The Chronicles of Laos – Episode II – Crossing Lao-Thai Border

The Chronicles of Laos – Episode II – Crossing Lao-Thai Border

Finally, I crossed the Nong Khai Border and the Mekong River and landed in a new country called Laos. At that moment, I could not believe I finally did it, and I added one more country to my travel list. Laos was the 12th country that I was going to travel to for two weeks.

Once I got off the bus which brought us from the Thailand side to Laos, I entered a whole new chaotic world. Lots of people across. Some are probably Thai people; some are Lao people; some are western tourists, border police, uniformed security guards and there you go, one Indian woman! Visibly distinct from all the other people. Neither I look like a western female tourist nor a Thai or Lao person. My army-printed Russian Backpacks and I both were distinguishably visible.

At the Laos Border check-post, a lot of new experiences were awaiting. I looked around and tried to understand which building I needed to approach to get official permission to enter Laos. There were different buildings and counters under a huge one-roof premise. I tried to read the signs and descriptions in front of the buildings.

One building had an explicit mention of – ‘For Foreign Passport Holders.’ I approached that building, and immediately a security guard blocked my path and asked something in his language, which I assume he asked me ‘what I was looking for.’ I understood his question from his body language and the way he blocked my path. Never to mention that I got instantly nervous with his approach and managed to show my passport and told him precisely in this order, as I quote – ‘VISA, Stamp, Me going Laos (with a hand gesture of flying or entering towards the mainland of Laos), Tourist.’ He promptly showed me the gazebo-looking building some distance behind me. No question asked, I promptly took a u-turn and quickly dispersed from the scene.

As I approached the building, I could see counters marked for different functions and foreign passport holders; all were written as – ‘VISA on arrival.’ I was looking for a counter that handles tourists with valid e-visa. I found no such counter, and whoever I asked showed me one counter which was for handling ‘VISA on arrival.’ I approached that counter and saw a Western man and a Thai/Lao-looking woman filling up some form, and the counter window was closed.

I waited, and another tourist couple came. The lady slide opened the window from outside, and border police showed up. Wow! Indeed, an intelligent lady she is!

The policeman asked us to wait for a while, but this counter was for ‘VISA on Arrival.’ What about me? Who was carrying an approved VISA? My question was still unanswered, and we all were waiting. Meanwhile, the other couple finished filling up their forms and queued right behind me. At the same time, I saw another policeman. Quickly, I came out of the line, showed him my documents, and explained that I had an approved e-visa and needed to get my passport stamped to enter Laos. He showed me the same counter once again where I was standing. I went back and stood where I was precisely standing in between two different tourist couples. This time the policeman sitting inside showed up again, and he first noticed my colour-printed e-visa in my hand, took it in his hand, checked it and gave me some form and asked me to fill-up that up properly. Then he addressed the waiting couple who was standing before me.

A little experience as a traveller is worth mentioning here.

As I turned back to look for a place to sit and fill up the form calmly, the western man standing right behind me suddenly shouted at me, saying that – ‘hey, next time you better don’t jump in a line and don’t stand in front of me.’ I was utterly shocked by his rude behaviour. I never jumped in that line. I always stood there and moved out a little to ask another policeman. I never took someone else’s place. His extreme, rude behaviour made me umb as I had never faced anything as such while travelling. Actual travellers are always very accommodating, supporting and smiling all the time. Because we know while travelling, we might need help from others. We never become rude travellers. Above all, travelling always teaches a person to become more humble and polite.

Travelling carries its stress. An everyday person who does not have travelling experience doesn’t understand this side of travelling. We constantly need to think about our next move, where to stay, how to save money, and how to safely keep our travelling documents, passport, and credit cards. Which hostel maintains suitable hygiene methods? How to commute from one place to another? Is the bus available, or do I need to take the metro or something else? Different countries have different methods. While travelling, you need to manage everything on the go.

Being a solo female traveller, you certainly have some additional stress. The biggest concern for a female traveller is her safe movement through each city. Trust me, this is not as easy as it looks from social media posts and with all those attractive photos.

I went numb due to that irritably rude man and his sudden attacking behaviour. I silently looked at him but could not say anything. Being silent is part of my nature. I cannot argue. I cannot fight like a barking dog. Also, in a different country, especially in immigration checking, I did not want to fight with a stranger and did not want to invite trouble. I remained quiet and started filling up my form. I ignored him and tried to concentrate on filling up the details with perfection, as any mistake might deter me from entering Laos. I had just left Thailand, and I was standing in a place which was a no-country space for an outsider like me. If I got stuck there, I would be neither in Laos nor Thailand. The concept of a no-country woman was scary.

I remember I met a guy in Germany who was from California but now became a no-country man who was shuffling between European countries. I did not know his whole history, but apparently, he was a nice guy, and for some reason, he could not return to his country. I do not know what happened to him or how he will manage further. But I felt sorry for him.

So, with my silence, the man got further irritated and kept saying something. I took time to fill up my form, and during that period, other people left. I got the whole counter all for myself, and this time I slid open the window glass and said ‘Hi’ to the border police. He took my Passport and e-visa document, checked my return flight tickets, glanced through the accommodation details and finally, my COVID-19 vaccination certificate. From the given form I just filled up, he returned a part and asked me to keep that carefully as I needed to show the same while departing from Laos again in the check-post. He stamped my Passport, allowing me to stay till October wished me an enjoyable stay in Laos. The last bit of all these went smoothly, and his wishful conversation made me relieved, and he showed me the path through which I should leave the check-post area and from where I could get a bus or cab to go to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos.

I thanked him for his cooperation and finally entered LAO PDR.

I crossed another big and heavily guarded gate and stepped outside the check-post arena.

Almost 50-odd men came rushing towards me.

Oh! Hell!! I shouted inside my head.

Who are they? Why are they all coming towards me? Should I go back to the same gate from where I came out?

In my whole life, I never experienced anything like this. Once again, I went into panic mode, I stopped walking, and my brain stopped hearing anything looking at those rushing men.

I stood still for moments, and then I heard a loud voice saying – Cab, Cab, Vientiane. Then another man came further close and asked – tuk-tuk, madam?

Awww!!! What a relief!! I got back my almost lost consciousness.

No one understands English there, so I took the name ‘Barn Laos Hostel’. The tuk-tuk guy came closer and shouted triumphantly – ‘Barn Laos Hostel… me… know… know.’

That was the time to show or practice some negotiation skills. Now that I knew who those rushing men were, I took charge of the whole situation and started taking time in the decision-making process. I looked around, and I could see one or two buses. There were MiniVans, Taxis, Private Cars but no tuk-tuk.

‘Tuk-tuk… madam… Barn Laos Hostel, I know, know’ kept pouring in my ears like a chanted mantra, and I was getting hypnotised by that tuk-tuk man’s divine aura. I tempted to ask him – ‘Hello, my dear where is your tuk-tuk? I cannot see a single tuk-tuk in the vicinity, and you have almost glued to me since I stepped on this side of the Laos Check-Post.’

I always have a strange fascination for a tuk-tuk, to-to ride (kind of my car with a chauffeur :)) I looked at that tuk-tuk man, and he also strangely never left my side from the beginning. He was not allowing anyone to approach me, nor was he approaching other tourists. I asked him – ‘how much Lao kip?’ He went into a thinking mode; meanwhile, I went to the currency exchange counter to exchange 50 Euros which gave me, on 18th August 2022, 8,65,000 Laotian Kip.

The tuk-tuk guy asked for 2,50,000 Laotian Kip to take me to my Hostel. There started complicated negotiations. I almost started walking to Hostel as I was not ready to pay the amount, and it seemed then that my hostel was not too far, but he saved me. Finally, we mutually agreed on 1,75,000 Laotian Kip till Barn Laos Hostel. He saved me from making a foolish decision to walk that day. The hostel was quite far from the border. Also, Laos is a country with two distinct weather seasons (Dry & Wet seasons). In the southern part of Laos, especially Vientiane and Mekong River valley regions, humidity is higher, and temperatures usually exceed 35°C. That day on 18th August 2022 was scorching and humid even for me, who lives in Kolkata, and was difficult to handle.

Apart from saving me from a hot climate, the man drove me smoothly through the scenic countryside roads of Vientiane till we reached central Vientiane. Once we got to my Hostel, he helped me manage and carry my backpack, showed me the main entrance of the hostel, and gave me his number in case I wanted to go sightseeing. Within an hour of entering Laos, I now have a tuk-tuk CAR and a chauffeur guide. I felt proud of myself for being turned into a pro-traveller.

Later I would know that for locals as well, the fair from the border to the hostel area is 1,75,000 Laotian Kip. Probably, that is why he agreed on the price instead of seeing me walking.

So, if you are reading my experiences now, I suggest you brush up on your negotiation skill. It will be helpful in Laos and add a lot of fun to your travelling experience in LAO PDR.

And thus, I reached the first city in Laos – VIENTIANE.

What did I do once I reached Vientiane and then after? Stay tuned!!

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