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Getting from Myanmar to Laos, the hard way

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After 3 weeks in Myanmar it was time for me to leave.

There aren’t many international airports in Myanmar, and the ones that are available don’t have as many airlines operating them as you would like.
To prevent myself from getting stuck or having to buy an overly expensive ticket, I booked my flight out of Mandalay a few weeks ahead.

At the time, it seemed like a good idea…

And honestly, it would have been just perfect, if I hadn’t been sick….

I started getting sick on my last day in Inle Lake (just before a 9 hour bus ride, how convenient).. It was definitely the bus ride from hell! I arrived in Mandalay in the middle of the night and had planned to stay at the bus station until morning, thus skipping out on having to pay for accommodation that night.. But with being violently ill for the last 12 hours, I really really really needed a nice bed and private toilet (in hindsight I spent an equal amount of time on both)

I stayed boarded up in my room for 3 days, only leaving it once a day to stock up on water and dry crackers.. (So if you want to know any cool tips about Mandalay: haven’t got any for you, didn’t see a thing 🙂 )
I started feeling better, but not nearly close to feeling good…

But then the day of my flight arrived, and I had no choice but to leave the hotel. I could’ve cancelled the flight of course, but that would have been a very costly decision.. So I went..

The flight I booked was with AirAsia. They sometimes offer free bus shuttles to the airport. Their website (and other sites) mentioned that this shuttle was also available in Mandalay. It was a 20 minute walk from my hotel, which with 20 kilo’s of luggage and a very low energy level, wasn’t a very nice thing to do..

So I got to the street where the shuttle would depart….. No shuttle….
I looked around, walked up and down the street, asked several people, but nobody knew anything.. Then a boy called after me, asking if I was looking for the shuttle bus. I was so relieved!! Finally, I can get on the bus!!!

My relief was short-lived, because the boy directed me to a hand-written sign that said that the shuttle bus had been discontinued until further notice.. CRAP!

Usually, when I want to go to the airport, I arrange a shuttle via the hotel. You can often share it with other travelers and split the cost. But as I had already left the hotel and would need a shuttle last minute, this was no longer an option. I had to get myself to the airport.

The boy offered a solution: Taxi.. Well that’s all nice and well-intended, but I had already spent most of my Myanmar Kyat. I only had 3700,- left (about € 4,-) and that would get me nowhere near the airport. In other towns it might, but not in Mandalay.

So my only option was to resort to Dollars. The boy agreed to get a taxi for me and I could pay them in Dollars. But we had to get to the taxi first (because of all the one-way streets in Mandalay it’s easier to go to the taxi than to have the taxi come to you)

The boy said he would take me… on his motorbike! So he took hold of my small bag, while I hopped on to the back of his motorbike with my backpack.. All very comfortable, especially when driving through Myanmar traffic and going through potholes. I held on for dear life!

Then it was time for the taxi ride. I finally found out why it was so expensive: the Mandalay airport is situated about 40 km outside of town, in the middle of nowhere! Surely they could have positioned it closer to town???

Anyway, at first, I thought they were taking me the wrong way.. Why would they drive all the way outside of town, through toll gates and barren landscape, to get to the airport.. Well, apparently they had no other choice.

In the end, I made the taxi drivers day by paying him $ 20,- and not asking for any change.. I was leaving the country anyway and wouldn’t be able to use the rest of it…

So finally at the airport, I got on to my flight for Bangkok. This was the easy part. A few hours later I landed in Bangkok, without even feeling really sick anymore.

I wanted to go to Laos.. I could have waited a day to arrange it all, but I didn’t want to spend unnecessary time in Bangkok. So straight from the airport, I took a bus to Mo Chit bus station (or so I thought)

Apparently, there is a Mo Chit bus station and a Mo Chit metro station. And despite what you might think, they are not as close as you would like.. Yes, they are in the same neighborhood, but it’s still a good 2 km walk between the 2. And obviously, the bus had dropped me off at the wrong station….

So I walked.. Thinking I could take a shortcut through the park (it was a beautiful walk) but found out that the whole park was fenced off, so it made no difference in the end.. I finally got myself to the bus station and got my ticket. I had planned to take a bus straight to Pakse in Laos, but apparently that bus was full. (I always doubt such claims, I think they just didn’t have a bus going there, but didn’t want to tell me) Anyway, they suggested I take a bus to Ubon Ratchathani and from there on transfer to Laos. Fine, if that gets me on my way, that’s what I’ll do.

I waited in the bus station for a few hours, and finally boarded my bus.. After driving all night (about 11 hours) I arrived in Ubon, where I could easily transfer to a new bus that would leave for Pakse an hour later. Good!

The bus stopped at the border, you go through customs, get your visa for Laos (which apparently costs $ 1,- extra if you come in on weekends) and get back on the bus. Piece of cake!

The bus continued to Pakse, and I was finally in Laos.. But still not where I wanted to be. I wanted to go to Chempasak, which is another 15 km outside of Pakse.

Whenever you get off a bus in Asia, there will be people waiting for you to offer you a tuktuk or taxi or whatever. Pakse is no different. I told a tuktuk driver that I wanted him to take me to the bus station for Chempasak. He looked very happy, and I didn’t understand why. Well apparently he had misunderstood and though I wanted him to drive me all the way up to Chempasak, which would earn him about a weeks worth of salary. I quickly helped him back to reality and told him to take me to the bus station.

Now Laos people are very cunning. They are smart. They build every bus station on the outside of town, so that when you arrive, you’ll need to take local transportation to get anywhere. So if you arrive from the border, and want to go to the nearby town of Chempasak, they’ll make sure that both bus stations needed are as far apart from each other as can possibly be.

So you end up paying 20.000 KIP (around € 2.50) for a taxi to another bus station.. to find out that there aren’t any buses at all going to Chempasak. They only have Songthaews, which are expensive if you are by yourself. You can also sit and wait in one until there are enough people to share the cost, which is what I did.

So I waited about 45 minutes until the Songthaew was nearly full (all locals except me) and we set off for Chempasak. Underway, we had to stop because the locals wanted to buy some food from vendors by the side of the road. But after about 45 minutes of driving I finally got to Chempasak, finding a hostel with a nice bed and decent toilet to be able to rest again.

It took me 34 hours, 1 motorbike, 1 taxi, 1 airplane, 2 buses, another taxi, a songthaew and about 4 km of walking to get to Laos, but I made it! And I didn’t even feel very ill along the way!

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