU grads: yar how do you know? (said something about having graduated & started working)
cat: saw one of you wearing an NTU hall windbreaker.
NTU grads: are you from Thailand? how do you know about NTU?
cat: ?! am from Singapore too.
NTU grads: ?!! are you going to Laos to work?
cat: ?!!! am on holiday.
NTU grads: alone?
cat: yar. where are you heading to?
NTU grads: ?!!!! (said they were taking boat to Luang Prabang, & asked about the cat's plans)
cat: taking bus inland to Luang Namtha.
NTU grads: ?!!!!!

Huay Xai immigration:


30-day visa-free entry for khon singkarpor =) The little booth (with open window) on the left is a branch of the Lao Development Bank, where tourists can load up on thick rubberband-bound stacks of kip. Nearest ATM that can accept foreign cards is a long way off in Vientiane, & there is only one, which means it can run out of kip. (update: Luang Prabang & Vang Vieng reported to have new international ATMs that accept cards with Maestro logo)

Wonder why they bothered to paint the words 'BY AIR':


Huay Xai has no airport =P
(correction: Huay Xai has flights to Vientiane & Luang Prabang served by this type of plane, but few foreigners dare risk Lao Airlines' safety & maintenance record; before ~2001 Lao had no radar system for air traffic control & relied on Thailand, Vietnam, radio communication, daylight & good eyesight & visibility!)

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