This is a guest post by Josh Boorman. If you want to guest post on Go Backpacking, please read more here.
I awoke from my slumber with a slight headache from the bottle of Chiang I drank the night before, however I got packing immediately to get ready to leave Chiang Rai – it was going to be a long day.
I ate an all ” American Breakfast”? from the guesthouse kitchen, bacon, sausages, eggs, toast with jam and butter, fruit and orange juice–all for 120BHT.
I felt so much better after eating a proper healthy meal. I was re-energized to take on the trip to Luang Prabang, Laos. The bus trip to Chiang Khong took much longer than the expected 4 hours. When I arrived, I had approximately 15 minutes to get my way across the muddy yet fabulous Mekong River over to the mainland of Laos and its border check-in at Huay Xai. Luckily, I just made it through the border crossing of Thailand, as I was intent on getting into Laos before the sun went down.
I got off the bus with a few other backpackers and I grabbed the closest tuk-tuk to take me only about 1km down the road to the actual border checkpoint. The other backpackers didn’t think that we would make the checkpoint in time so they gave in and decided to look for somewhere to spend the night in Chiang Khong – the Thai border town.
I however was on a mission. I wanted to sleep in Laos that night. It was all very exciting and stressful at the same time. After getting to the checkpoint which was situated on the banks of the Mighty Mekong River, it was a delight to look only a short distance across the river to the mainland of Laos. I got to the checkpoint as the last person to be processed, and they told me to hurry down to the banks of the river. It appeared as though the last boat was leaving for the day to transport people over to the Laos border town of Huay Xai.
The border checkpoint and processing office were basic and undeveloped. The boat to transport me over the Mekong River to the Laotian checkpoint was a rickety, old, skinny long boat. I was the only foreigner amongst a group of locals who were transporting fruit, rice and other local commodities.
I was the only backpacker who decided to cross over to Laos that night. I guess it was just too hard and too much of a gamble for the others, but I had nothing to lose. I got onto the boat which looked a little shaky, and as if it may struggle with me and my backpack. Needless to say, the thought of the boat sinking halfway across the river, and me having to swim the rest of the way was an ever-present thought on my mind.
The boat did not sink however, and I was stepping onto the shores of Laos within 5 to 10 minutes of leaving Thailand. I then had to be processed through the Laotian border checkpoint where I was also able to exchange some of my Baht into Kip.
Mission complete, now to get on an overnight bus to Luang Prabang. However, a major barrier appeared before me as the locals at Huay Xai kept telling me that only 2 buses left from Huay Xai each day.
Since it was about 5:30pm, I took my Lonely Planet guide out to view its accommodation recommendations, especially since I had not planned on staying in Huay Xai for the night. Arimid guesthouse sounded ok to me for a cool 80,000 Kip (approximately $8USD). It’s about 10,000 Kip to $1 USD, so I was walking around with millions of Kip in my pocket. WOW, I’m finally a millionaire and I am a backpacker. The two usually just don’t go hand in hand very well, hold on, no wait, a Kip Millionaire is not quite as prosperous unfortunately.
The Arimid guesthouse was very clean and was full of individual wooden huts just like the traditional Laotion huts that the locals live in out in the villages. It was located about 400 meters along the main road north of the border checkpoint. I had a wooden hut to myself with a basic bathroom, fan and double size bed however there was no electricity. All the same, I was very content with my accommodation in the highly undeveloped town.
I settled in and left the lodge as soon as possible to search for my first Beer Lao. I’d heard so much about the beer and my brother some years ago had even given me a Beer Lao t-shirt, a cult piece of clothing for the seasoned backpacker. Beer Lao was not a bad drop, especially when it’s 35 degrees Celsius and humid as hell.
Being in Laos, and Huay Xai in particular, I got the feeling that I was finally out of the ” system.”? The system in which many people back home are controlled by and the system which prevents people from venturing outside of their comfort zone, I was feeling that I was very far from home, and that if something went wrong, then I could only rely on myself — no back-ups or provisions in place to protect me. I was definitely out of my comfort zone to have these waves of sensations and feelings coming over me.
For the first time, I was experiencing a true sense of independence, I had finally achieved exactly what I’d set out to achieve, “˜true freedom.’ This was one of the main reasons for taking my backpacking trip around SouthEast Asia, so I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment as well.
Next priority I guess I had better eat, I was really unsure of what to think about Huay Xai especially considering it was a tiny town and electricity appeared to be quite limited to only shops and eateries. I wanted to find a place to eat that was quite busy so that I didn’t get sick for off food. I should have probably been more worried about whether it was chicken or cat that I was about to consume.
I found a restaurant, and immediately ordered another Beer Lao–a tall one this time, and a dish of fried chicken and noodles (one of my favourite Asian dishes). It was delicious and whilst eating and drinking, I studied my travel guide for more ideas to fill my time in the cities and towns I intended to visit in the coming days, weeks and months.
The walk from the restaurant to the Arimid guesthouse was about 300 meters and it was quite daunting as there was little to no light due to lack of electricity. I kept walking pasts houses, well shanties actually, with feral dogs out front that were barking like crazy and tended to stalk, not follow, me about 30 meters down the road until I was past their territory. This continued on for ages, and after a number of K9 stalkings, I was pretty glad to get back to the guest house. All I could think about was getting bitten by one of these angry dogs and contracting RABBIES. With the lack of hospitals or medical supplies around, this was more cause for concern, so I quickly scurried my way to the guesthouse and retired to bed.
I guess the best memory that I can take away from Huay Xai is the sense of true freedom that I gained from crossing the border from Thailand into the highly undeveloped country of Laos. I was excited for my journey ahead through Laos.