2 February 2014

This section from Chiang Khong to Huay Xai is the forty-first instalment of my bicycle loop through South-East Asia from Yunnan – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

The day has come for me to leave Thailand. There’s only one day left on my visa and the election day has kicked a pretty unpredictable hornet’s nest down in Bangkok. Never a bad time to go. After an extensive breakfast and a talk with my Spanish roommate, I wheel to the bike shop where they install new brake pads while I wait. I also trade 40 USD for 1320 baht from the Spanish girl, the current rate. I need the cash for the brake pads and to avoid another ATM which will undoubtedly charge me 4 euros just to access my money.

The bike shop (near the traffic lights) only has one pair of fresh brake pads and they replace my rear brakes. Upon examining the old brake pads, it seems I had quite a lot of them left. Perhaps the steep gradients and the extended braking distances have scared me into buying new ones, but then why was there such a shrieking sound every time I applied the brakes? At any rate, it feels good to have new ones, and I can still use the spare pads for my front brakes when needed.

Ah blast, I'm supposed to go through that gate in the distance, and over the bridge on the right.
Ah blast, I’m supposed to go through that gate in the distance, and over the bridge on the right.

Time to move towards the border. The ferry to Huay Xai has stopped running early January 2014 so I’m now required to take the bridge, about 9 km south of Chiang Khong. I don’t like this very much, but what am I going to do?

A glance at the map shows me a shortcut of 7 km on a smaller road. I happily take it, only to end up below the bridge that will take me to Laos. I can see the customs office a bit further down the road, but razorwire and prison-style fences keep me from going there directly. Several attempts to get back through the rice fields end up getting me muddy and angry so in the end I just ride back to Chiang Khong to take the main road. You’ve been warned!

At the customs office, I’m asked whether I have a photograph, 35 USD for the Lao visa (plus 1 USD for the “Sunday service”) before I cross. I also have to buy a 20 baht ticket for the bus (+5 baht Sunday service). I’m not allowed to simply cycle across the border, no siree! Answering positively to all questions and having my exit document stamped, I get to the bus where I have to take my bicycle apart in order to fit it in the hold. The driver also tells me it’s going to be another 100 baht. I doubt his claim because it’s not mentioned anywhere, but when I go back to ask, I am sold a 100 baht bicycle ticket. Preposterous! I could just ride across the 200 m bridge!

Rickety bridges and rickety cars: this must be Laos!
Rickety bridges and rickety cars: this must be Laos!

The bus finally leaves and two minutes later, we’re at the Lao side. Was this really worth 120 baht (this kind of money gets you to Chiang Rai – a ride 200 times as long)? Not quite. On the Lao side, the only man actually smiling and sounding nice is the one receiving the money. It’s 35 USD (it used to be 22 USD two years ago!) to get the visa done and when I get out, another 1 USD is asked for the Sunday “overtime” service.

What an organised bunch of shits. They actually hired two people whose only function it is to collect the “overtime” service. I already didn’t like Laos very much, but this beats everything. I’m happy I’m not left to take a Tuk-Tuk from the border to Huay Xai, like everyone else. My bicycle avoids any further fees and brings me (with shrieking brakes – I need to take a look at them) to the town itself.

Huay Xai feels a bit backpacky but I find a 70.000 kip (about 7 EUR) room in a Chinese-run hostel (中老酒店). The room is not bad but I’ll have to get used to Lao prices. Even a simple Pad Thai here costs around 2 EUR. In the end, you’re best off drinking beer, because a 640 ml bottle goes for only 1 EUR. I hate Laos already and hope to get to China as soon as possible. No matter what they say, as a foreigner, you encounter a lot less government corruption in China than in Laos, Cambodia or Thailand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *