One month in Vietnam was up shortly after we left Dien Bien Phu – a town less than two hours from the border. First up – a big thank you 🙏. We had an amazing time all over the country and yet haven’t seen all of it. One day maybe. For now, we are moving on.
In order to get to Laos without having to return to Hanoi, we had picked out the tai tran border. Not all border crossings into Laos provide visa on arrival service, so watch out which one you choose.
The bus left around 8.30am and would take the best part of 9h to get us to Dien Bien Phu where a connecting bus to Laos left next day. The mountain road was scenic though being squeezed into the back bench ruined most views. Shame really.
Once arrived, we discussed options with Bob from the US who was in the same bus and bought a ticket for the 5.30am to Muang Khua to take us across the border. He looks strangely like the actor Anthony Hopkins and is from Massachusetts, US. Bob travels most years for about 6mth in his off-season (and escaping the cold). He had been to Laos six years before and hence knew his way around better than we did. The night in Dien Bien Phu itself was unspectacular other than our last Pho Soup 🍜🍜🍜
Crossing into Laos
The bus terminal was buzzing already as we arrived. Still, there was time for an omelet for breakfast. Turns out that the three of us were the only travellers. Probably because of the upcoming Tet festival fewer people wished to cross the border.
Clearly, the bus couldn’t go that empty! So the driver drove somewhere and loaded up on all sort of snacks, potatoes and a handful local people. Suddenly the bus was full after all.
The border crossing turned out ok. Laura had overstayed her visa by a few hours and we read online about a U$25 penalty fee. But it was ok. On the laos side, we paid the U$30 visa fee plus the additional U$5 or so in made up charges that go directly into the pockets of the staff.
Welcome to Laos! The kingdom of a thousand elephants 🐘 🐘 🐘
Officially called the Lao People’s Democratic Republic it is the only landlocked country in Asia and has the lowest population density. It is a socialist, one party state with some 7m inhabitants. The ethnic mix is diverse with 53.2% Lao, 11% Khmu, 9.2% Hmong, 3.4% Phouthay, 3.1% Tai, 2.5% Makong, 2.2% Katang, 2.0% Lue, 1.8% Akha and 11.6% other. The prevailing religion is Buddhism for 2/3rd and Laotian folk religion for 1/3rd.
An evening in Muang Khua
It took a further 2h by bus to the town of Muang Khua. The feel of the place was instantly different. Fewer people, less hassle.
1/10th of the population density of Vietnam… And you feel it immediately
We sat down in a cafe and chatted more with Bob before heading to guesthouses for a well deserved nap. 😴😴😴
Late afternoon we had time to take a look around. Late lunch, new SIM cards for Laos and a little stroll. The best part was an unexpected Karaoke show in a restaurant where locals celebrated. They let us sample different kinds of food – quite spicy at times! Laura order some soup. Turns out it was full of intestines and not very much to our liking sadly. So another soup elsewhere before hitting the beds!