Sunday, 14 November 2010

Into Laos...

The time has come…Goodbye China, hello Laos !

The morning is spent taking care of some outstanding maintenance work on the car. Spark plugs are changed, points gap checked, air filters cleaned etc…

Conveniently, the border gate is located just 500M from our hotel - We take care of the Chinese departure paperwork, which we’re told has taken NAVO HQ two full days to arrange. …The Chinese authorities are almost as reluctant to let you out as they are to let you in…
Earlier on in the blog you may recall a little problem we had with Beckys passport. On entry into Turkmenistan we realised that she’d completely run out of spare pages in her passport - With two more countries (Laos & Vietnam) requiring full page visa stickers, this was a major problem and potential show stopper.

After exploring all legal options, I eventually came up with an ingenious but risky plan to ‘create’ a little extra space, realistically our only remaining option. Careful removal and re-application of Bex’s Chinese visa sticker, followed up by the time consuming removal of two central Asian visas (Careful use of the hotel hair dryer to soften the glue, a ball of blue tack to remove the residue and many hours of work in case you‘re wondering how) ‘created’ one complete new page.

The second free page was almost perfect, but still had a small area of ink from a previous visa. A random piece of paper stapled to the totally clean page would effectively force Laos immigration into applying ther visa onto this semi-dodgy page. A calculated plan, I deem Laos immigration to be significantly less formal than their Viet counterparts.

All being well, this would leave Vietnamese immigration with a brand new empty page for application of their visa sticker.

In due course we’re processed out of China, fortunately Chinese immigration fails to spot the visa re-shuffle. We bid a very sad farewell to Serena who has become a good friend, and make our way into the China / Laos no mans land.

Laos immigration proves to be very straight forward - First stop is disinfection of the cars tyres. A sleepy customs guy reluctantly takes 25,000 Laos Kip from me (£2.50) and sets about splashing the tyres with what looks and smells like plain tap water….. It’s a hot day, keen to get back to sleep he decides only to spray three of the tyres, the fourth one being just that little bit too far away to reach from his chair...

I’m duly issued with a “Certificate of Disinfection“, issue of our Laos visas & motoring insurance goes without a hitch and in no time we’re off into Laos proper.

A little further up we hit a Laos customs post, they ask to see our paperwork. A little peeved that nobody has even hinted at asking to see our Carnet, I offer it to the officer on duty. He says “Yes, yes sometimes we ask this” and takes it from me. The reality is that I could probably have got away without it.

The next problem is that nobody has any idea how to process it, where to sign it or what part to detach. After 20 minutes of deliberating he opts to stamp and sign every part possible, then send us on our way.

Laos scenary really is stunning, our route from the border to the famous town of Luang Prabang takes us onto the countrys’ main arterial highway - A deserted, narrow single lane track with a surface alternating between un-graded gravel and potholed tarmac… Each side of the road is lined with dense green jungle, the only noise to be heard is the deafeningly loud chirping of cicadas & crickets.

After a brief lunch stop in Oudmxay, we arrive in Luang Prabang just after night fall. Driving the dark mountain and jungle roads was quite an experience, but not an especially dodgy one - We only saw a handful of other cars along the way.

Luang Prabang along with much of the rest of Laos, features a lot of French colonial architecture. Our hotel is an old French villa, just a couple of streets back from the Mekong river front - We choose to head over to the local Indian restaurant for dinner, Beerlao and chicken Balti....A perfect combination!

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