After months of staying in some pretty grungy places (with some nice surprises in between) we decided to stay somewhere really nice in Luang Prabang, using James’ birthday as an excuse. We weren’t disappointed with the Lotus Villa. First we were welcomed with fresh juice and fruit then shown our light, airy room with seating on the terrace and french doors looking out over a garden. When we came back from dinner we found our bed remade with the corners folded back for us to climb in, a scented candle lit and a plate of Lao sweets left with tomorrows forecast. Over the next two nights we were left Lao coffee and bamboo straws as well. The bed was huge, the linen fabulous and we slept like logs.
After our brief and bike focussed stop in Vientiane we were keen to get on the bikes and into the mountains to Luang Prabang. Part of our eagerness was probably due to the fact that we’d promised ourselves a luxury week once we got there to celebrate James’ birthday. Leaving Vientiane was pretty crap – narrow, potholed and dusty roads with more white utes than you could shake a stick at – but we were prepared. And we found a cafe amazon on the way out. It even had a minimart with our favourite lollies, so even though we’d only covered 15km in about an hour and a half, we stopped.
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.