Tourists are obliged to cross the border from Chiang Kong (Thailand) to Huay Xai (Laos) via the so-called “Friendship Bridge”. The cities are right across from each other, separated by the Mekong river, but for some reason, they decided to build the bridge 10 km to the east. As a result, the crossing requires a 20 km detour.
Moreover, the bridge isn’t bicycle tourist friendly, as I wasn’t allowed to cycle across it – I had to buy a ticket for the bus (for myself and my bicycle). Luckily, the bike fitted as-is in the back of the bus via a handy emergency door. In my experience, taking your bike on any type of vehicle is so much easier in countries like Thailand than say the Netherlands. They always find a spot; it fits right in, or they attach it to a rack, roof, or whatever. No problem!
I also had to get my 30-day Laos visa upon arrival. First, I had to fill out a form with personal information. One field asked for my race. What’s that? Caucasian white? I left it open, just like a few other vague fields, handed it in with my passport and a photo. 10 minutes later, everything was well (no comments about the open fields), I got my passport back, and I could proceed to the counter to pay for my visa.
I knew it cost 35 U.S. dollars so I especially got them in Chiang Kong, and gave the money confidently to the customs officer. He started inspecting the bills, and after having seen a few, he gave me one back, saying “stain”. Then he gave another one, saying “tear”. “What do you mean?” I asked. The bills weren’t brand new, but they looked just fine – even above average. But the officer wasn’t joking – he wouldn’t accept them. I had to withdraw brand-spanking-new Laos Kip money to pay for the visa at a bad exchange rate.
Cycling my first kilometers into Laos proved to be somewhat similar to crossing the border from the Netherlands to Belgium: from smooth tarmac to a bumpy road. In other ways, Laos looked similar to Thailand: people were barbecuing along the road, and here too motorbikes are the main means of transport; mom or dad with young kids can ride on just one – without helmets of course. Seeing this, my sense of relative safety on my bicycle was strengthened again.
I stayed in my first hostel on this trip, met some fellow travelers of my age, and decided to take the slow boat the next morning: a 2-day boat ride to Luang Prabang. Of course, taking my bicycle on the boat would, once again, pose no problem.