Crossing the Border into Laos

This fairly new road did not show up on my Garmin.
This fairly new road did not show up on my Garmin.

Today we said goodbye to Thailand. Actually, I prefer to think of it as “see ya later” because I loved being here so much. But our visa is soon to expire and we’ve gotten so comfortable here that we need to find a new challenge. Being able to order food, find lodging with good wifi, purchase SIM cards with cheap data, and say “hello” are all fine and good, but all the “experts” say that mental challenges will help us to live longer, so Laos, here we come!

After making Thanksgiving calls to the US, stocking up on non-perishable foods from Tesco, and chatting with a Baptist missionary (who, by the way, lives in America but was from Laos and is supporting a mission to a Hill Tribe in Thailand) assures us that we are safer in Laos than in the US right now, we started pedaling.

Our bikes road in the bus like passengers. Our panniers were underneath.
Our bikes road in the bus like passengers. Our panniers were underneath.

I’ve got to admit it. Border crossings make me nervous. Ever since I saw “Midnight Cowboy” in the 1970s I’ve been afraid of border crossings. Crossing into Yugoslavia in the early 80s by train yielded lots of harassment from the conductor and Turkish coffee sales man for about 36 hours. Being detained while leaving Malaysia due to a missing entry stamp added to the anxiety. Maybe the website saying Laos allows visas on arrival was out of date. Maybe I’m carrying something that is forbidden in this country. Maybe I’ll be like Tom Hanks and stuck in the “international zone” indefinitely.

Luckily, today went of without a hitch. We cycled about 10 km south of Chiang Khong to the new “Friendship Bridge IV”. We left Thailand and rolled our bicycles to a ticket counter for the “friendship bus” that would drive us across the bridge to Laos. For an additional 100 baht ($3) our bikes were loaded through a side window and given priority seats on the bus.

Arriving in the Laos side, we completed the appropriate paperwork for a Laos visa. The crossing guard took our passports and told us to wait a few minutes. 10 minutes and $35 later we had a fancy Thai visa stuck in our passport.

The kilometer or so long crossing took us to an entirely new place – new language, new type of toilets, and driving on the “right” side of the road. (This last change, even though I’ve spent 53 years of my life driving on the right, has really thrown me for a loop. The mirror on my bike is on the wrong side, my leg muscles are weak on this side of the road. I have to think about left turns again instead of U-turns.) Thank goodness there is almost no traffic.

This was a new hotel and we were the only guests. The disco at night, however, was hopping all night long.
This was a new hotel and we were the only guests. The disco at night, however, was hopping all night long.

We found a nice hotel – don’t ask me how. I just saw a newly painted sign and some balconies jutting out over a cliff up a very steep hill, so we shifted down, pedaled up and came to a beautiful place, with a modern bathroom, a very comfortable bed, and wifi that appears to work but doesn’t really.

The reward after a stressful day.
The reward after a stressful day.

I feel asleep before Eric (VERY uncommon unless we’re at the movie theater watching car races or shoot ‘em up films) indicating both the stress of border crossings and the relief that we our “at home” in our new county.