Monday, July 4, 2016

Laos - The best ride yet

There was a road, which I had actually found by accident but really liked to try. I'm glad we did, but it was for all the wrong reasons. The main road from Phonsavan to Luang Prabang hadn't been much fun. The road itself was fine but we'd had enough of minivan idiots who don't care about anyone but themselves, and their brothers-in-crime in 4WDs doing the same thing. The way they drive is criminal and should be categorised as manslaughter. We were told by distraught locals that the 4WD drivers were mostly Chinese road builders... Taking the obvious route from Luang Prabang to Vientiane would mean doing that road again... so I looked for alternatives and found one!

You have to understand that in places like this kids are still playing on the streets, which would mean a 15 km/hr zone in Europe. Here they do 90 km/hr in cars with no brakes, no lights, no suspension, bald tyres and on bad roads... The results of accidents we've seen the last two days are terrifying. Openstreetmap listed an alternative. From Luang Prabang back towards the Kacham waterfall and then over the mountains towards the main road. This would keep us off the terrible 13 as long as possible and had the potential to be a good ride... However the supposedly up to date paper map we had listed it as gravel, while Google gave the impression it was a dead end... Luckily OpenStreetmap was once again right! It was bitumen all the way (except a couple of 'roadworks'), beautifully winding, steep and offered great views. It was perhaps the best ride we had in Laos. We had a great time and enjoyed it very much.

The feeling was good. We had a short ride today, or at least we thought we had, and thus all the time in the world to enjoy the ride and the beautiful landscapes. We stopped for plenty of photos and enjoyed every minute of it. Wow what a difference from Luang Prabang, this was the real Laos, just like the northern part had been too. To make it even better the weather helped us too by giving us copious amounts of sunshine. Vince remembered a good pizza place along the way for lunch, which had gone downhill as much as the previous one he had suggested... poor man! Not Vince's fault obviously, just a sign of the times I suppose. The pizzas were also expensive, the service lousy and the teenager running the show was totally uninterested. Looking across the street I saw a burger stall run by a much friendlier looking woman... we should have gone there I thought. As we were sitting in the shade, while across the road was in full sunlight, I opted to stay put and ordered a burger from the pizza place instead. It was on the menu but the teenager had to go out and get bread rolls to make them. Karen ordered a steak which she said had been battered with a hammer to an inch of its life and thus wasn't very good. When the burgers finally arrived, the chicken burger turned out to be made from 10 grams of munched chicken... and didn't taste all that well either. Just another day in paradise. We looked at the food and laughed :-)

Mike had also found a road he liked to try... which was a dirt road of course. No problem said Vince it's a good road, short and we'll be fine. It was a bit bumpy but not too bad, well... not for us. Karen had other ideas! She was sitting on the back with an arm in plaster and found it quite painful. As she is about to have her cast removed, that surprised me a little. After a couple of kilometres she asked how much further it was 'Oh almost there' was the swift reply from Vince, while we weren't even halfway yet :-) Poor Vince was really looking for trouble. On the plus side it was a seriously beautiful ride. Just have a look at the embedded video!

The hotel coordinates given by booking dot com proved to be wrong once again... There was a phone number provided though but our phone didn't work with the Laos system, so we asked at a petrol station if they knew where it was. They called the number, looked surprised and confused, and then a long discussion started with fingers pointing in all directions... In the end they all agreed that the hotel was not here (which we had sort of spotted) but 30 km away from where we were. Arriving there we looked around for a fair while but still couldn't find it. We asked around but received blank looks and decided to give up on it. Instead we found something quite nice, and opted to stay there instead, which turned out to be a good choice! A place were locals stay.

The next morning I went on the hunt for some rice. No shops anywhere but I asked the friendly lady who owns the guesthouse if she had some. She didn't speak a word of English, and I mean not one word! Using sign language I asked if I could go into the kitchen, she nodded, I found steamed rice so we were almost there. All I needed to work out is how to explain that I wanted it uncooked! She showed me all the containers she had but non contained any form of rice. The only thing we had not looked into was the rubbish bin... and that's where she kept the uncooked rice! No why didn't I think of that? So we had rice porridge for breakfast after all :-) and had been dumpster diving to get it!

We continued towards Vientiane. The roads became worse and worse and had deteriorated to a slippery mud slide by the time we reached the capital. I almost went down twice, there was simply no traction at all. Slippery slimy mud over cobblestones... The reason for the mud layer was the locals being totally fed up with the dust, which is understandable and thus had wetted it down... somewhat enthusiastically. Still ok in a car perhaps but not on a bike. We opted not to stay in Vientiane and continued on to the border.

Border procedures on the Laos side were simple, getting money exchanged wasn't as 2 of the 3 banks were closed for some reason, which meant I had to go back into Laos... They let me in without a visa, no passport check or anything... and as I walked around the building I realised I could just walk on and become an illegal immigrant! In fact I actually was an illegal immigrant! Money was exchanged, I went back into no-mans land, jumped on the bike and we rode across the friendship bridge and into Thailand. Entering Mae Sot, from Myanmar a couple of weeks back, had been somewhat chaotic and unfriendly, but here it was all very well organised and efficient so we were in in no-time at all, rode to the hotel we had found on Google and hit the shower! We were back in Thailand which felt good from the start, so good that we decided to stay put for a day :-)