Closed for Lunch
Tay Xang Travel Blog› entry 71 of 115 › view all entries
Getting through the Vietnamese border was the easy bit. It still took a fair old while though; the Vietnamese value their bureaucracy second only to their noodle soup (Pho). Our untidy straggle of backpackers, fleeing the becalmed bus, was obviously the working highlight of the day for the two immigration officers. The first, clearly the boss, studied each passport at great length. He would then look the holder in the eye and carefully pronounce their nationality. Each traveller would reward his endeavours with a vigorous show of nodding and verbal affirmation that, for example, David Alan (They seem to like my middle name) is, without shadow of a doubt, British.
The other officer meanwhile, the Laurel to the boss's Hardy, did all the stamping and dutifully noted down details of each traveller in a hefty log book.
And so onwards we tramped another 4km in light rain along a muddy mountain road through no man's land to the Laos side of the border. It was here that the fun really began. As the 18 or so of us rocked up, in dribs and drabs, to the new pastel pink and white border buildings, it was to find that the Laos immigration officers were having their lunch and, not wishing any interruption to their sticky rice feast, had closed the country until they had finished. "Fair enough" we said, slumping on benches and backpacks out of the rain and rinsing off muddy shoes and feet in a handy sink.
Appetites duly sated, the guards returned, we handed our passports over and waited for further instruction. Our Laos translator bloke asked the guards to contact a truck (or in fact anything with wheels) to come and pick us up from the border and deposit us safely at the town of Muang Khua, some 70km to the East. From there, we would be able to disappear off to various parts of the country. Unfortunately it was around this time that we began to learn just how bad the rainy season roads on the Laos side of the border actually are. It appeared that only 4x4s and motorbikes were getting through and there was a sizeable river to cross which was only going to get wider in the continuing downpour.
So we sat and waited, boredom staved off by the unexpected opening of a little wooden shack in the corner of the carpark that was masquerading as a shop. On sale was a bountiful harvest of water, energy drinks and shrimp-flavoured crisps. Good enough for me. I had stocked up on these essentials and was waiting for my passport to be returned, with visa and stamps, when I heard that a 4x4 had arrived and would be able to get half of us on the road away from the border. The likelihood was that it would only reach the small town of Muang Mai, halfway along to Muang Khua but that would be better than being stuck here.
However, by the time I had grabbed by passport and scampered around to the front of the immigration building, the 4x4 was already chock full of luggage and tourists. Bugger. But not to worry, for the valiant, big-bellied driver was rubbing his chubby hands together at the thought of returning to collect the rest of us. Funnily enough he seemed more than willing to cart us off to Muang Mai for the measly sum of 11 dollars each. Those of us not in the first run of the packed SUV Ark simply had to watch as the chosen (i.e. quick thinking) ones were whisked away into the rain-washed hills of Laos proper.
For the rest of us - mobilisation issues would be the theme of the day...