How not to cross the Chiang Khong friendship bridge

This should have been so much easier than it was. I was expecting a short boat ride across the Mekong from Chiang Khong to Huay Xai – what the lonely planet describes as the most popular crossing from Thailand to Laos.

I woke up in the morning (Grumpy. It was cold all night. Not a good start) and double checked online to see where I had to go.

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This is where Google maps thinks the immigration office is. This is indeed where the immigration office used to be. I got there to be told that this crossing closed permanently two months ago. Two months! I expect my lonely planet guide to be out of date but that’s enough time for Google to get with the program! I have to go to the new friendship bridge, which I’m told is 10km away. Ugh.

The usual slew of tuktuk and motorbikes offer to take me there for 100 baht. I do not have 100 baht. I have 50, and I’m fairly sure I’m going to need some of that to cross the border (spoiler: yes, you need 20 for the shuttle bus, you can’t cross the bridge on foot.) There’s no way I’m going to an ATM to get out minimum 1000 baht plus exchange fees just to get in a tuktuk. No, I’ve got a small bag, I’m sure I can walk 10km.

And stupid stubborn decisions like this are why I keep losing weight on this trip despite all the food I’m eating.

Well, I obviously couldn’t ask Google how to get to the new immigration office since they don’t acknowledge its existence, but I could see a bridge way down there on the map, as well as a nice diagonal road leading to it. Yay! Shortcut!

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Do not walk this way.

(Or, you know, be sensible and don’t walk at all)

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This is not a junction. This is an underpass. You will get to walk underneath a very fenced off bridge and sob at how damn close you are and yet completely unable to reach it. If you carry on down the road in the hopes that you can turn right and get back to the bridge you will end up in a field being shouted at by a farmer that you’re going the wrong way. Or at least that’s what I assume he was telling me. He didn’t speak any English at all so while I understood that I couldn’t go that way my very best charades skills (with passport for added emphasis) and even map pointing couldn’t get him to tell me which way I should go. So, middle of nowhere, totally lost, exhausted and sweaty, oh and by the way new shoes not nearly as comfortable as they seemed the last time i wore then and now holding my left Achilles tendon in a death grip, i did what any self respecting English damsel would do. I burst into tears. Eventually he ushered me over to his car and implied that he would take me there. Which I thought was nice. Possibly foolish I know, but hey, he was old, I figured I could take him if need be.

We drove all the way back up the road I’ve just walked down back to where I started (note, where I started, not the border crossing), and he stops at a petrol station and asks me in miraculously new found English for five hundred baht. In case you missed it, that is five times the amount the tuktuk drivers were going to charge to actually take me where I needed to go. I picked up my bag and walked off without a word. Even without a well placed charade.

Halfway through my pathetic limping second attempt to reach the border a miracle happened. A tuktuk pulled up beside me and before I’d even had a chance to say no thank you, he came out with ‘you go to border? No charge’. Um what? Seriously? My sceptical self was sitting in the back thinking ‘this can’t be real, he’s going to ask for money as soon as we get there’, but no, he pulled up, smiled and said goodbye. That was it. Wow. After the week I’ve had I’m really glad I got some decency just before I crossed the border, otherwise it may have just wiped out any good memory I had of Thailand. Thank you, mysteriously generous tuktuk driver, for being my light in dark places.

The actual border crossing was one of the smoothest I’ve done so far (except for the fact that they stuck my Lao visa right next to my shiny new Chinese one thus obliterating any space for Chinese stamps. I hope I don’t get into trouble for this but I very carefully peeled out the sticker and moved it to a different page.) After all the formalities my fellow border crossers and I head for the tuktuks. I ask how much to the bus station and he says 17000 – different currency remember, 17000 kip isn’t too bad. I double check he said one seven and not seventy. Yes, seventeen. As we’re loading our bags I check again. Seventeen to the bus station. All bags and passengers on. I hand over 50000 and get 30000 back. ‘You owe me 3000 more.’ ‘20000’ ‘No, you said seventeen. You said it several times. Everyone heard you.’ ‘No, bus station, 20000’

Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.

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