It has been said a billion times, but I will say it again (and put myself, immediately, in rather illustrious company). There is quite a sudden change in crossing the border from China to Laos.
A strange absence of customs (something to be thankful for rather than to enquire too deeply into, I suppose), a quick trip a few kilometres down the road (through the big arch and round the corner), and suddenly there it is. The roads are no longer straight, clean, or even mostly paved. There are no streetlights and the signs are in a different language (if still incomprehensible). The people are suddenly less yellow, more brown, speak a few words more of English and seem more inclined to smile, there are a whole lot more children about, and no one seems to be in any hurry.
The first village is a collection of wooden houses, many on stilts, some with thatched roofs. A horse and cart would not seem out of place. And just three kilometres from China.
A kip (is it a coincidence that the name of the currency means “a short nap” in this place reknowned for being years behind) seems fairly worthless. One dollar is 10,000. Your bag is much heavier after a visit to the bank. Shades of Turkmenistan, I think to myself.
The transportation of choice out this way is a ute with two rows of seats in the back called a songthaew. They never seem to be full, always room for one more person/bag/sack of rice, even if I do have to hang my feet off the back as we bump along in order to avoid DVT.
A ha! A bigger town. Our destination. Not the Scandinavian rock band. Smiles (not receipts) at the guesthouse. Charging by the person not the room. A double bed, a mosquito net, a fan, a view of quaint ruralness all my own. A cafe with a welcoming bunch of fellow tourists. A cold beer. How fortunes can change in a day!