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Crossing the Thai-Laos Border

Crossing the Laos-Thai border is simple and efficient, as long as you have your papers in order.

A couple of days ago I crossed the border from Thailand to Laos, at Mukdahan. Why Mukdahan? I went there to visit a long-standing friend who has moved back to her family's property after living in Bangkok. It was definitely a pleasure to see her again and meet some of her family...

The border crossing was easy enough.

I'd heard that the Thai authorities were cracking down on over-stayers and, sure enough, as I descended from the bus as the Thai Border Control I was met by a very nice police man who asked for my passport. Having checked that I was within my visa time, I was informed that I could go to the next stage.

Stamped out, back on the bus for the trip across the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge No 2 (there are four). The bus itself is a brilliant service. You turn up at the Mukdahan Bus Station and go to the counter to the right immediately upon entering the main building. 45 Thai baht will buy you a ticket to the Savannakhet Bus Station, in Laos. From there it was an easy walk (1-2 km) to my guesthouse, Vanpila.

Back on the bus, we changed the side of the road we were driving on (Laos is left-hand-drive, Thailand drives on the left) and crossed the bridge. The Mekong is wide, the sky a pale-blue and it was hot. Descending from the bus on the Laos side, I was directed to the "Visa on Arrival" window. This window is also for the Laos eVisa holders. Everything went smoothly, a fee of 100 baht for an unknown service, and out through the final checkpoint to once again board the bus. There are ATMs and many tuktuk and taxi drivers vying for your custom. In a way it was quite nice just having to get on the bus.

The drive to the bus station showed quite distinctly the difference between the two countries. Laos has about a 10th the population of Thailand and is correspondingly poorer, economically. The roads are barely formed and the housing is far more traditional, itself a pleasant thing.

Descending from the bus, I walked in what I thought was the right direction, it wasn't, but came across a very large and largely empty Big Plus store. There I was able to purchase a Lao Telecom SIM card (35 000 Kip for the card and 100 000 Kip for a month's worth of data (25GB), more than enough for writing and reading. There are about 600 Kip to the Thai baht, the Thai baht is roughly 20:1 New Zealand dollar. I am now officially a Kip Millionaire.

The interactions with the Big Plus store staff were very pleasant and I paid in baht (210). My 500 baht note was taken away to the accounting office and 280 baht plus 12 000 kip were returned. Much smiling and off I went.

Being lost is always an interesting experience. Now that I had mobile data I could (mostly) work out where I was; streets do not have names, nor are they paved. But I found a lovely little drinks stall and was served by Anna who had perfectly fine English and was able to point me in the direction of the main road.

And so, I eventually arrived at my lodging where I stayed for the next three days.

Vanpila is a very well-presented guesthouse operated by a Laos-French couple who I did not meet (they were off travelling somewhere) but they were very quick to respond to WhatsApp messages. Highly recommended.