With a typically apathetic goodbye from the manager we set off from Thakhek north along the Mekong towards Vientiane. We stopped at a couple of ATMs on the way out to try and get some money out, but both banks that had worked for us in the past didn’t work for some reason. We had a rough plan to split the trip into four days, and to try and do some longer ones at the start while we were fresh, so we planned to ride just over 100km to Vieng Kham. Only 10km out of town we spotted a cafe amazon, and it didn’t take too much persuasion for an early coffee stop. The slow start cost us though, and it was definitely heating up when we hit the road again.
We woke to rain in Savannakhet, and it didn’t slow down as we took our time over breakfast, a coffee and a chat with an engineer who consulted in the mine at Xepon. His wife is Laoatian, so he’s spent lots of time here. He was the one that let us know that later in the rainy season it pours all day, rather than just for short stints. So we put on our rain coats and rolled out into the rain. We rode without stopping back to Seno. It’s funny how far our minds can wander down different tracks when we ride along without talking for a while. When we stopped for a pee break after an hour Bryony’s head was full of day dreams about jobs in Holland, while James was working out the best way to make a grass track on the farm in Waiwera and hold grass track racing.
The ride from Khe San to the border of Lao Bao was short, and mostly downhill so despite the drizzle it passed quickly. After one last ca phe sua da we headed to the border. We were waved through lots of official looking gates before we arrived at the small tin sheds that could give us our exit stamps, and the Lao immigration office where we applied for our visa. Because we recieved our Vietnamese visas in Battambang they were stapled in as a sheet with the stamps put on them, rather than a sticker like all the other ones we have. We thought we should probably hold onto them, but they were taken off us so we figured it must be ok. As we were rolling out the man who does the final check to make sure everything is in order told us that no, we need the Vietnam visa, and walked us back to the huts to find it. We timed it terribly as by the time we got back there all the staff who had processed the stamps had finished their shift, and after running about for 20 minutes our visas couldn’t be located. Some official people made some calls and we were allowed to leave, but hopefully the lack of Vietnamese visa doesn’t come back to bite us later.
We felt sluggish leaving Hoi An, as we often do after an extended rest break. The head wind didn’t help and we stopped for our second coffee break of the day just 20km into the ride as James nearly fell asleep on his bike and hit the curb. After our cheapest coffee yet (15,000 dong for 2) we felt a little better. The ride started off following concrete paths through rice paddies, before turning onto the infamous highway 1 for a short period. We have made a conscious effort to avoid the main highways throughout the trip, although our short experience with highway 1 wasnt so bad and the traffic was generally pretty quiet, and mostly travelling in the direction we expected it to. Just before Da Nang we turned left onto highway 14B, and a little later onto 14G, and then it was quiet. These are the kinds of roads we like to ride on – not necessarily the greatest quality, but very little traffic and right amongst the environment we were riding through.
It took us longer than it should have to realise that we weren’t going to have time to bike the length of Vietnam, but we’re glad it did – we would much rather see a small part of a country in detail than feel like we were rushing through. But even so, we needed to get a move on. We loved our time in Dalat, and the woman running the hotel we stayed at made it even better. When we left we gave her the nearly empty giant bottle of water which she could refill really cheaply. As an added bonus James found an extra book for our collection on the top of the wardrobe as he checked the room, bringing our total up to 13. Being 6’2″ has its advantages at times.
The next few posts are a bit of a catch up – even though we wrote posts we couldn’t access wordpress for our last week in Vietnam as it was blocked by the government, and during our first week in Lao we struggled to find any wifi at all.
We woke to rain in Cat Tien, but knew we had a pretty big day ahead of us so didn’t delay. Unfortunately our new friend was asleep when we checked out but his mum, who doesn’t speak any english, saw us off. She was really worried about the rain because we weren’t wearing a plastic poncho like everyone else in Vietnam does when it rains (we do have pretty good outdoor raincoats) so she kindly gave us one each. James’ arms are just too long for anything Vietnamese so we looked a bit ridiculous. Luckily the rain slowed while we ate breakfast at a tiny table in a puddle at the market, socialising with the locals, and stopped after half an hour on the road.