This morning Pati and BeeBee got up at 5 am for a 6 am breakfast and 6:30 am checkout from their hotel. Their guide and driver were waiting to take them on the two hour drive to the border with Laos, at Friendship Bridge 4. As they had spent so much time together, Pati and BeeBee were sorry to leave their new friends. The guide introduced them to the tour guides for their next adventure, and accompanied them as far as she could on the Thai side before sending them on their way. (Thank you, Ms Bam. We will remember you fondly.)
Before passing through passport control on the Thai side of the border, they were given blank visa forms and entry/exit forms from the tour staff. Now, Pati had already prepared the visa application forms before leaving home, but the tour staff stapled the visa pictures onto the new forms to be filled out again. They then boarded a bus for the Laotian side. On the bus, BeeBee hurridly worked on the new forms.
Exiting the bus, unfinished forms in hand, they joined the end of the very long Visa on Arrival line. As slowly as the line moved, they had plenty of time to finish the forms. As they all stood restlessly in line, they became aware of a second window under a sign Visa Payment. After each person handed in their passport and visa application at the first window, they joined the ever-growing crowd around the second window. Gradually, it became clearer what was happening. The young man who collected the application passed it to another young man, who handed it to the women who did the actual work unseen between the two windows. Each passport, with visa pasted inside, eventually was handed to the young woman behind the second window. She opened the passport to the photo page and held the photo up to the window. That person would walk to the window, hand in the correct amount of money, and collect the passport. The passports arrived at the second window in roughly the same order that they were handed in at the first window, so the crowd converged upon the window at roughly the right time. That was important, because it was almost impossible to see the passport picture being presented unless you were near the window. BeeBee remembered who was ahead of them in the first line, and watched to see when they were “called'” Their passports actually came out of order, at least three passports earlier than expected. Jackpot! The passport process took around an hour, and then they boarded a minibus with six other members of their new tour group.
This bus eventually arrived at the slow boat pier, where the Luang Say boat was waiting to take them down the Mekong River. Porters carried their luggage onboard, and they found two seats together at a table. While there was not much choice of seats when they boarded (other tour members had spend the previous night closer to the departure point and had taken what appeared to be the best seats), the seats turned out to be very good. They were protected from spray from the river, and the other people at the table were good travel companions.
The boat left the pier soon afterward and made good time. After an hour or so, a very good buffet lunch was served onboard. The boat made a stop to observe rural life along the Mekong River at Ban Houy Phalam; a Kamu village. The boat arrived at Luang Say Lodge before sunset for an overnight stay.
The tour members had to walk through sand and climb quite a way from the river to the lodge. Fortunately, porters (strong young women, mostly) carried all the heavy luggage.
While the Lodge provided free wifi, it was available only in the main reception area. Consequently, most of the tour members returned to this area after checking in to reconnect with their normal lives.
A buffet dinner was served on the terrace overlooking the Mekong River. Before dinner, the tour members were treated to a performance of traditional music and dance by a group of local school chrildren in tribal costumes. Their ages ranged from early grade school to late high school. The most sincere performer was one of the youngest, and the least serious performer was a typical inattentive teenager.
Pati and BeeBee were assigned to lodge #8, a very-well appointed “cabin” a long walk from the main reception and dinner area. Tall louvered windows opened on three sides of the main area of the cabin, each with a spectacular view of the river and hills beyond.
After dinner, they spend a few minutes on the internet before returning to their cabin, where the mosquito nets had already been arranged around the poster bed, ready for a good night’s sleep.