Huay Xai by light seemed to be a nice little town, and very pleasant compared to many other border towns we’d passed through. It’s very small, just a couple of streets lined with shops and hotels, and little villages just around it.
When we tried to book our boat for the Mekong trip to Luang Prabang though, we had another visa drama which resulted in us spending an extra day in Huay Xai. The person we were booking the trip with checked our passports to ensure we had the appropriate visas (apparently the immigration check your passports when you board the boat) and discovered that Daniel was missing the one crucial stamp – the entry stamp which showed the port of entry and duration of his stay in Laos.
We discovered that Anika was also in the same position, as was an Australian girl who had crossed the border around the same time as us. Thus started a round of chaos as we went from office to office trying to get the entry stamp sorted. The Australian and New Zealand embassies advised the girls to just pay the fee as there was nothing else to be done. The immigration office at Huay Xai refused to help, stating that they’d have to pay a USD 100 fine to leave the country (they told the Aussie girl she’d have to pay USD 200 – obviously some kind of scam going on)! The Tourism Department in Huay Xai had no clue what to do, advising us to return to Boten and sort it out there instead, else we’d have to pay USD 100 per day that Daniel was in Laos without the entry visa! We really didn’t know who to believe and were so frustrated at the unfortunate turn of events.
We were so furious and disappointed that we considered leaving Laos then and there and travelling through Thailand before heading home to Malaysia. In the end, however, we decided to continue with our plan, but sort out the visa problem by having Daniel leave Laos via Huay Xai, paying the USD 100 fine, crossing the Mekong into Thailand and leaving again in a matter of minutes to re-enter Laos on a new visa. Once we decided this, we went over to the immigration officers and told them our plan, to which they said that Daniel could go and come back without any problem, and without paying the USD 100 fine! Maybe they were tired of dealing with all of us foreigners, or there was a lapse in their scam, for Daniel left the country without paying the fine and re-entered with a new visa!
Just as he was leaving the immigration counter, however, one of the “smarter” immigration guys suddenly realised that they’d been scammed by their own scam and demanded to see Daniel’s passport. He insisted that Daniel needed to pay the USD100 fine, but it was all invalid now, as they had crossed out the older visa and allowed him to leave the country and re-enter! After Daniel made quite some noise, they finally realised that they’d been defeated at their own game and let Daniel go.
Anika was then brave enough to cross the border (she was heading on to Chiang Mai), and we later heard that she’d had to pay the “fine,” although she managed to bargain them down to USD 80!
We were not too disappointed to have to spend an extra day at Huay Xai, though , as it’s quite a nice little town. Once all the visa drama was sorted, we spent a nice time walking around. Took a walk down to the Mekong to check out the boat that would be taking us down the river to Luang Prabang, and enjoyed the scenes of daily life around town once the big groups of tourists had crossed the border and moved on to their next destinations.
Boats by the river
Chatting at the bridge
Discovered that Laos is not without it’s amusing signboards either