After my all too brief stint of volunteering at the Daauw home in Houay Xai it was time to leave Lao (my visa had run out) and head into Northern Thailand. My first stop was to cross the water into Chiang Khong. There used to be regular small ferry boats crossing the Mekong from Houay Xai into Chiang Khong but now a new bridge with new border stations at either end has been built several kilometers from these towns so the ferries have stopped and most people drive right on passed these two towns. This is really going to effect the tourism here and kill them off.
The journey used to be a nice 20 minute boat ride across the river from one check point to another with locals boating the people across and putting money into local peoples pockets but not now. Now you have to pay a tuk tuk to drive you several kilometers down the Mekong where I said good bye to the guys I met from the Daauw home who had driven me and was left outside this bland white building withe several official looking customs kiosks but no one there to check me out. After sweltering in the heat for half an hour several official looking people sauntered out of an air conditioned office where they had probably been watching me walking up and down with my backpacks laughing and joking as they finally took positions in their kiosks.
“What you want?” said the one at the kiosk I had chosen. What the hell did he think I wanted. Did he think I had come all this way with 23 kilos on my back to admire this lovely bland white building that was helping kill two villages at either side of the river.
I put on my most pleasant Hobo voice “I would like to cross the border please.”
“Where you come from?” there are literally two villages within about 50 kilometers of where we were and one of them was across the bloody river and I was not sat on a coach with a load of tourists so it should of been easy to work out.
“Houay Xai” I said in a polite voice but with raised eyebrows which I hope conveyed he had won the Lao’s missing the bleeding obvious award.
“Passport!” he said totally missing the fact it was on the desk inches from his nose. Has anyone else noticed how a lot of these border control desks are either raised up high so you feel like a primary school kid whose chin only just reaches the desk and they look down on you from their lofty height or the have the safety glass in front of you with the speaking hole near the bottom so you kind of have to bow to be heard. I pointed slowly to the passport under his nose and gave a little polite head bow. He snorted grabbed the passport looked at the visa stamp then looked at my picture. Then he looked at me, then he looked at my picture. I took my glasses off. I’m not to sure if it was so I looked more like my passport photo or if I intended to lend them to him. He looked at me. His eyes widened slightly and he nodded then went through my passport again, stopped at a page, snorted a laugh through his nose then looked at me with a beaming grin. He was looking at my Indian Visa when I had a shaved bald head and a beard the bastard. He stamped my passport and said “You can go” and waved generally in the direction I could of just walked to unhindered 10 minutes ago.
There was a customs table but they just waved me through and continued chatting. On the other side of the build was just a tiny little kiosk and the rest was as bland as the front. The kiosk sold tickets for a bus that took you across the bridge to the other checkpoint on the Thai border side. Then I realised I had given all my Lao money to the people running Daauw Home as I did not think I would need it. Luckily I had a 3 dollars left with which to pay for the ticket. I sat and waited for the bus, and waited and waited. A few other people came by now one of them a Monk. I wonder if he had the same hassle. I doubt it.
Eventually the bus came and after stowing the luggage we crossed the the other side of the border. Here I realised I was in trouble as I had not enough dollars left and no Thai baht at all. How was I going to get from the check point to Chiang Khong.
Going through the check point was in several stages as it always seems to be when a visa is involved with guys literally opening the passport passing it to another guy who looked at it and nodded then I had to go to another room to wait for it to be stamped and passed back to me preferably by yet another customs guard. While waiting I noticed a few people heading into a third room. Always being curious I went and looked and it had a guard in there who was changing Lao kip into Thai baht. I had an idea. I had some Vietnamese dong in in my wallet from a month ago. I wonder if they would change it here. Luckily they did so grabbing my fist full of baht I collected my wallet and went outside to get a tuk tuk.
While waiting sat on a bench 3 of the guides came rushing out and started to shout and chase after the tuk tuk that had just left that had been too full for me and my backpacks. The tuk tuk driver either ignored them or didn’t hear but continued off on his way. The guards started shouting at one another waving their hands then shouting orders into their radios. As they turned round one of the guards stared at me gave a little gasp and did a double take. I had been about to take my camera out and take a picture. I slowly put it back. This did not look good. The guard talked to the 2 other men then they headed towards me. The first guard stood in front and the other two at either side basically surrounding me. Other people sat next to me who had also been waiting for the next tuk tuk shuffled nervously away from the farang who was obviously a dangerous criminal.
I slowly looked up at the middle guard who I now recognised. “hello” I said with no capitals so as not to startle into using the guns on their hips. “Excuse me sir” he said in his broken English then when on to explain how he had given me too much money when he had changed my Dong into Baht (Dong into Baht??? The more I repeat that the more it sounds like it should not make sense but anyway I digress). He had apparently had the decimal point way too far over to the right when he had worked it out and had panicked about getting it back. I showed him the baht which I had not checked and he literally took about 90% back. I bet they would not of gone to so much trouble if the decimal point had been over to the left.
He thanked me and you could see the people waiting for the tuk tuk release a collectively held breath as they realised the little English man was not going to create a gun fight.
Eventually I shared a tuk tuk into Chiang Khong where the driver dropped me off at my hostel then tried to demand a tip from the owner for bringing me there. The owner as it turned out was an English man who was in the guinness book of records for the fastest time to circle the globe on a bicycle and he had his own bicycle museum there which was pretty cool.
And that was it. A journey that should of taken less then 3/4 of an hour took me 4 and the Hobo was back in Thailand.
Thanks for reading.