Had planned a clockwise loop around north Lao:
- everyone else seems to take the counterclockwise direction
- easier to find boats heading downriver along the Nam Ou
- leave Luang Prabang (& shopping) for the last
- clear the infamous highway (HWY) 3 right at the start, so that all other roads in Lao would seem great by comparison =P
- boats heading upriver along the Mekong are far emptier as most tourists travel downriver (which means downriver boats get all the touts, overcharging & overcrowding)
immigration officer: 5 baht departure tax
cat hands him a 5 baht coin
immigration officer: no, you can go, your friend pay for you
*look right look left* Thank you but what friend...?!
Freakish...Mr. Immigration Officer has a 'third eye' that can see 'people' that are invisible to the cat's eyes...
Walked down the slope to the riverbank, past a pile of backpacks with Air Asia baggage tags marked CEI & a girl wearing a NTU Hall ? windbreaker, & was directed to an empty boat after handing over 20 baht.
Shan-style drum tower of Wat Chom Khao Manirat in Huay Xai on opposite bank:
& then backpacks, windbreaker & their owners got on....
cat: are you from Singapore? from NTU?
NTU grads: yar how do you know? (said something about having graduated & started working)
cat: saw one of you wearing an NTU hall windbreaker.
NTU grads: are you from Thailand? how do you know about NTU?
cat: ?! am from Singapore too.
NTU grads: ?!! are you going to Laos to work?
cat: ?!!! am on holiday.
NTU grads: alone?
cat: yar. where are you heading to?
NTU grads: ?!!!! (said they were taking boat to Luang Prabang, & asked about the cat's plans)
cat: taking bus inland to Luang Namtha.
NTU grads: ?!!!!!
Huay Xai immigration:
30-day visa-free entry for khon singkarpor =) The little booth (with open window) on the left is a branch of the Lao Development Bank, where tourists can load up on thick rubberband-bound stacks of kip. Nearest ATM that can accept foreign cards is a long way off in Vientiane, & there is only one, which means it can run out of kip. (update: Luang Prabang & Vang Vieng reported to have new international ATMs that accept cards with Maestro logo)
Wonder why they bothered to paint the words 'BY AIR':
Huay Xai has no airport =P
(correction: Huay Xai has flights to Vientiane & Luang Prabang served by this type of plane, but few foreigners dare risk Lao Airlines' safety & maintenance record; before ~2001 Lao had no radar system for air traffic control & relied on Thailand, Vietnam, radio communication, daylight & good eyesight & visibility!)