As soon as we arrived at the guest house in Chang Kong we were subjected to an hour wait outside before we could get into our rooms as the staff took our passports and what we were assured was payment for our visas. We also had to pay a 1000 baht (20 quid) penalty for overstaying our visas for one day so we gave them the money for that too as we were told they could do it overnight so we could just waltz through the border in the morning.
The morning came and after a vile breakfast of overcooked eggs and another long wait we did get our passports back. But instead of having the neccessary visas stamps sorted they had just exchanged our Thai Baht for dollars at a shit exchange rate telling us that we had to pay in dollars at the border which was of course bullshit. The tidy scam had just pocketed the difference from 75 pissed off travellers!
Waiting and waiting..
Once finally at the border we encountered more problems trying to pay the overstay penalty. The immigration 'official' tried to charge Alba an overstay of 30 days instead of 1 as he wouldn't acknowledge that we had a 60 day tourist visa as opposed to the regular 30 one that you receive at the airport. After half an hour of panic and arguing the fool finally saw sense and we got our stamps and made our way to the pencil thin taxi boats to take us the short distance across the river into Laos.
In Laos the problems increased with more delays and a bizarre system of check in proceedures with no one knowing what was going on. Finally we got to the tour operator office near to the ferry for the slow boat and thats when the fun really began! We waited some more and then the shifty tour rep sat us down to deliver the bad news. They had overbooked the slow boat so there was no space for about 40 of us. After the frustrating morning we had already had it was a piece of piss to kick of with this shifty eyed salamander of a man who fumbled lame excuses and was close to tears after the barrage of insults that rained down on him!
"Lies and bullshit!"
We were offered no other choice but to get on a mini bus to Luang Prabang for 12 hours so we had to take it. The 'bus' arrived and was basically the first ever people carrier prototype or something, a shabby 10 seater with no air con. Our luggage was precariously strapped to the roof with string and we crammed on to the sauna on wheels. I really wish I could say things got better from then on in but they actually got worse!
The road to Luang Prabang was terrible. In fact in wasn't even a road in places, barely a patch of earth that mountain goats wouldn't dare to cross. The whole journey had about 1 hour of tarmac and the rest (which turned out to be 14 hours) was mountainous and rough. Every pot hole and bump threatened to rip the ancient vessel in 2 and also made sleep impossible. The hair pin turns and cliff edges had everyone shitting it but we swallowed hard and feigned courage and determination to get through this. No one was surprised when the sound of air hissing from one of the tires was heard after the driver negotiated a particularly rough stretch of rocks. Stuck on the side a mountain in the jungle at night with a flat tire is definitely not the flavor!
The driver fumbled with spare wheel and jack with the van almost on his head at one point. Somehow he managed to replace the flat and we were back on the road. After that everyone winced even more after every bump because we knew that another flat meant a night in the jungle -or worse- sleeping in the decrepit van.
How not to change a tire, using your head as the jack
We stopped for food at what looked like a tasty street food vendor selling chicken kebab skewers and we all ordered some and sat down salivating at the thought of some food after going all day without any. Sadly it wasn't the finest chicken breast with a tasty marinade it was actually chicken neck. I almost burst into tears.
When we finally arrived in Luang Prabang we were dropped off and had to look for a hotel at 3am. Then as the cherry on the cake of one of the worst days of my life we were followed by the local nutter along the darkened streets until a hotel let us in and we had to pay $130 for 2 rooms. I didnt care, by that point I was just glad I was alive!