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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Escaping China: Jinghong to the Laotian Border

The main streets in Jinghong were lined with palms and garish fluorescent lights at night

The Lucky Air tickets we bought in the travel agency proved valid and we had an uneventful trip to Jinghong, arriving in the night but managing to get a good hotel room with air con and private bathroom for around $12 NZ.

Jinghong is lush with tropical moisture, fog in the morning, palm trees in the streets and Thai as well as Chinese characters on all the billboards. There is a big Thai presence in this part of Yunnan because it was previously part of Thailand and many of the villages have Thai style housing and Thai cultural identification. The Mekong is flowing by, so in a day we have moved from the Yangtze at Tiger Leaping Gorge to another great Asian river.

We lost our cooking meths in Dali but managed to pick some up right away here for 60c from a chemist using a photo of a web page in Chinese characters.

We are waiting now on news as to whether we can get into Laos with a visa on arrival from the cafe proprietress, although one traveler thinks it is possible.

The Mekong at Jinghong. We will follow it through Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia

Looking back at Jinghong from the river

Adverts in both Chinese and Thai script

We are finally into Laos. I checked a couple of people in Jinghong who should know (a trekking operator and the proprietress of the Mei Mei Cafe) and both said go ahead. Then we suddenly realized about 1 in the afternoon that we had to literally leave town immediately to get to Mengla or we wouldn't make the border the next day, so we hurriedly packed and dragged our bags to the No 2 bus station and got a 2.20 bus (mini that is) for Mengla.

Scenes on the road to Mengla

The Mekong and Thai style village housing

There are many hill tribes in this part of Yunnan and we would have liked to have had time to do a trek here, but we will have to wait to Laos because of being unceremoniously flushed out of China.

Motorway style highway construction for a commerce route to Laos
cutting through the National park

The road was tortuous and either rutted or disrupted severely by a new Chinese arterial freeway being blasted through the jungle hills on fly overs and tunnels down to the Laos border. The countryside was lush with a huge biosphere reserve and lots of Dai villages with jumbles of thatched houses. Huge banana plantations, rubber and other tropical crops. After four and a half hours of bone shaking traveling we made it to Mengla at dusk, just in time to change $20 US and have just enough Chinese cash to pay for a hotel and the bus to the border.

Garish neons in Mengla and the restaurant where we ate food cooked to our selection

Traditional Thai village girl, a women's performing group and the notorious tractors

One huge tobacco bhong

Luckily the Mei Mei proprietress had told me there was a through bus to Luang Nam Tha in Laos which made it a lot easier the a string of buses and tuk tuks across the kilometres of no man's land. The road to the border was even worse with major ruts and huge road works and a blockage because a logging truck had capsized on the road.

They filled the bus with huge consignments of freight

The road blocked by a stranded logging truck

We made it to the border at Mohan round lunch time and got out of China without trouble and to our delight were given a 30 day visa on arrival in Laos - for $30 twice what we expected from the Lonely Planet - and at a discount for NZers because they couldn't find the country on their list! However there was a tense few moments when they refused to recognize our Tibet group visa and nearly wouldn't let us in.

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