What a great finale for the trip through Laos!
This is definitely my preferred town in Southeast Asia. I simply love this city and wish that I had more time to stay. But my airline ticket to Australia now puts serious date constraints in my travel plans.
There are a lot of tourist attractions in Luang Prabang. Most of them did not appeal to Rene and me since we already had seen dozens of scenic waterfalls, Buddha caves and tribal villages during our three week trip through Laos. Moreover, the morning rainfalls did put an end to our intention to explore the city surroundings ourselves by bike.
Consequently, we did spend one day visiting the various sights downtown. This actually filled easily a full day for us: Vat Xieng Thong is the city’s oldest and probably most magnificent temple. Then, there is Wat Wisunalat, built entirely of wood and featuring a stupa in a watermelon shape. Last, but not least, we went up the hill (Mount Phousi) in the city center for a beautiful 360 degree sunset view over Luang Prabang.
We also voluntarily missed the morning alms ceremony of the monks, where they walk in hundreds through the city center. There are actually flyers in places all over town which ask tourists not to take pictures of the monks during this ceremony. The upsetting illustrations on these papers show hordes of paparazzi-behaving tourists who almost push the monks away – just to get the optimal snapshot. The caption reads “Please don’t behave like these tourists and respect the tradition”. Well – in a certain sense – we respected it, because we were too lazy to get out of bed that early in the morning.
Unfortunately, Luang Prabang is also the place, where Rene and I have to separate after exactly three weeks of exploring Laos. Eventually, we will meet again in South America – but for the moment, our travel routes diverge: Rene left on the second morning of our stay to take the bus to Nong Khiaw (Northern Laos) and to explore the National Parks there. Later that same day, I went on by overnight bus to Huay Xai, which is the Lao border city from where I would enter Thailand.
This was my first trip on a night bus and I did sleep actually pretty good – despite the fact that the seats did not incline and that the bus was full. However, I only got a glimpse of the scenic landscape during sunset and sunrise.
Although the road generally was in a good condition, the bus had to slow down because small patches of the track had been swept away due to mudslides. To circumnavigate these zones, the bus would take a makeshift mud trail, which looked a bit hazardous at times.
This makes me wonder who on Earth would build a road without the necessary fortifications to prevent such kinds of damage. Since most roads in Laos are financed by foreign corporations (obviously in exchange for trade facilities), I wish they would put up the company names next to such cheapish work. Makes me wonder how this recently built road will look in some years – after a couple of wet seasons.
The border crossing in Huay Xai was smooth. In fact, this is by far the most improvised border I have seen until now: Before taking a canoe-style boat to cross the river and go into Thailand, I had to get – obviously – the Laos exit stamp for my passport. However, the 50m long footpath down to the river, located between two guest houses, looks like an ants nest. It contains sheds for customs offices, immigration offices, money changer, souvenir stalls and ticket booth for the boat.
Inbound and outbound locals and tourists mingle on this small trail and basically render any sort of border control useless. I am very sure that there are tourists who simply forget to have their passports stamped, since it would be very easy to unboard the boat and head straight up to the main street, hailing a tuk-tuk for the onward journey. Eventually, I got the needed stamp and boarded the boat after sharing some cookies with him.
The same chaos was found for the “border control” on the Thailand side (although their footpath is about 100m long). I actually had to ask three times various uniformed officials which of the sheds would serve for the immigration. However, everyone was friendly and relaxed (actually, on both sides of the border).
Obviously, I do like these kinds of borders, since I know the customs procedures (like most other tourists do as well). I am able to independently choose what to do next. Actually, I went back on the Laos side after having my passport “Exit-Stamped” to change my money, because by that time the queue at the shed exchanging money was shorter. This kind of optimizing did the trick: Departing Laos and entering Thailand took about 20 minutes, including the boat ride and filling out the landing card on the Thailand side.
Laos was from the first to the last minute one great experience for me: From playing “Petanque” with the immigration officers at the Voen Kham border, driving motobikes through Southern Laos, shooting an indie-movie in Vientiane and to eating breakfast with officials at the border control in Huay Xai – I had tons of fun with many friendly locals in a most relaxing environment. This will be a tough one to match for any of the upcoming countries along my trip.