Photo: In bed on the bus
Today we crossed to Laos and headed to a National Park, but could have ended up in the capital!
Breakfast was served at the table outside our room in the courtyard. After packing our bags we loaded them into the pickup and were driven by the hotel owner on a shortcut via dirt tracks, across the fields to the Thai immigration. Here we got our passport exit stamps. We purchased our Bhat 25 (£0.65) bus ticket for the short journey across the Friendship bridge over the Mekong river to the Laos Immigration.
We were on the first transfer bus of the morning and there was an organised group who had already been given their 'Visa on Arrival' forms by their guide so they were straight to the front of the visa queue. We were in no rush as we were aiming to take the 12:30pm bus departure to Luang Namtha from the bus station just past immigrations.
The visa process was pain free and after paying my us$35 fee (Gaby only had to pay us$30) we hopped on minivan for the transfer to the new bus station.
The driver didn't seem too sure of the route, but we soon arrived at a bus station and I checked with him that this was the right place for our bus. He conversed with one of the girls at the ticket counter, there was a bit of back and forth conversation before he nodded to confirm to us this was the right place.
After getting over the confusion of trying to buy the bus ticket with Vietmanise Dong, the ticket lady kindly pointed us in the direction of an ATM so we could pay with Laos KIP!
Ticket purchased we were happy in the knowledge that we were on our way.
Five minutes before our bus was due to depart, no new buses had pulled into the bus bays and of the two buses already there one was going to Luang Prabang (to the south) and the other to Ventiane the capital (even further south), we asked just to be on the safe side and were told we needed the bus that went to Ventiane. It seemed a bit odd as we were expecting a local bus and to be heading north.
The sign at the bus entrance said "Please remove the shoes" and there was a man by the door handing out plastic bags to put the shoes in. As we boarded the bus it was again not what we were expected, this was a sleeper bus, it had no seats, just beds; you had to share a bed between two people. Luckily Gaby and I were in the same bed; although on the upper level where there was less headroom and less window to see out of. Gaby caught upon some sleep as I cricked my neck to admire the view out of the small window as we drove though a lush green, hilly countryside.
The bus first stopped for a toilet break where everyone walked over to the verge and did their business at the side of a field. The second stop was lunch at a local roadside restaurant. Gaby and I shared a huge portion of rice and a quarter chicken for KIP 20,000 ($1.75), there was no cutlery, only chop sticks so Gaby struggled a bit.
Our journey continued on and we rapidly got closer to Luang Namtha. The town itself is located on a loop off the main road. I was following our progress on a map app on my phone and noticed we failed to turn off towards the town, I zoomed in on the map only to see the bus station was actually on the bypass road and we were there already. The bus momentarily stopped on the side of the road and then started up again. I asked Gaby, as she was already in the aisle to talked to the driver, but she couldn't get there as the were so many people sleeping in the aisle. I proceeded to climb down the aisle using the ladders that accessed the bunk so not to step on anyone. I successfully climbed over the first two sleepers but must have disturbed the third as he looked and started to laugh at the foreigner climbing down the bus, other people in the bus also started to laugh as I called out that were were supposed to get off at the last bus station.
The drived stopped, looked at his passenger list then asked for my ticket. When he saw my ticked he nodded and pointed back to imply we should have got off the bus. He said it didn't say anything on his list and he said sorry. He opened the bus door. We alighted and Gaby only had a chance to put her shoes back on when she was standing on the roadside.
It was over 1km back up the road in the mid day heat to the bus station. Here was caught a taxi the 9 kms to the actual town where we booked into a hotel and relaxed for the rest of the day.
Map: Where we ended up today