The Chinese border with Laos at Boten / Mohan

February 19, 2009

At this point we had just crossed over the Laos border at Boten and were legitimately stamped out of Laos heading for the Chinese border post of Mohan. We were now more than ever in the hands of our truck driver and the border guards. This was the very moment we had been having nightmares about, not knowing if we would be let into the country with our bike or turned away.

We went to immigration and filled in the arrival/departure cards almost shaking with nerves and handed over our passports. We sat and waited for about 15mins and when they came back our passports hadn’t been stamped. Our Chinese truck driver had blabbed in Chinese about the bike and told immigration officers I didn’t know exactly what was said but soon understood when I asked and the officer said that because of the bike they wouldn’t stamp our passports and that we had better speak to customs first. The officer said that if customs was ok with the bike that they would then stamp our passports. So we proceeded to the customs desk under an umbrella by the roadside. The customs officer didn’t speak english and it was unclear what he wanted exactly until he had an immigration officer translate for him. What he translated sounded quite positive as the customs officer had said that although we weren’t able to take the bike into China because we needed four official documents, an import permit and guarantee, army permit for all provences we wished to travel in, traffic police permit, registration papers and chinese drivers licence it would take at least one week to organise. I asked how much it would cost the officer I think understood but dismissed the suggestion, this was my only attempt at a bribe. Further discussions took place as we tried to negotiate for transit of our motorcycle, which was not working at the time, through China and not to ride. Our attempts to argue this point were responded with even though we wanted it as lugguage it was still a motor vehicle that required the necessary permits. The immigration officer then translated that he was sorry and our motorcycle could not enter China and would have to go back behind the border line into no mans land. This is because meanwhile our truck driver ha driven into China over the border and parked in front of the customs office, we now had to move it and we were given the option of returning to Laos or getting stamped into China but the motorcycle had to stay in no mans land. So we went back to immigration to have our passports stamped while the truck driver moved the truck. I didn’t particularly like this but thought that at least it was one step closer to being in China so we got the immigration stamp.

Post Unloading

Francois just unloaded off the small truck which we had tried to use to cross the border

I started to go about getting Francois off the lorry with a few planks of wood that had served the nearby constructions as scaffolding. The planks were long and thin and full of nails. I chose carefully and turned the planks with the nails downwards or bent the nails down with my boots. The slendor planks were about 4m long and it took four of them to carry my weight waking up the makeshift ramp to the truck. Dispite Arja’sprotests and cries of concern I went about the task of backing Francois out of the truck. The back of the truck was at least 90cm high and any loss of balance backing down the rocking plank would be very bad news. As I moved the motorcycle into position inside the truck with the help of our driver and a friend of his it was clear we had our hands full with the 230kg beast. I needed to back the rear wheel of the bike up the slight downward slant of the truck and up onto to the planks, this was tough and I only managed when both men pulled to assist. Once on the planks we procariously backed it down assisted now by gravity. When the font wheel was on the planks I had to get out of the truck, this was probably the worst moment as I was off balance and unable to hold the bike properly, this would’ve been a near impossible task alone, but the two men helping the bike was steady. The closer to the road the easier it was to handle the weight and by this stage Arja had almost vomited due to nervous anxiety at the thought of Francois falling from his perch on the flimsy planks. This didn’t happen and after getting the bike on its side stand and sitting down I realise just how anxious I had been too as I had the shakes and happily accepted a smoke to calm my nerves.

Immigration Inspection

Immigration officials inspecting Francois

Given we were now stamped into China but our bike wasn’t we saw no alternative but to camp sur place, where we were and make a stand. We were literally in front of immigration office, which conveniently had a patch of lawn and water for us. So after resting and having mandarins and watermelon offered to us by our driver we went about setting up camp on Chinese immigration lawn.

5pm the immigration closed and there was a changing of the guard and the Chinese flag was lowered.

At 8pm the border closed for the night and immigration office shut.

The night was cool and condensation formed as soon as the sun disappeared. We had our instant noodles and ovaltine which made for an enjoyable dinner on the steps of immigration. We had little idea of what the next day would have in store for us, would we be able to somehow cross over now they had discovered our true intentions?