03/03/2018 – 07/03/2018
A few hints on travelling from Chiang Rai (Thailand) to the Laos border:
Reaching the border:
From Chiang Rai, we took a bus to Chiang Khong (they leave every hour from 6AM to 5PM). As there were other people, we were dropped off at the border and the friendship bridge (100 THB/pp – 2h drive), instead of Chiang Khong.
There, you are led to the thai immigration where you receive a simple stamp on the passport. You then have no other choice but to take a bus (20 THB/pp) to cross the bridge (you are supposed to pay an additional fee of 25 THB/pp a bag, but they did not ask for it).
Laos immigration :
Requested for Belgian citizens, 1 entry Visa valid for 30 days:
- 35 $/p (= 1100 THB, 290.000 kip)
- 1 identity picture
(1€ = 40 THB = 10.000 LAK)
We were allowed to pay in either of those currencies, but the rate they use if quite different:
35$ / 1400 THB / 350.000 LAK + overtime fees of 10.000 LAK for one person, because we got there after 4PM…
We then decided to exchange euros in US dollars. Fortunately, there are foreign exchange counters close by, where the rate is a bit better (100€ for 115$ instead of 122$). In the end, we only lost 3.5$ (2,8€) for one person instead of 300 THB (8€).
You will also find two ATM’s before the immigration office to get Lao kips (LAK), which is great since you can get 1.500.000 LAK tops (150€) for « only » 20.000 LAK bank fees. Tuk-tuks also take THB.
Get from the immigration to Huay Xay town:
Once in Laos, you will not find any bus going to the city. The only way to go is by tuk-tuk for 100 THB/p (6km to our guesthouse for the night). As usual, they pretend that’s 15km from the border and laugh when I show them MAPS.ME… We decided to give it a go on foot to get away from them, but we managed to get by another one we could bargain with 1km further (we got 60 THB/p, which is better but still two times the real price)
Since buses to Oudomxay only leave everyday in the morning, you will have no other choice but sleeping in Huay Xay.
We spent the night at the Sor Borlingam Guesthouse, at 2km away from the bus station. Comfy and spacious rooms with private bathroom but two twin beds for 85.000 LAK.
Oudomxay city, our first interest spot
The next morning at 9:30 AM, we took a bus to Oudomxay (90.000 LAK/pp – 280km, 8 hours ride) at the Huay Xay bus station (confused with the Bokeo bus station on Google Maps, but the location on MAPS.ME is rigtht).
- Phuthat Stupa / Phu That (temple) (free entrance)
- Vat Santi Phab / Santipap (temple) (free entrance)
- Namkat waterfall (120.000 LAK/pto get there by tuk-tuk because it’s owned by a private company, the Namkat Yorla Pa resort. Rooms available at 20-400$ a night and many activities. Consider spending half a day to enjoy it (1 hour to get there, 1 hour to book the trip and get to the waterfall, 20 minutes there and then the way back).
- 11km waterfall, located on road 13 at km 11, hence the name (10.000 LAK/p). From the city, you can reach it in 30 minutes (ride until you see a big sign on the road) and 10-15 minutes on site (it’s rather short and very close to the road)
- Nam Hin lake (free entrance). Consider spending 1 hour to get there (difficult, muddy roads with potholes) and 15 minutes on site. Piece of advice: Better going back the same way (from the South-east) because the road in even worse from the North-east. We did not and fell in a pothole :p
- Chom Ong cave (15.000 LAK/p entrance fee + mandatory guide 50.000 LAK + parking fee 3000 LAK). Don’t bother finding a guide before going there, you will find plenty on site. Consider a whole day (2 to 3 hours to get there, including 30 km through muddy roads with large potholes with ups and dows (a few are a bit high). There are two cave, a dry cave without any water and a river cave, where you can expect wlaking through water up to knees most of the time and up to your waist or higher as you go further down the cave. We could not spend more than minutes into the river cave, but we spent two hours into the dry cave. If you want, I strongy advice buying good watershoes at home before going there because flip-flops are most used here :p
We stayed for a few days at the Saylomyen Guesthouse, with a pivate bathroom, water tank to make tea and breakfast included for 85.000 LAK a night (70.000 LAK if you do not book through Booking.com, but breakfast will still be included). Breakfast consists of noodle soup (worth 15.000 LAK).
We visited the town and its temples on foot (noe day is enough), but rented a motorbike for the two ther days. We bargained the price down to 180.000 LAK instead of 200.000 LAK for two days. 2€ is 2€ right?
Petrol stations are everywhere and located on MAPS.ME and somebody fills the tank for you (no charge). Regular is charged 10.000 LAK/liter, which is rather expensive, but 20.000 LAK is enough for a full tank and will last about 150-200km. It was enough for the waterfalls and the lake the first day. You will need a refill to get to the cave and get back to the city the next day, but expect spending everything because it’s far away and most of the road is difficult (2 hours, 50 km to get there)
As a first experience with a motorbike, here are how it felt :
- Easy to get used to it
- Uneasy to stay balanced, especially at low speed
- Quite heavy, considering the size though
- Potholes are a nightmare
- Mud is a nightmare
- Buttache, especially on muddy roads with potholes which seem endless
- Constant concentration will drain your energy
- As in Belgium we drive on the right side of the road, it was definitely a good idea to try it here for the first time
- All in all, we had a great experience and the feeling of freedom is almost orgasmic
Here are a few pics of our discoveries:
Nam Hin lake
Chom Ong cave
A few pics of our food discoveries (very alike with Chinese food)
Our first impressions on Laos are quite good. Both children and adults are really nice and smile a lot, and you enjoy going for a « Sabaidee » (Hello) anytime you can.
English really is an issue here, compared with the level in Nepal, India or Thailand. That’s why a lot of place have different writings (even towns!). This country makes us think about China (which has a strong presence here, through restaurants, companies and tourists)
Life here is calm and peaceful. We tried getting bus tickets two days in advance to Nong Khiaw and they told us to get them on the departure day because there was no need to hurry 😀
As people say here:
- Vietnamese plant rice
- Cambodians look for it to grow
- Laotians listen to it growing
I think it might be true for some people :p
Next step: Nong Khiaw town, located in a karst region in the East of Laos