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Asia/SE Asia

Crossing Vietnam and Laos — I can see Thailand across the Mekong

[slideshow]

Hue Vietnam to Dong Ha 73.13 km
Dong Ha to Khe Sanh Vietnam 63.59 km
Khe Sanh to Sepon Laos 63.03 km
Sepon to Muong Phin 36.91 km
Muong Phin to Phalan 61.17 km
Muang Phalan to Savannakhet Laos 102 km

After six days of cycling we have arrived in Savannakhet. I convinced Ian to spend two days at the posh hotel here – mostly because it has a pool and we have hit 30 and above now that we have left the west coast of Vietnam and some of our cycling days have been pretty hot. Also, the ride was very rural as expected and after a number of days of rough travel it is nice to have the king size bed…

I would recommend the cycle across Laos. As expected, there was less traffic than in Vietnam and we enjoyed the scenery. There were definitely enough guest houses to get us through although the last one outside Phalan was a bit rough…I think it may have doubled as a brothel. We used our air mattresses on top of their mattress and my sleeping sheet. We didn’t use the free condom that came with the place. Enough said :-0 The one we stayed at was the first one west of town. There was another west of us that might have been better.

The ride out of Vietnam was uneventful – pleasant enough along highway 1 between Hue and Dong Ha but certainly the quieter highway 9 across Vietnam was much nicer. However there is a climb…About 8 kms before Khe Sanh we started to cross the mountain range that separates Vietnam and Laos. It was a bit steep at times but the scenery was some of the best of the last six days. The ride out of Khe Sanh was fabulous, a long descent into Laos and a tailwind the whole way. In fact we had tail winds the whole way across. We met two groups of Thai cyclists going the opposite way – all male and with a guide and van. We met two lone Japanese male cyclists at the Laos Vietnamese border, also going the other way. Otherwise we didn’t see any other tourists until we got to Savannakhet.

A typical day in the last six…rise with the roosters as they are free range and work as alarm clocks for everyone. Then scrounge a little for breakfast – we stocked up a little in Hue (cheese, bread an choco pies) and these certainly came in handy. We always found lunch and dinner places but choice is limited. Pack the bikes, make sure we have enough water and off. Yell at a goat or two to get off the road, wait for the odd cow to cross, watch a pig eating sugar cane that has fallen off a truck in the middle of the highway, pass motorcycle with wire cages full of live chickens, say sabidee hello and goodbye at every single village and hut we pass in response to every little kid who lives in rural Laos and likes to run out to the road to greet us. Look at water buffalo grazing in the rice fields, watch geese swimming in tiny ponds in front of bamboo and thatch huts. Pass shops that make the spirit shrines that every house of any size has and where morning prayers are said and incense is lit (even at the brothel I noticed this). Overtake carts powered by rototillers, get overtaken by motorcycles, ride with the school kids who have bikes until they can’t keep up (ha ha). Stop at roadside stalls (huts with a table). Buy cola or noodles depending on whether it’s a get out of the heat break or lunch time. Find the guesthouse. Turn on the air con. Drink a beer Lao. Find a restaurant or stall for dinner. Feed the restaurant dog (so much better than eating them…although I know I have no right to bitch about that Vietnamese habit since I am a meat eater myself). Go to bed and repeat the next day.

We gave Vietnam our best shot. But in the end, it wasn’t for us – too much comparison with Thailand I guess where scams exist but not to the same relentless degree. That being said we really appreciated our hotel in Khe Sanh: the owner did his best to communicate with us, helped us with bags, exchanged Vietnamese dong for Lao kip at a fair rate and went out of his way to do so. The staff at the Google Hotel in Hue was also helpful and the manager wouldn’t take a tip at the end. We also appreciated Mr. Binh at the Madam Moon Guesthouse in Hanoi. So its not everyone that tries to take advantage of tourists – but I’m afraid there was too much of it nonetheless and not enough charm to make up for it. We also liked our train trip to Danang up and through the mountains where we saw un-spoilt beaches (but unreachable) and I really appreciated the Waterfront Restaurant there with its wine room and brie. But all that didn’t make up for the scamming. I’ve done some research now and Vietnam is aware that they are not getting return tourists. (The rate for Thailand is over 50% and the rate for Vietnam is something like 15%).

We spent a lot of time in Hue trying to figure out how to get my bike part and I spent some time entertaining myself trying to draw faces from photographs on Facebook. I’ve posted an attempt. This gives me something to do when we don’t have Internet :-0

Otherwise in Hue, Ian did most of the work trying to get me a derailer and then all the work putting in on, including creating a shim out of a coke can because the part sent up from Saigon wasn’t quite the right size…

Savannakhet seems like a lovely place to hang our helmets for a few days as we regroup for the next part of the trip. We will move to a guesthouse after our little splurge here at the hotel. There is a Thai consulate here so we can get visas. We just need to plan our route which we have decided will eventually take us to Chiang Mai, our chosen spot to get off the bikes and relax for a month.

Time for another dip in the pool. Ahhhh….

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