Visa Run To Lao

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The two most accessible borders are Burma (aka Myanmar) and Laos. The tourist border-crossings for each are about the same distance from Pai, but the Burmese government is a military junta and one of the most oppressive governments in the world, and much of the world has strict sanctions against them, and many human-rights groups are on campaigns to keep everybody from supporting the military junta in any way. I’m not nearly as educated on the subject as I’d like to be, but I’ve heard enough to weigh my actions. Meanwhile, Laos is more expensive and more time consuming to cross into… about $50 more expensive and an extra couple of hours of time.

IMG_1691.JPGDoes anybody go to Laos instead of Burma? Not often. There are regular visa-runs from Pai to Burma and back. The same goes for several other popular northern cities. The van leaves every couple days at 10pm. It drives all night, drops a few people off near the Laos border, continues to the Burma Border, waits for an hour for the border-runners to cross over and back, and then drives straight back to Pai (NOT going back past the Laos border), to get everybody home by about 4pm the day after they left.

I initially bought the Burma-border-run ticket, thinking it wasn’t much money and didn’t really matter, but I’m a sucker for my conscience. It’s just so much exactly the same as big, ethically-challenged corporations making decisions to produce food and goods in countries that have no human rights or environmental laws, on account of it’s cheaper. I personally don’t think scale makes something ok. Scale is relative. I get stuck on little things like this, although I still seem to fall far short of virtuous.

IMG_1709.JPGSo I went back to the visa-run-issuing travel agency and asked if I could do a border-run to Laos instead. They said yes, for an extra 100 Baht. I gave them the money and figured 100 baht plus the extra 1000 at the border (1100 Baht = $30USD) was a fair price for a clear conscience. Michel needed to do a border-run as well and he decided to join me in my decision to go to Laos.


So armed with slightly clearer consciences and undereducated brains, off we went, crammed into the minivan with 8 other tourists, a couple of them going to Laos to travel and the rest to Burma for visa-extensions. It was almost a full moon, and beautiful to watch the mountains go by in the blue light. On a rest stop I learned that you can “paint” with the moon on a photo by waving it around during a long shutter exposure. By the wee hours I had no ways to amuse myself and tried to get some sleep.

When they dropped us off in Laos at 5:30am at a deserted guest-house where nobody was up yet, we asked when they would take us back. They said they wouldn’t. This was communicated mostly with hand gestures. We’d wave our hands around to say “when do YOU come to take US back to Pai?” and they’d wave their hands to say “yes, this is Laos” and so on. We tried to explain that we were supposed to be on a visa-extension run to Laos. We were told people didn’t make visa-extension runs to Laos. They make visa-extension runs to Burma.

Eventually we accepted that we had been sold one way tickets. Turns out that the extra money went to the guest house people, who were in charge of helping us get Laos visas. We did the paperwork, paid the unexpected 1,900 Baht that Canadians have to pay to get into Laos (more than anyone else for some reason), took the long-tail boat across the Mekong river, had the thickest coffee I’ve ever seen in my life (honestly, after three spoonfuls of sweetened-concenced milk it was still as black as ink), walked around, took the ferry back, and eventually caught a bus to Chiang Mai, where it was too late to get to Pai, so we stayed in a guest house and went out to enjoy Loy Katong, which is a big deal in Chiang Mai.

IMG_1749.JPGAt this point I was pretty tired, but it was great to bond with Michel. We walked around the river amidst hundreds of thousands of people letting off fireworks and those big floating lanterns. The lack of “safety” in Thailand never ceases to amaze me, nor the lack of apparent accidents. I swear, if 200,000 drunken Canadians let off fireworks together, somebody would get hurt. Once we started to worry about loosing our hearing from all the firecrackers we moved out of the thick of it. Michel then took me to a variety of bars, some of which raised an entirely separate set of ethical considerations. The next day we went shopping and eventually got back to Pai. By then I was grumpy from the lack of sleep and excessive time on busses, something my body and psyche weren’t quite ready for, as neither have forgiven me for the previous year of travel. A few nights sleep helped and I’m very happy to have a home in Pai.

Did I do the right thing? Does $13USD really matter? I honestly don’t know. It might have just been the expensive, complicated, and uneducated thing. Maybe there’s just a bunch of anti-burma propaganda spread by western countries who have their own nefarious agendas. Basically I spent $3,000 baht (bus, visa, bus, tuk-tuk, guest-house, tuk-tuk, bus) when I could have spent $1,000 and been home a lot sooner. That’s only $70 but remember that I’m totally broke so for me it feels like a lot of money. Am I a good guy, or am I a twit? Am I a twit trying to be a good guy? Why can’t life be simple?

I’ll be doing a bit of research to find out whether I took a stand against something, or just made my life more expensive and complicated than it needed to be (a habit of mine). If anybody happens to know some good sources of information, let me know or even post in the comments. by: Playpoi