1.3 billion people plus 2
We had agreed to meet at the little town of Boten in Lao on 8 May 2013 as we were crossing into China as a group on 9 May. Five cars with an equal number of couples would all make the China crossing together to save money. As Jon and I wanted to maximize our time in Laos, we had booked a one-day trek and kayak in Luang Namtha which is near the border on the day we had to be there.
Unfortunately I don’t feel great after breakfast, but we still decide to go even after throwing up just before we crossed the river to start the hike. It’s a 4-5 hour walk up and over some decent hills, I think it was quite pretty but can’t remember much of the scenery. I skipped lunch and after another hour we finally get back to the river. We have a swim and then jump in the sevvies (plastic inflatable kayaks). I paddle a bit, but most of the time Jon does all the work. I am exhausted and still feel like shit. Luckily the kayaking is nice, some flow in the water and it only takes 1.5 hours to get to the end point.
Having gone on this hike meant we arrived in Boten, the border town, around 6.30pm. 5km before it is the customs house which had its gate closed. It turned out we could drive through on the left hand side, so we had no problem meeting the others who had parked up closer to the town for the night.
The next morning we drove back to the customs house to hand in our green customs form. We didn’t get a receipt, no stamps were added and it was a process of 1 minute.
Next was the actual border. First up was the Laos immigration for our exit stamps. They checked our departure card and passport and again only minutes later we were stamped out. There was no queue. The building is on the left hand side and there is a parking right before it. Once you have your passport stamped you can drive your car through, but you must show the stamps to the guy sitting at the end of the ‘drive’ before you are allowed through.
We’ve left yet another country and are about to enter a new one for me. Jon has been to China before, but I haven’t. When we get to the Chinese section, you can see the Chinese like impressing with big buildings. A huge complex with not a lot of people and we meet our guide Andy there.
He has a lot of paperwork prepared, including a list with our names on it and we have to memorise the order as that is the exact order we need to go through immigration. But first we have to fill in our arrivals and departure card. They scan your passport page and it fills in all the details automatically! We have never seen anything like it anywhere before.
We still have to fill in a few details it can’t automatically fill, like the number of our visa, type of visa and car licence number, but the automated filling makes it a very fast and streamlined process.
After waiting a few minutes we are allowed to queue up, in order of course, and again it is an extremely fast process. One by one we get our stamps and the boys are allowed to go back to the cars with an extra bit of paper so they can drive it to customs.
I am last in the queue at the immigration line, and unfortunately that means that one of the immigration officers starts to take an interest in my passport. As it is my second passport that has the Chinese visa in it, and I haven’t used it before it is completely empty. No stamps, nothing. He scrutinizes it for a few minutes before giving it back to me with a nod. Pfeww.
But I still have to get my entry stamp from the guy actually working… he is silent for a while and then says. “Your name is sulong”. It’s more a statement than a question and I am puzzled for a few seconds wondering where he has read anything in my passport that he could think is my name that you would pronounce like sulong until I realise he is saying “Your name is so long!”
A few seconds later I have my stamps too and walk over to the rest of the girls and our guide Andy. Together we walk to the boys who are now at the front of the queue and we watch as one by one they clear customs.
At customs it was a pretty straightforward process. Get out of your truck when you get to the front and the customs officer has a look inside. There wasn’t a lot of checking and soon all 5 cars had passed customs too. We were done with everything within 2 hours or so. The girls walk to the customs area and can hop in the car as soon as it is done. The only other thing they want to see is the original registration paper for the car. All other paperwork is taken care of by Andy.
We’re in another country again!
Next stop to be legally driving in this country is the traffic police in Mengla, a small town about 50km north of the border. We wait till 3pm as they have a long siesta here and then jump the queue for our vehicle checks. Somebody else hops into the car and drives it through a test lane. They check the brakes and some poor guy in an inspection pit checks underneath.
Another wait and then we are all handed our Chinese driver’s licence and car licence plate. Unfortunately it is only a temporary plate, a bit of laminated paper, exactly the same as the plates we have on our car at the moment. We only show the Chinese licence plate to police and other officials when they ask for it. As it has our route and other detailed information on it (all in Chinese), we don’t display it permanently (safety).
We feel very proud with our new drivers licences, will be fun to use them in other countries too.