Monday, July 25, 2011

Leaving Thailand

I was leaving Thailand on the day my renewed visa expired.

There was just enough time in the morning to pack, eat one last breakfast at Nice Kitchen, and drop off my fourth pair of shoes for a woman named Julia that Toby and I had met last night. She'd approached him in a coffee shop because he was studying a book on Chinese vocabulary. She'd just returned from teaching English in China.

And she had foreign-sized feet, just like me.

I enjoyed offering a new pair of shoes to a stranger.

The full shuttle van to the Laos border picked me up last, a little bit late. We headed north.

Our toilet stop was at Chiang Rai at the White Temple, which I'd just gone out of my way to see. No matter—the White Temple bears repeating.

I wandered in again, and noticed two more characters in the mural that I'd missed the first time around. Darth Vader and the Incredible Hulk adorned the wall at the back of the temple.

The van pulled into the border town of Chiang Khong at two after a long drive north. The shuttle dropped some people off who were staying overnight, but took the rest of us to the border. Everyone else was headed to Luang Prabang by either VIP overnight bus or Mekong boat via Pak Beng. I was the only person who was heading across Laos to China.

The shuttle driver stopped at the top of a hill and pointed us all towards Thailand Immigration.

"There," he said.

I picked up my luggage and headed down the hill to get stamped out of Thailand. Just in time too, at four o'clock on the last day I was allowed to be in the country.

I walked a hundred or so more feet past trucks—which cross the Mekong on ferries—down to the concrete ramp into the river, where I paid my fare and was ushered onto a long wooden motorboat for the five-minute journey to Laos.

"May I sit here?" I joined an eight-year-old Dutch girl whose parents occupied the seat in front of us.

We crossed the brown river, then navigated clambering up the bank into Laos.

I walked up the hill into Huay Xai, Laos, to passport control, where I had to pay an extra dollar on top of my visa fee because it was after four. According to this guidebook, if I'd arrived before four, the extra dollar would have been charged for something else anyway.

I'd been in Huay Xai once before many years ago, but only for as long as it took to get stamped in and board a slow boat to Luang Prabang. This time, I was staying overnight. I followed some instructions I'd found on a TripAdvisor forum.

"Walk up the hill to the main street. Turn right. Walk a few blocks. Kaup Jai Guesthouse is a decent guesthouse in Huay Xai and is across from the school."

Indeed it was, a family-run guesthouse with toilet seats, hot water, an open wifi signal nearby (though I could still pick up my Thai unlimited data plan on my iPhone here), and an owner who set up my ride to the bus station in the morning.

I went out onto the balcony in the warm Laotian afternoon. I could see the concrete ramp of Chiang Khong right across the river. I was out of Thailand on time, but not very far out of Thailand.

I'd head across Laos on the bus to Jinghong, China in the morning.

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