The entry visa for Laos costed me 35 USD. You just fill in an arrival form at the border and pay for the visa. If you are coming by land from Thailand then add another dollar for crossing the Friendship bridge from Thailand to Laos. The whole process is simple and easy. Visa to China is a completely different story. Chinese embassy in Luang Prabang is 350 km away from Vientiane. It seems like a short distance, but hitching in Northern Laos is relatively difficult. It is casual for people to stop private cars and pay for the lift. The road goes through mountain ranges and its condition is rather poor. Laos will be challenging!
A local bus to outskirts of Vientiane costs about 7,000 kip (1 USD – 8,000 kip). I’m hopping around with several small rides. People are rather friendly and easy to approach. Can you imagine hitchhiking with a family of eight? They don’t speak a word in English, but somehow we get along. It’s probably beer and food, a universal language, just look at my stupid face.
Sometimes it’s boring to wait for a ride and I start to walk. A random motorbike driver stops without asking. Travelling a longer distance can be tiring, but here every kilometre counts.
A family from Vientian is on a day trip, they invite me to join them. It’s not on my way, but I feel like adventure. The Nam San lake is very quiet, but you can find restaurants by water. Laotians treat me with lunch and reject my offer to chip in.
Weather can be an issue once on the road. Suddenly the storm comes through. I hide in a random house, chat with the owners and play with their kids. It’s getting late. Only 80 km with 7 rides! Luckily a truck driver saves the day and takes me to Vang Vieng. It’s a popular backpackers destination with mountain ranges and no competition around. The hostel has hot showers and free whisky! I enjoy pizza with Kenzie, my new Malaysian friend, listen to music and rain. It looks like the apocalypse is taking place outside. Vang Vieng is under the siege of nature. My imagination is working, I have a waterproof tent, but the idea of camping tonight is just scary.
The ticket to Tham Chang costs only 2 dollars. Kenzie is a great company. We explore the cave, share travel stories, joke and laugh a lot. Rock formations are impressive and well lighten.
Andreas and Nard are contractors working in South Africa. The country has a serious problem with water. The government is preparing for the worst case scenario. Cape Town is in a constant `Day Zero` danger. In case the city will run out of water, the army will be activated and maintain public safety. Rich people can afford to buy bottled water but poor people already struggle to survive. `Day Zero` would be a nightmare.
There is not much traffic on the windy road through the mountains. Boys stop at the viewpoint and we share fried corn, while surrounded by clouds. Andreas and Nard are driving straight to Luang Prabang. Kacham waterfall is located 40 km South from the city. It’s a quiet location with few locals around, pretty and relaxed area.
A small black snake stops me in my tracks. While frozen for seconds, my mind slowly process the image, the snake is dead and ants are already working on it’s corpse.
Visa to China
It’s possible to obtain an express tourist visa in the Chinese embassy. The conditions and price of the visa might vary depending on the origin of the applicant, but the visa requires several documents…
1) A passport valid for at least 6 months. If you apply in a foreign country then your local visa needs to be also presented.
2) The application form with two passport pictures.
3) Flight reservations in and out of the country. What if you are hitchhiking like me?. KLM airlines allow you to book a one way flight ticket to Europe from Beijing and select abank transfer as method of payment. The payment might never happened. Just make sure that the printout of the flight confirmation doesn’t mention the outstanding payment. You can do this with Paint or any other editor. A local agency in Luang Prabang can reserve a bus ticket to China. You might loose the deposit for the reservation, but the hand written confirmation from the local agency is enough for the embassy to process. Just make sure it includes a contact number for verification.
4) Detailed itinerary. Where and when are you staying in China? You can made it up… It’s good to include local attractions. How will you travel in China? Bus and train tickets which you will purchase later.
5) Hotel reservations relevant to the above. You can use booking.com and reserve an accommodation with a free cancellation option. Just select accommodations where card details and prepayments aren’t required.
6) Bank statement with 5000 USD on your account. You can borrow money for few days or edit the documents in the local internet cafe.
A lady working in the embassy quickly looks through my documents and asks for minor changes. She informs me that the embassy is closed the next day, it’s a long weekend. I hoped to apply for an express visa and have it the next day. Seeing how important it is to me, I should get an Oscar for my performance, she offers to process it the same day. Sweet! She sends me to a nearby bank and asks for a document confirming the payment. The express visa costs me 62 dollars and I get it in a record 4 hours!
It’s easy and more safe to rent a scooter with the help of a hostel where you stay. Kuang Si waterfall is located 25 km from the city. You pay 2.5 USD entrance fee and walk towards a bear wildlife sanctuary. Some animals are active, it is a nice surprise and a pleasure to watch them. Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre helps animals, which seem happy with their whereabouts.
Few hundred metres further you can find several small waterfalls with a pond beneath. The water is chilly and refreshing. Just look around! I let the cascade massage my back, it feels so good!
The main waterfall is made of several smaller cascades. You see sprinkles of sunlight on water, hear birds and bugs, experience the jungle… all your senses will shout adventure! You can walk to the plateau above the waterfall with a view of the valley. It’s a good stretch.
Luang Prabang like majority of bigger cities in Asia has its night market. It’s very colourful and busy. There are many places to hang out in the city, but Utopia is the most popular bar among backpackers. It is right by the river, it has loud music, TV, eye catching interior and great name.
To see Tad Sae waterfall you need to take a boat. It’s not easy to find it, you need to ask people around. There are a few elephants and you have an option to ride them. The weight is damaging to the animals back and in many countries it is not allowed.
You can have a short ride or feed the animal with bananas in local stables. I pet elephants on their trunk. The moment animals realise, I won’t fed them, they move to other tourists. Clever creatures.
There was not much rain last days and the level of water is low. Tad Sae waterfall is quiet, almost abandoned.
On my way back it starts to rain. I am soaked, while riding a scooter back to the city. Soon the sunrays hit me and clothes start to dry. I spend the day sightseeing Phou Si hill and temples.
Chilling, eating and drinking. Amazing juices and shakes vary in flavour. Pineapple, banana, mango, watermelon and several more. I am relaxed.
It is time to leave Luang Prabang. I prepare hitchhiking letter in Chinese and walk an hour, across the bridge and past bus station.
A few km ride with songatew and I am walking again. The main road is 2 km away and the border with China 300 km. I hope for weekend traffic or a truck. I considered the North of Luang Prabang as one of the most difficult parts of my journey.
The car that stops has Chinese plates. Once I mention, I travel to China, a couple of men invite me to join them. I show them my hitchhiking letter and visa. With the help of the google translator, we can communicate. They offer to take me to Kunming, I wanted this city to be my first destination in China. I hoped to reach Kunming within 4 days with some luck. It’s huge, i just won a roulette, I expected 10 cars in-between. Huang Lee and Ding Chao treat me with lunch. They order too much food, my belly is about to explode.
On the way to the border, I noticed how difficult the road was. First 100 km there was almost no traffic. The road was going up and down, sliding between mountains and hills. The rain was coming and going with a variety of intensity. Riding at the back of the car would be problematic. Before we reach Chinese border, we stop in a duty free area. I try to change Lao money inside a huge and expensive shop with no luck. Luckily a small local business on the opposite side of the road operates with both currencies.
The welcome gate to China is massive and impressive. I am asked to fill in the arrival form and answer some basic immigration questions. Once they collected my fingerprints, I am permitted to go through. I enter China.