We were driving through mountains, passing trucks and lorries on a road that barely could fit two cars. From time to time one of those trucks got stuck in huge holes. Our driver didn't care and he kept beeping, trying to warn the approaching cars, people and children, who were playing on the road, not minding the passing vehicles.
We arrived at the Lao border and waited for our passports for around half an hour. We boarded the car again and drove for a bit through a mountain road. Finally, we reached the Vietnamese border. A brand new, white building stood in the middle of nowhere. Hens, chickens and a pig where running around the front yard. Soldiers were smoking cigarettes. They greeted us with smiles and invited us in.
The building inside was big and cool. There was a big hall with a statue of Ho Chi Minh. A very young soldier took us to a small office. 'Welcome to Vietnam' he said 'You are very lucky. The weather is clear and your journey to Dien Bien Phu will be a pleasant one. It will take around 2 hours to get to the town. From there you can take a bus to Sapa or to Hanoi. You can also spend a day there, and see our museum about the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Here we can also exchange your money for a very good rate. May I have your passports please?'
This was the best welcome I have ever heard from a border officer. He joked all the time, laughed with us and, as he promised, exchanged our money. He took our passports and handed it to an officer behind a desk.
After a moment he called my name.
'I'm sorry' he said 'I don't know what happened, but your visa is from 5th of February and today is 2nd'. Shit! I had actually forgotten to check my visa before I left Muang Kua. I looked around. There were no hotels, no restaurants, nothing around. It looked like I had two options: go back to Muang Kua, or stay here for the next 3 days and sleep on the floor in the immigration office.
The soldier talked to his colleague, sitting in the office, who looked as worried as him. They took my passport and disappeared for a little while. I started to freak out. I really didn't want to spend my time running wtih hens in the front yard of the building.
The soldiers came back with smiles on their faces. 'Ok' the younger one said 'I talked to my boss and he said you can go. It is Tet now (Chinese new year) and this is a good deed we are doing for you. We are just going to change the date in your visa and you are free to go'.
You cannot imagine how happy I was. Thank god for Tet and for this young gentleman!
Few minutes later I was back in the van, heading to Dien Bien Phu and my new adventure in Vietnam.