Thursday, 10 February 2011

A new crossing from Laos to #Thailand ...

Endless valleys like this, but keep your eyes on the road.
Route 1080 runs smoothly all the way from Nan for 138km to Huay Kon, beautifully lined by gnarled rubber trees and teak, casting dappled shadows across the road. 20km outside town is the Nan Riverside Gallery, an artful enclave of studio chalets.

The town of Pua is a fertile oasis, and Thung Chang is tidy and prosperous. Tractors chug along hauling bales of hay. Then around Ban Pon the road begins to wriggle and twist up the mountains, presenting beautiful vistas both sides of the ridge.

I've come here to check out Huay Kon, site of a new Thai-Laos border crossing, just opened.

Huay Kon itself is something of a disappointment (I may have used a stronger word at the time!). It’s a non-descript Thai village with a few houses clinging to the hillside, sleeping dogs, and chickens crossing the road in time-honoured fashion.

Khun Sawat: still waiting for his Michelin Hat.
But a bowl of Khun Sawat’s kanom jeen noodles proves to be a hearty 25 baht refueling, with smiles and witty banter thrown in for free. Sawat speaks Thai and Laos, and confirms that more Laotians seem to be coming here now.

The new land crossing is 6km north, off the 1080. I often sing the praises of the roads in northern Thailand, but not today. Oh no! This motley stop-start affair of tar, gravel, ruts and ridges is enough to put off all but the most determined, jing jing.

Finally we reach the border, an ornate gateway with flags aflutter. Trucks and cars are parked here and there. Minibuses decant their human payloads. Half a dozen adventure motorcyclists. Noodles, coffee and tyre shops. And red dust.

Trucks bringing in teak - and what else??? - from Laos
As a border town, Tijuana it ain’t!

One Thai lady I speak to is on her way to work as an accountant in Luang Prabang. Many of the men are truck drivers, hauling pre-cut teak timber from Laos to Thailand. The European motorcyclists are kicking up a fuss because their paperwork is not in order. Two of them are sent back, before the rest are hastily summoned by the Thai immigration officer in brown (with gold medals glinting) to get going because the Laos side is going to close.

I idly wonder whether, if I came back here in 10 years, Huay Kon is going to be souvenir row, with stalls and stalls selling I Love Thailand trinkets, T-shirts, copy watches and Viagra? Maybe then Khun Sawat will have a whole chain of kanom jeen noodle shops doing flourishing business. And maybe then this place will be far too busy for dogs to sleep on the road anymore.

Only time will tell.

Useful travel information:
Nan Immigration checkpoint: open 0800-1700 daily (note: no entry to Laos after 1600).
Nan to Huay Kon: approx 2-2.5 hours via minibus, approx 3000 baht per trip (up to 8 people). Tel: Khun Mon 087-175-7377
From Huay Kon to Nan/ Phrae: 2 minibuses leave the border checkpoint each morning. One minibus at 4pm. For Chiang Mai service, change at Nan.
Nan to Chiang Mai: approx 6 hours via song taew van, approx 4000 baht. Tel: Khun Nai 081-764-8987

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