Wednesday, 15 October 2008

How to…travel from China to Laos overland

Mohan is the only border crossing from China to Laos. There are a number of ways to get there and once you do the procedure is simple as long as you have dollars and long arms.

We took the 15 hour night bus from Dali to Jinghong [180 yuan]. Buses also depart for Jinghong from Lijiang and Kunming. From Jinghong it is an easy three hour bus journey to Mengla [35 yuan] where we had to spend the night to take the morning bus to Luang Prabang, Laos. There is one bus daily that leaves at 7.50am and takes a good 12 hours including immigration and customs time [98 yuan]. It is a sleeper bus so has beds for lounging, not seats; rather a luxurious way to travel when you don’t need to sleep. Buses also depart from Kunming to Luang Prabang and Vientiane.

The bus stops at Mohan, the last town in China before Laos, where everyone disembarks and you walk 100 metres down the road to the immigration queue. Hand is your China departure card and get an exit stamp. You then have to wait to get back on the bus while Chinese customs search under the beds, open people’s boxes and shake coconuts. Then you drive on to Laos.
Three minutes later you get off at Boten, the first town in Laos after China. You can buy your Laos visa upon arrival. Go to the window with the blue sign reading ‘Visa arrival unit’ to fill in a form, and hand over a passport photo, your passport and $35 dollars. You are then given your Laos visa (30 days for Brits).

Next you need to get your arrival stamp. Go to the next window on the left and fill in an arrival form. Take it to the window with the red ’Check in’ sign and join the scrum. Most people going into Laos are Chinese so the Chinese queuing system applies. Sharpen your elbows and wade in. Thrust your passport and form through the window and keep pushing until an official takes it and stamps it. Then you can get back on the bus. For another ten minutes.

Laotian customs follow and depending on what your fellow passengers are carrying this can take some time, an hour or more. Our coach contained boxes of chillies, bags of rice and flour and a sack of cabbages. Why would you take rice and cabbages to Laos?

Finally on the road for the nine hour bus potholing experience and the scenery starts to change. It gets warmer, there are more banana plants and concrete box buildings are replaced by thatch huts on stilts. It starts to feel very tropical and remote. There are noticeably more children in Laos than China and an abundance of potbellied pigs that decrease in number as you head south. Women wear sarongs, not trousers and there is a lot more mud and dust. It is the most extraordinary way to enter a country and was quite a surprise when we terminated in the French style backpacker oasis of Luang Prabang during their Ork Phansa and Lai Hena Fai (end of Buddhist lent and end of rains) Festival. Talk about arriving with a bang!

1 comment:

Hakan said...

Found your blog post very interesting and helpful for my travels in the months to come! Cheers!