The idea of traveling to China by land is an appealing adventure that I normally dreamt of embarking after seeing programs on Discovery, National Geographic or Chinese Phoenix TV channels. Although much has been written or shown or shown on TV, the information is rather limited, even on my Lonely Planet “SEA on a shoe string 2006e”. Information on Internet is quite out-dated. Now it is time to take the plunge, and my only regret is that we don’t have enough time.
Day 02 – Chiang Khong (TH) > Huay Xay (LAos) > Luang Namtha (LA) > Boten (LA)
Waking up early before breakfast buffet is read, we took a morning walk and head for the market. Markets and Temples are really the 2 common places you find Thai people congregate. We brought and ate some deliciously looking cakes or Kanom and head back to hotel for breakfast. A van picked us from the Hotel and head for Chiang Khong Immigration after we had our breakfast.
Immigration clearance is quite a breeze except that we were asked to pay 5 bahts by Thai Immigration for departure. A long tail boat took us across the Mekong for bahts each. Big luggage carried by porter will attract another x bahts per piece. Unlike my previous trip to Vientiane in Laos, Malaysian does not need Visa to visit Laos.
|Chiang Khong Immigration||Long Tailed Boat for River Crossing|
|Long tailed board arrived at Laos||Laos Immigration|
By the time we cleared the immigration, the van driver is already there waiting for us. We have on previous night, arranged for 5-seater van to send us to Luang Namtha. My perceived tough 9-hour trip turned out to be bearable compared to road trip in China which is more challenging.
Barely 30 minutes into Laos, I felt as though we have been transported to another world all together. Time has moved without Laos. We are “trapped in a time warp” and travel backward in time. Take for example this gas station, the meter is used in the 60-70’s, and I am seeing it operational right in front of my eyes.
|Gas Pump of 70’s||Made in China Fire Extinguisher|
Thainess in Laos
I could converse easily with the driver and people in the gas station with Thai. The Laos could understand Thai and the driver even listen to Thai song along the whole journey.
Asia highway #3 connecting Kunming in China to Thailand expected to complete in 2006 is still under construction, with many sections still un-surfaced. Although known as Highway, it has only a single carriageway on each side and winds according to the shape of the mountain. I have not found a section that is straightened. Perhaps it all boils down to cost as building bridges to straighten the road is really costly.
Asian Highway 3
Laos being land-lock is a poor country and so are the people. You can see straw huts and other bear basic dwellings along the highway. Padi, vegetable and fruits farming can be seen throughout the journey. Water melon seems to be in season now.
It took us 5 hours to reach Luang Namtha (LNT) by car, the capital town of Namtha province, instead of 9 hours by van as posted in one Internet site. Roughly the size of Chiang Khong, LNT is very dusty, just like Vientiane. I guess if the country cannot afford good tarred road, dust will always be a problem. The bus station is just next to the market. There you can find many depilated buses, vans and cars – the newer one are mostly made in China. Economically, Laos is heavily dependent on China. Many shop owners hailed that many far-away provinces in China. Chinese are traditionally risk takers and as long as there are economic opportunities, they will go wherever the place may be.
|Bus Station||Made in China Vehicle|
I guess Laos government is taking a “laissez faire, laissez aller, laissez passer” (let do, let go, let pass) approach to Chinese citizen. A sort of hate-love relationship – you hate them running around your house but at the same time you need their investment.
|Money changer||Shops run by Chinese Chinese|
LNT economic is bad according to one of the shop keepers. There is no purchasing power as most people are dependant on agriculture that is not doing well. Some shoppers are comtemplating going home.
Walking around LNT is like going back to my childhood days in Penang in Malaysia, a sort of déjà vu. The Market is very dirty and muddy. Chicken kept in rattan cage waiting to be bought and slaughtered.
House flies are everywhere.
|Chicken and Seller||Goldsmith|
What amazed me most is that I found a silver belt similar to the one that my mother used to wear in LNT – that treasure piece has been misplaced and my wife has been trying hard to locate it.
|Silver belts||Silver belts|
Our original plan was to stay a night in LNT but since we have arrived early and there is not much to see and do, the team decided to stay a night in the border town of Boten (磨丁) after hearing that there is a better hotel and casino facilities there. Some Internet stated some fearful warning like “*DON’T* stay at the hotel/guesthouse directly diagonal from the bus station on the corner.. really convenient place for catching early morning buses yes, but they had bed bugs)”.