Observations from the Real Ride to Luang Prabang

So the bus ride from Kunming, China down to Luang Prabang , Laos didn’t have any improvised mines , rebel attacks, malarial outbreaks, or even monkeys flinging poo. Merely a small child with a plastic automatic rifle that shoots out pure annoyance and irritation instead of bullets. But hey it was alright , I made it!

A couple of observations on the way down:

China has an excellent road (G213) paved from Kunming down to the border, once you cross the border the road loses the fancy G2 and is merely called 13. Along with the prefix the road also loses quality and gains potholes (craters), dirt, and mud. The roads also now are very windy and the bus is constantly turning on its way through the mountains. Dense , lush , and verdant foliage also now surrounds the roads. It’s a bumpy ride.

After we crossed into the tropical district of Xishuangbanna , China, which borders Laos, at every parking lot/rest stop we stopped at you can count on money changers being there. They will come up onto the bus and in chinese say “huan qian” (换钱)followed by a “change money” in English. While it may seem shady to do trade with these random strangers and their thick wads of (kip) Laotian currency and calculators , I recommend it. The rates they offered were very close to the official rate encountered on the internet and much to much better than any rate I encountered while actually in Laos. I figured I would get a better rate in Laos so I only exchanged a little bit . Next time I know what to do. The rates are so close its hard to figure how these traders even make money. I wish I would have made a note of it but the profit margin for them was tiny.Now be smart and make sure you know the rate and make sure the math is correct and inspect and count the bills but don’t be afraid of this transaction.

1RMB = 1,257 Kip , $1USD = 7,980 Kip. This was the first time I’ve been a millionaire! The largest Lao note is the 50,000 Kip bill , so its only worth about $7USD. I thought having the 100RMB ($15) note in China was bad enough. So if you are changing lots of money be prepared to have a fat wad of notes.

At one stop a gambler came up to the bus with three small round covers and a coin. The coin was placed under one of the covers and they were all scrambled around. Two people gamble and try to find the coin. One of the Chinese guys on the bus pulled out a stack of 100RMB notes and ended up winning a couple hundred. High-roller!

As you go further south down into Xishuangbanna, signs in towns and on roads start having Laos script written underneath the Chinese. In stores there are more and more Laotian groceries and in the cooler next to the Dali beer Beer Lao starts making appearances as well!

The further down south the more palm trees. The more palm trees the more appearance of a laid-back calm environment.

Once you make it to the border you have to get on and off the bus a maddening number of times. First to go through Chinese customs and get your exit stamps then on the bus for 30 seconds , then off again ( I don’t even remember why) , then on and off again to pass through Laos customs and get your Laos visa.

At the Laotian customs there is a large book full of prices for visas on arrival. Every nationality has a different price. There are also different prices marked for different currencies. Americans are supposed to pay ~$35 USD but I had only Chinese RMB and after I did the conversion I had ended up paying $50 USD.

Bring two small photos with you to the border , fill out a small application , hand over the application with photos, cash ,  and passport, two minutes later receive your passport with a new visa stuck in it! Walk ahead and get your passport stamped and then its back on the bus.

The Lao Visa is a very cool and psychedelic with purple and pink hues , with a trippy silver holograph seal.

The Chinese customs looks all hi-tech and futuristic and bids goodbye  , while in Laos a big old-looking golden temple is the first thing that says hello.

After crossing the border the toilets in rest stops are more expensive to use  , 2 RMB versus 1 RMB (but in Kip).  I had to pay 2,500 Kip to piss. Hahahahahaha two thousand five hundred to pee.

New varieties of snack foods , (lays squid potato chips) , more variety of energy drinks. Lots of dried fruits. A snack station making sandwhichs out of loaves of bread. First real sandwhiches I’ve seen in Asia. Thanks French influence!

Finally , after 28 hours , my bus finally pulled into Luang Prabang. This was the first semblance of any large center of civilization. Up until now we had only passed through a few small villages and encountered little huts on the side of the road. Wow, it felt great to be done with the bus! I hopped off the bus and onto a Tuk-Tuk and it was off to the center of town to try and find a guesthouse……

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