This is Laos. (Which is, by the way, pronounced as “Lao” by the local people and the “s” is just some transcription error during colonialism.) You can tell it is Laos, as opposed to Thailand, because it is on the western side of the Mekong River. If it were on the eastern side, ie the side I took this sunrise picture on, it would be Thailand. You still even get full Thai cell phone reception in Houang Xai, Laos, ie the town across the border. (Hear that, mom and dad?)
Getting to Laos consists of jumping into a little ferryboat (the closest permanent bridge across the Mekong is a few hundred miles down it, in the Laotian capital) and then going to one of the more crowded borderposts you’ve ever seen. It shouldn’t be, but all the people who cross here are backpackers requiring visa-on-arrival, and the visas need six stamps, and one guy does them, and he takes… very… slowly. Clearly, the end of the world would happen if the Laos border guard misplaced one stamp slightly, so we all wait in a huddled mass until you’re lucky enough to see your passport being held up by immigration!
This is my room for the night here in Houang Xai, while I wait for my awesome treehouse zipline adventure to begin tomorrow morning. I am sharing it with a schoolteacher from Brighton named Ann who I’ve been wandering around with, and it cost the equivalent of US$6. You can use dollars here, by the way, along with Thai baht or even the Lao kip in a pinch, but it’s 10,000 kip to a dollar so it’s not the preferred currency. Laos has got to be the only place where the Thai baht is considered stable!
Town itself, by the way, is a one-street affair with guesthouses, cafes, and a school at the end of the road filled with red kercief-wearing children which confused me until I remembered Laos is still communist. (But in the way China is communist, I’m told.) Not like it shows in anything else though- this side of the river at least is pretty similar to the other side, albeit not as touristy and a little more like what you imagine South East Asia to feel like.
This is the view from my room, towards the Thai border post. That’s one of the little ferryboats in the middle of the river; the line of trucks are waiting for a barge to take them across the Mekong.
And this is where this post ends, as the Internet here is very slow so the pictures take an age to upload. Cheers!