I feel as if we've got our travel legs under us now and we can handle just about anything. But no matter how many times you do it, crossing a border is always a mix of excitement and nervous jitters. So even though we wake up at 4:45 a.m. to catch the 10 hour bus ride into Laos, we're both a little wired. We get the very back seat and seem to have plenty of room, but of course it's Vietnam so the bus isn't full until it has stopped ten times on the way out of town and every last nook and cranny is stuffed to overflowing. Natasha now has a woman sleeping peacefully on her knee and my hips and shoulders are twisted in opposite directions as the Vietnamese man next me is leaning forward so i can use at least a little bit the back rest. It's a simple gesture but i appreciate it none the less.
We reach the border at about 10:00 and it seems that the guys stationed here must have really pissed someone off to get this post. It is the newest crossing opened to foreign travelers and is very remote. There's nothing but a nearly empty immigration building and a small barracks where the border guards sleep. We pass through without incident and move on a few kilometers to Laos immigration.
I like to think that I'm the kind of person that learns from his mistakes, but my deeply ingrained nature to procrastinate tends to over ride any common sense i may have picked up over the years. So, much to Natasha's consternation, we didn't get any Laos Kip or U.S. Dollars when we had the chance to in Hanoi. At the border the price for the visa is quoted in Dollars, so I ask the immigration officer if we can pay for it in Vietnamese Dong and his smile gets about ten times bigger because he knows his pocket is about to get a little fatter. "No problem," the man says, and whips out a calculator to show us the "very good" exchange rate he can offer us. Of course the rate's terrible, but seeing as how the bus driver would have no qualms about leaving us 30 kilometers from nowhere because we don't have a visa, and we have no other currency, we swallow our pride and pay up. But here comes the lemon juice in the paper cut; once we've paid and he greedily tucks away his bit off the top, he has the nerve to ask if we want to change the rest of our Dong into Kip. Again we have no real choice because we're a day away from any exchange bank and we don't know if they will take Dong in the small remote villages. The man's smile gets even bigger when we say yes and he whips out his calculator to show us an even worse exchange rate. We walk away frustrated, more at me for being lazy than the immigration guy, but we're too excited to be in Laos to care all that much.
One of the most interesting things to me about crossing borders is that you move across an imaginary line on a map and all of a sudden the people, language, food, and architecture are all of a sudden very different. The change in Laos is more obvious to us than other crossings as the pavement ends and we proceed down a treacherously windy dirt road. We finally come to a small village where we stop for lunch and we're instantly enamoured with Laos.
While we're waiting, we notice the proprietor of the food hut portioning out a bright green liquid into empty water bottles. My first reaction is that it looks like it belongs somewhere beneath the hood of a car. Not five minutes after departing though, some guys at the front of the bus produce a bottle of the noxious looking concoction (which we later fine out is a rice whiskey called lao lao) and proceed to do shots of the stuff. I am liking Laos more by the minute and, as if it couldn't get any better, blasted over the bus speakers we hear "apple bottom jeans, boots with the fuuuuuuur" We can't help but bob our heads and sing along. What was a stoic ride through the mountains of northern Vietnam, has turned into a Laos party bus and it's not long before the guys up front are shouting to us in the back to do some shots with them. They pass the bottle back and the whole bus cheers as Natasha and I toss one back. The bottle begins to empty at an alarming rate at this point, and its soon gone. Apparently the guys at the front think that this just won't do, so they convince the bus driver to stop and they come back with a whole crate of Beer Lao. At this point I am wishing we'd been in Laos the whole time
We get to our destination of Muang Khua and have to cross a river by ferry.
This place is exactly the kind of small, peaceful, riverside town we've hoping to find our entire trip. We check into a guest house and then spend the afternoon walking around town taking in the sights
I can't wait to see what the next month will bring.