Curious Geckos

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Chiang Mai to the Laos Border

We’ve spent three nights in Chiang Mai and it’s time to move on once again. For some reason, we start to worry and get agitated if we spend too long in one place as it feels as if the momentums stopped and we’re not travelling anymore. On the boat from Koh Lanta to Ko Phi Phi, we were talking to a couple of girls from London and they had mentioned that they had used a good travel company (Wandering Star) in Chiang Mai and that they had sorted out some trips for them which were good and affordable. Looking at their website, their office in Chiang Mai was just around the corner from our hotel so we stopped by one afternoon to see if we could book an Elephant trek. The prices were a bit steep so we declined but then we noticed that they also did the slow boat trips from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang (3 days / 2 Nights). Starting with a hotel pick up, they took you to Chiang Rai to see the White Temple and then on to Chiang Khong for an overnight stay in a hotel with a pool (lunch / dinner and breakfast included). They also sorted out the boats for you and helped you get your visa’s through the Laos border). The price looked okay £40 per head and it just seemed a little less hassle than sorting everything ourselves which we thought would be circa £30 per head.

The minibus collected us on schedule and soon we were off on the 4 hour ride to the White Temple. On the minibus, we had a lovely girl called Margaret from Ireland, two guys from Brighton (one of them not very chatty) a couple of French / Austrians and a couple of locals going home after their holiday in Chiang Mai. For some bizarre reason, the bus stopped at 11.30am in a local service station and the driver shouted, everyone off….lunch time. Everyone just looked at each other as we had only finished breakfast 2 hours before. Anyway, it was good to have an ice cream and to chat with everyone. Back on the bus, we now made our way to Chiang Rai where we stopped at the White Temple for 30 minutes.

It’s an awesome temple just built out of white concrete / inlaid with bits of mirror and aluminium. I don’t think it’s very old as they are still building parts around it but it’s a temple which is all about good and evil. There are good gods protecting the temple from the grabbing hands and devils which are coming out of the surrounding lake. Inside the temple there are weird pictures of good and evil and there are pictures of the twin towers with demons coming out of them. You’re not allowed to take photos of the inside – not sure why as you can take pictures inside pretty much all of the temples in Thailand. The surrounding gardens are lovely – perfectly manicured lawns and beautiful trees planted around. It’s just at the exit that you have to take a double look as they have a tree with the heads of demons hanging from it……..for some reason, they have also hung a head figure of batman and hellboy of who are both goodies our my book! After the tree, there is a half planted full sized Predator figure in the ground. This whole place is surreal…..but beautiful. It’s a bit like what you get when you mix Swarovski, Disney and the horror channel!

After The White Temple we make our way back to the minibus and soon the driver is becoming irritated as the French couple have ignored his order of 30 minutes and are nowhere to be seen. He starts the minibus off and goes to leave before one of the Brighton lads says that we are missing them. Sooner or later, they turn up and we are off again, to the Laos border.

Now, after we booked this part of the trip in Chiang Mai, we went on to Trip Advisor to see what the hotel was like and in short, everyone said the same thing…Don’t Stay Here! So we were a little apprehensive when we arrived and straight away, we could see that the tour company hadn’t spent much of our £40 a head on the accommodation part. Our room was like a garden shed with a bed and fan in it. No glass windows, just a shutter to push open if you wanted a bit of extra air. It did have a nice new padlock on the door so that was good. To our relief, we had our own shower, sink and toilet as we had read the night before that the majority of rooms had to share the WC etc. Dinner was served at 6.30 pm and it was a fairly bland affair, rice with chicken or noodles and some sort of yellow curry. To be fair, it was okay…we both had two helpings. With nothing to do, it was off to bed for an early night. As we turned out the lights, the thunder roared and the heavens opens and the rain lashed down on our little sheds corrugated roof making quite a nice soothing noise. Whilst our shed was basic, we didn’t have any cockroaches, mice or rats so we both slept fairly well. The only thing that didn’t work well was the mattress as it was useless and I felt every spring in it dig into my back and legs for most of the night.

Everyone was up bright and early the next morning….mainly because the sheds had no insulation and you could hear everything that was being said. Multiple alarm clocks and phones went off at 6.30am for some peculiar reason….breakfast wasn’t being served until 7.30. Another rubbish breakfast over and we were off in our minibus to the border.

In order to save any hassle at the border, we had decided to let the hotel sort out our Laos Visa. It cost an extra $5 per head and just meant that in the morning you didn’t have to queue with the hoards of other travellers in the morning. When we arrived at the border, we just went straight to the passport counter and got our passports stamped (although we had to pay a further 80 Bahts processing fee – £2). Once into the country we were taken to a little travel shop where the guy told us all that only at the border do Laos places accept Thai Bahts (this isn’t true but we humoured him). He also wanted to take all our passports away with him as the local police were apparently stopping tourists to check their visa’s and stamps etc but if we gave all our passports to him, the police would allow us through without checking them. This is some form of scam as there were no police on the way from the village to the pier so I don’t know why he wanted them. He said they just wanted to make sure that they were right so tourists didn’t get fined when they left the country (we will check our passports later for missing visas and pages……and no doubt a copy of mine is being sold somewhere as I type this). He also explained that the banks give rubbish rates for changing dollars / Bahts and that if we wanted to change any money, we could arrange this fairly cheaply. Like lemmings, everyone duly handed over their passport and a number of people put what Bahts they had left in for exchange. True to his word, our passports were handed back just as we got onto the boat. Hindsight is a great thing and as we counted the Laos money which we’ve been given for our Thai Bahts, we realise that we’ve just encountered the worst foreign exchange currency dealer in Laos! We laugh as we remember a French guy saying in the pub two nights ago, not to change any money at the border as they rip you off!

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