Eight Days in Laos–Day 1!

So, here’s the deal. As you may recall, I have a multiple-entry visa for China. That means each time I enter the country, I can stay for up to 90 days. Well, the maximum stay of my first entry to China has ended, and I must depart China in order to return for my next entry stay.

When I was envisioning this journey back in August, I had anticipated that a trip to Hong Kong might be in the cards for my first exit, since no visa is required for Hong Kong and I thought I’d be in Shanghai by now. However, since I’m actually in southern China–Yunnan Province– I decide to head to Laos for few days. Laos is just a 6-hour bus ride from where I am now in Jinghong City, Xishuangbanna (Yunnan Province), and the cost of the ticket is only 70RMB (approx $10US; much cheaper than a round trip ticket to Hong Kong)

The bus from Jinghong to Luang Namtha, Laos departs at 7:00am each day.

Jinghong borders Laos

Jinghong borders Laos

I got my ticket the day before. Just so you know (for when YOU take the same trip), the earliest you can purchase your ticket is the DAY BEFORE your expected date of travel. At that point, they will know whether the bus driver from Laos is coming to Jinghong and can be added to the day’s schedule. The reason? There are (usually) two buses between Jinghong, China and Luang Namtha, Laos each day. There’s a Lao driver who comes from Laos with a load, then picks up passengers in Jinghong to return to Laos. And, there’s a Chinese driver who leaves from China with a load, picks up passengers in Laos, then returns to China.

Taxi pickup at 6:30. Short ride to the bus station.

Gi me di morning ride!

Gi me di Morning Ride! (inside joke for Jamaicans)

Packing

Packing the undercarriage. I always like to see what’s going on with my luggage

Row to myself
Row of seats to myself. Everyone’s sleeping. No smoking. ahhh,yes. This is going to be great!

Mountain mist

Mountain morning mists over Jinghong

Sunrise

Sunrise on the road to Laos


*****IN AMERICA*****

In America, practically NO ONE would dare smoke in an enclosed space like an elevator or a bus! The awareness and acceptance that cigarette smoking, and more importantly second-hand smoke is hazardous to one’s health is widespread and gets government endorsement AND enforcement. Smoking is even prohibited in restaurants and office buildings! In winter time, your American coworkers have to take breaks and go stand outside in the cold to do their smoking.

And when someone DOES break the rules, we get to be smug and condescending and flash them mean, disgusted looks and ostracize them because they’re not playing by the rules! We can TELL them to put the cigarette out. Or, we can call the waiter or bus driver and have him/her do it. And he/she will! In America, the non-smokers have the power! [*by popular demand from my Chinese readers who want to know what life is like in America.]

*****

However, I’m in China. And, not wanting to be the pushy, out-of-sync foreigner, I would just bear it and not say anything like most every other Chinese person. However, the fellow on this bus who was smoking was in the seat in front of me, and I just couldn’t fathom the thought of 5 hours of inhaling second hand smoke wafting back to me.

So, at one of the rest stops along the way, a fellow traveler named Logan–the American on the bus told me how to say “body” in Chinese, so, while we were sitting inside the bus waiting for the driver to return, I tapped the smoker on the shoulder, bowed and said with a smile, “Ni Hao. Wǒ bù huì shuo pǔtōnghuà, dàn wǒ xiǎng shuō: Wǒ bù xǐhuan xī yān. Wǒ de shēntǐ bù hǎo.” Rough translation: “Hello. I don’t speak Mandarin (well), but I’d like to say that I don’t like cigarette smoke. My body is not good.”

I didn’t like “lying” (ie. My body is actually, um.. perfect. hee hee.), but I figured I would soften any perceived chastisement, and save him any lost face by appealing to any sympathy he might have for my “failing health.” It’s not in my nature to impose a Western standard of behavior on others. In America, feeling well within my rights to insist that others follow the stated law for the benefit of my health, I might say, “Excuse me sir, would you mind not smoking, please?

And he would comply. However, such a scene would never even happen in America, for, as I said, by now, everyone’s on the same page with the smoking rule.

So, here’s the cool part. That was actually my first completely expressed, multiple-sentence, unsolicited thought to a male stranger here in China*….AND HE UNDERSTOOD ME! Yay! Which means my tones were correct–or close enough–and I got my message across. At first he replied that he wasn’t smoking at that exact moment. (In other words, “Hey, it’s not me!”), but his seat-mate added a bit of clarification on my behalf, and then he understood that I was asking him not to smoke for the rest of the trip.

So, I achieved successful Mandarin communication, PLUS no more smoke (at least from him) for the duration of the journey! YAY! A double victory of sorts.

*I know it’s pretty basic, but hey, in my defense, I’ve sort of been letting the language grow in me organically through immersion and necessity. I’m definitely getting better, but I’ve had a lot of English-speaking Chinese friends and I’ve gotten into the habit of using sign language rather than forcing myself to practice my vocabulary.

Anyway, we get to the border, go through China Immigration departure, and emerge on the other side.

At the border

Across the border

Logan, who has done this trip several times, explains. Once through the CHINA Immigration departure terminal, we have a choice. We could wait for everyone on the bus to finish their processing, re-board the bus and then drive the few hundred feet to the LAO Immigration arrival terminal, get off the bus…. Or we could walk there and get things done a bit quicker. Easy decision.

walking

Helping

At the entry border to Laos, I get through rather quickly as I had purchased my entry permit visa from back in Jinghong. (210RMB, or $30US; still cheaper than a round trip ticket to Hong Kong!)

threshold

in Laos

We reboard the bus, and about 1 hour later, we pull into the Luang Namtha, Laos bus station. I ask the bus driver to change 100 RMB of my money into Lao currency, and he tells me I need to take a shuttle into town. 1 US dollar = 8080kip 1 RMB = 1200kip

waiting

Travel websites and schedules say this is 6-hour bus ride. For the record, I’d say it’s actually 3 hour bus ride that TAKES six hours! Um….guys? 🙂

The Mekong Cafe in Jinghong recommended Zuela Guesthouse. So that’s where I was headed. I hadn’t been able to contact them by phone to make a reservation, but I was told there would be many guesthouses within walking distance of each other, and that finding accommodations shouldn’t be a challenge.

So from the bus station, with Logan’s help, we got a waitress who know of the Zuela cafe to write the name and location in Lao, and then I found a ‘tuk tuk” to take me to town. A tuk tuk is a small open sided van ( a pick-up with a cover) used for local transport. It’s what we might call a “Jolly-bus” in Jamaica back in the old days! A ride in a tuk tuk costs 10,000 kip. Of course, I ascertained this from the bus driver ahead of time, so I didn’t fall for the old “charge the foreigner 5 times the going rate” trick that one driver tried to pull.

Logan and I say our goodbyes, as he’s continuing further south, and I head to the tuk tuk.

Tuk tuk

at the bus station; Tuk Tuk to the right.

The tuk tuk takes me to town (say that 10 times fast), I get to the guesthouse strip of town, check in to the Zuela Guesthouse.

The daily rate is about 70,000 kip/day (about $9US/day) It costs more if you want air conditioning. I don’t.

Zuela

My room (#22) is above the restaurant. That’s my balcony just under the coconut tree branch.

room

Where I’ll spend the next few days in Laos

Zuela Guesthouse

Zuela Guesthouse, Luang Namtha, Laos

So, now I’m in The Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos.

Let me get my checklist again.

Sunshine? Check!

Internet access? Check!

Kitchen? None. But, I’ll be heading out into town shortly to find a good restaurant for my short stay!

Stay tuned.


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