The alarm was set for 5.45am yesterday for our 7am check in at Haui Xai airport. When we arrived we realised that we were the only westerners on this flight and that it was quite a peculiar air port. It is an old American Air Force base, so it is painted a grey colour and is the only building in Laos that we have noticed to have guttering. Atop of a hill, with a beautiful tropical mountain range surrounding it, our jumb/tuk-tuk struggled with us and our two packs (both expander packed by now). The terminal consisted a bench to check in at, with a sign stating the bags needed to be x-rayed (though the x-ray machine was no were to be found), a wooden table with a women collecting “air-port tax”, all 50cents worth (no wonder this airport is a shambles) and a small office (looked like an interrogation room) with the police in it, completing “passport control”. We checked in and as our bags were weighed on the old style slide scales, saw other passangers filing past with their tropical plant and live stock “hand luggage”.
The food facilities consisted of a grass hut 10 metres from the terminal building, where the locals were hitting the Laos home made whisky early. So as the hours passed and our 8.25am plane had not arrived at the airfield, the locals got even drunker. At 10.30am an offical made an announcement (in person) in Lao, it was roughly translated to us that the plane would be there at 12noon. This brought us relief as we had a nice hotel booked and paid for in Vientiane which we thought that we wouldn’t see and connecting flights to Kumning tomorrow at 5am. So we sat and ate noodle soup with the locals, and consumed the last bottle of drinking water that the store had, when the offical came out to the grass hut and the locals exploded in laughter (4 hours of drinking whisky by now), a tuk-tuk driver keen to secure our business translated the message for us, the plane had been can celled for today and would run tomorrow. ANOTHER DAY IN HAUI XAI!!!!
Matt went to the terminal building to retrieve our baggage as I made a quick phone call to Laos airlines, we needed a refund on our tickets!! We were going to miss the plane to Kumning and the next one isn’t scheduled until Saturday from Vientiane and as much as we love Laos, our visas would not extend that far and we wanted some new scenery. Matt and I made the quickest decision of our trip….we were going to Thailand!
I finally got across the information to the women on the ticketing line that we needed a refund for our tickets, she was quite obliging and said this was fine and we could collect the money when we returned to Vientiane, it took a little longer for me to explain to her that we were not returning to Vientiane. Again Laos hospitality coming through, she provided me the local Laos Airlines office details and said that we could obtain a refund via them.
Meanwhile, Matt had been doing some explaining to the baggage handling people, he was able to retrieve our bags after he convinced them that we were not returning for the flight tomorrow and was also able to obtain the original voucher that had been removed from our ticket so we could obtain a refund. He had also found the man that we had to talk to about getting our refund!
So the cheepest tuk-tuk ride our entire time in Laos, along with 5 other locals and their luggage, took us to the Laos Airlines Hauy Xai office . After another 60 minutes of waiting and listening to phone call in Lao to all sorts of offical people, the man behind the desk announced that he had organised our refund and we had to make our way to the bank. At the bank he gave us crisp new USD and we felt grateful that the system had work. we quickly changed our kip to baht and the Laos airline official dropped us at the immigration office.
It was here that Matt made his first “land” border crossing, which involve climbing into thin speed boats and being taken across the Mekong. It was raining and the banks were muddy and we were filthy by the end of it, but we were in Thailand and it felt like we were moving again. As the they are famous for a Thai tuk-tuk had sorted us out within 10 minutes, we were at the bus station and on a bus to Chang Rai. In Chang Rai we had our first meal for the day at 4.30pm as we waited for our 6.30pm bus to Chang Mai.