The route: . http://connect.garmin.com/activity/179910432
100km (4170total) A hilly and long day with over 1800m climbing – it took us 7h18m, our longest day so far
The chat: We started at 5am this morning, having heard and read nightmare stories about the road over the border to Laos – apparently a combination of road works, land slides, mud tracks and river crossings meant that within the last 6 months buses were taking 12 hours and motorbikes 10 hours to complete the 100km we were hoping to do before sunset.
Thankfully luck/karma was on our side today; the steep climb to the border was on potholed but rideable tarmac, the Vietnamese border guards didn’t even try for a bribe (although the Laos guards did), and we emerged into Laos relieved to be leaving Vietnam behind. The country was beautiful, the scenery often more spectacular than anywhere else on our travels, and the food and bustle of Hanoi was one of the highlights of our time in SE Asia. Unfortunately memories of awesome limestone castes, amazing downhills, incredible cups of cafe Viet and warm and welcoming Vietnamese people, were counteracted and tinged by less good memories – of spending days ridiculously and hopelessly lost (in the middle of a 50degrees C heatwave) , of the most disappointing food we’ve had throughout our trip, and of wasting hours attempting to patiently argue with the all too frequent restaurant/cafe/bus/shop/hotel owners intent on underhandedly and sometimes aggressively charge us 5 times the going price for tickets/food/water.
These are all minor complaints, and by no means universal throughout every town and village we passed through, but such experiences of bad natured bargaining or prices being changed after eating/checking into hotels happened frequently enough to turn a minor niggle into a major annoyance. A month in Vietnam had left us suspicious of any sales person, and hating ourselves for it – it was time to get out.
Emerging into Laos was full of pleasant surprises – the scenery almost immediately felt more “Laos like” as we dodged chilled out water buffalo, scruffy children shouting “Saibaidee” (hello), and herds of small piglets wandering the streets. The road itself was also pleasantly surprising – having cost 43 million dollars to build just 68km over 2 years, it was nearing completion, and apart from a few gravelly sections, a couple of minor water crossings, and a smattering of potholes and road works, it wasn’t too bad at all.
As the sun set, we rolled into town (through a river without a bridge) and picked up our Norwegian surfer friends on the way. Having set out a day previously they had had a bad run of flat tyres/broken racks/bike malfunctions, and had run out of water and money after having given both to villagers along their way (did I mention that they were MUCH nicer people than us?). Limping the last 2km into town in the dusk, we all crossed into Muang Khua by boat ferry, dumped our dusty panniers in one of the towns 3 guesthouses, and headed for a beer Laos and plate of noodles over the river, indescribably happy to be back in Laos.