This post was going to be all about crossing the border from Chiang Khong in Thailand to Huay Xai in Laos. But it’s dead, dead easy so I’m not going to bother (*ok, scroll to the bottom if you need the info). Instead I’m going to write about something far, far more difficult: getting a haircut.
When you’re traveling in SE Asia you soon discover that things that should be difficult can be very easy (eg, finding someone to fire ping pong balls at you in ‘creative’ ways), and things that should be simple can be pretty taxing (getting a haircut).
If I’m honest, I’d been putting off the trip to the barbers as I’d been so worried about what he end result might be. But, mainly as a result of some not-so-subtle hints from Lisa (‘Your hair looks crap’), I decided to get it done when we arrived in Huay Xai, a small Laotian town on the banks of the Mekong.
All went well to begin with… I made the universal sign for a haircut, snipping away in midair with my fingers, showed the girl a photo of myself with shorter hair and she began to chop away. Apart from the moment she got out the cut throat razor with a flourish, all went well and I was quite pleased with the result. I rose to pay and leave, but was quickly ushered to a reclining seat by a sink. It was at this point that things began to escalate…
At first it was a pleasant hair wash, but then goo was liberally lathered all over my face and the massage began. This was really relaxing, apart from a few moments when I though the woman was trying to insert her thumbs into my eye sockets and at one point I thought she might stick her fingers up my nose. She returned to the hair washing, but used her nails so it felt a little like being attacked by a wet cat. After this, a soggy mask was applied to my face and I was left for a few moments to wonder what would happen next.
I didn’t need to wait long as the mask was removed for more face pummeling. Then I was sat up (and it was only now I noticed it was a different woman; the original one had vanished) and was given a quick shoulder massage that was finished with a few reasonably firm punches to the back of the neck. Again, I rose to pay, but was again thwarted. The original woman reappeared, pointing at her ears and gesturing for me to sit again. I agreed and wondered what would come next.
It was with a sense of unease that I saw the woman unveil what appeared to be a medieval torture kit, approaching me with what was essentially a long, sharp needle. Even more unnerving, she then put on a head torch as she sat beside me. I looked around nervously, catching the eye of an elderly local lady sat with her rollers in. The expression on her face was one of pity and amusement.
I was urged to lean back in the chair, and not daring to do otherwise, I did as I was told. It was at this point that the long spike was stuck in my ear, as I thought I was about to experience so form of brain acupuncture. Thankfully, she only rummaged around in there for a short while, performing what must be the Laos version of an ear syringing. The other ear was quickly dealt with – I’ll not go into too much detail, but suffice to say I can head the sounds of Laos much more clearly now.
All in all, quite an experience – and a haircut, head massage and ear surgery all for the price of a posh coffee in Starbucks back home!
* To cross into Laos from Thailand at Chiang Khong, either get your bus to drop you at the bridge or get a tuktuk from the town. Then hand in your departure card (they have spares there), get your passport stamped and pay for the bus across the bridge (you have to use this as foreigners aren’t allowed to use the boat any more) – we paid 35 baht for it to take us across then onto Huay Xai bus station, which is approx another 8km. Once across the bridge, the bus will stop and you can get off to fill out Laos visa forms and pay any fees – as UK citizens our 30 day visa cost $35 – you can pay in $, Thai baht or Laos kip. Then you go through passport control, wait for the bus and it takes you to Huay Xai bus station – easy!