The Gateway to Laos
I was warned that getting a visa at the border could be problematic. I had heard horror stories of invented ‘taxes’, fake visas and stolen passports. But I had no choice.
I had seen photos of Laos: misty mountains reflected in turquoise rivers. Scenery up there with the inhospitable beauty of home. According to one visitor, Laos is the country where every traveller gets sick and where every traveller returns. I was intrigued.
As predicted, the boarder crossing from Northern Thailand was colorful to say the least. My hotel had arranged for a Thai/Laos speaking guide to assist me with the paperwork and transport across the border.
“If you go alone, you might get ripped off,” I was warned by Oye, my friendly hotel manager.
My guide introduced himself as Alex. He spoke impeccable English and he wore a crisp black suit. When he arrived on his motorbike at 7 a.m. to pick me up, Oye barked out firm orders for Alex in rapid Thai – jibbreish to my ears. The monologue concluded with her quietly slipping Alex forty US dollars. A fortune in Thai terms. Quadruple the cost of my 15-day Lao visa.
Oye turned to me and politely instructed me to hand over my passport and documents to the suited man. “It’s safer that way,” she smiled.
This entering Laos business was becoming serious stuff. As I sat on a dinghy crossing the Mekhong river that separates Thailand from Laos I was passportless. I was in the hands of Alex. His suit was certainly dazzling but did he have the integrity to match?
After a painful twenty-five minute wait, I was the last person to be issued a Laos tourist visa. Although curious, I was glad to leave behind the mystery of Alex and his suit and his $40 ‘reward’ for helping me. Finally I could experience more craziness, encounter more kindness within the depths of Laos itself.