Boten is a town in Laos on the China–Laos border and the most northern stop on the Laos-China Railway, which was what brought me there. Boten is a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) that features in the news for all the wrong reasons. I have been keeping track of Boten news and construction projects at Future Boten.
I got the train to Boten only to find out that I couldn’t go to Boten. I will return on another trip I have planned, but I post this as a historical archive of Laos after the international lockout.
I rode the length of the Laos-China Railway in May 2022, not long after the country reopened. My plan was to stay at every city with a major stop (Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, Muang Xai, and Boten).
Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang are well-trodden destinations with plenty of accommodation options. I couldn’t find anywhere online to stay in Muang Xai, but at least there is a Travelfish guide. There were no online hotel listings for Boten at the time of my visit.
On the Google Satellite map it appeared that the station was a few kilometres away from the main town. I figured I would turn up and look for a ride and then walk around looking for a room.
I got the train from Muang Xai, and for the first time on my journey on this railway, the passenger numbers thinned out. The trains were full from Vientiane to Muang Xai. The border to China wasn’t open at this point, so no one had a reason to go to Boten.
As the train got closer to Boten the landscape changed from green hills to a dusty red landscape of cleared land. There was a big road with trucks everywhere.
The train arrived in Boten, and the few remaining passengers had transport waiting for them.
There was no bus service, so I was left scratching head wondering what to do.
Luckily in this part of the world there is always a motorbike rider who is around to offer you a ride. I pointed on the map where I wanted to go, to the utter bafflement of the rider. I was probably charged 5 times the going rate, but at this point I didn’t have any alternative transport options as bargaining chips.
We drove along a road that was lined for kilometres with parked trucks. Boten is one of the major land borders between China and Southeast Asia. Most of these truck would have driven through Laos.
China still had stringent covid testing and control measures when I visited, so there was a backlog of trucks trying to get into China.
We soon arrived at the outskirts of Boten town, though it is looking more like a city now.
There was a big construction fence around the city, which I was to find out doubled as a quarantine border.
I got to a construction gate that looked like the main entrance to the city. Everyone was confused about why I was there. The security guards didn’t know what to do with me, and the motorbike driver seemed reluctant to drop me off here. Most of the workers here were Chinese, but eventually someone who spoke English came to my aid. I could enter Boten but I would need to take a covid test first.
There was a shack by the side of the road where covid tests were being conducted, and a waiting area with truck drivers waiting for results. I was thrice vaccinated at this point, but I decided that this was not the place to find out that I was asymptomatic and then get detained in a quarantine facility on the Laos-China border. I concluded that I didn’t need to go to Boten that badly, so I declined.
Luckily my motorbike taxi man was still here (like where else would he be?) and I got charged the same fare to go back to the station. I got him to take a photo for me when we drove back to the station.
And I took a photo of him. Maybe he is still wondering why that random Australian wanted to go from the station and back.
I got back to the station, and fortunately I arrived before the last train of the day departed. The trains had been selling out on all the sections from Muang Xai to Vientiane, so I booked a ticket back to Muang Xai and booked a ticket the next day for Vang Vieng.
My main mission on this trip was to see the main station of each main stop, so I didn’t mind that I had a couple of hours to wait until the last train.
That was my brief non-visit to Boten. My future plan is to get the train all the way to Kunming, so I will stop here next time to have a look around.