Crossing Friendship Bridge 4 on a tandem bicycle
Thursday 7th January
Our route for today was picked entirely for practical purposes, and neither of us were expecting great things from the scenery, but our last day in northern Thailand may have been the best combination of beauty and ease we’ve had yet.
Our road curved between hills for most of the day, with barely any inclines.
We passed through lots of small villages, so there was plenty of convenience along the way.
The beauty was less grand than when we were in the real mountains, but still, for long stretches it was just lovely everywhere.
Stopping for lunch at a restaurant with some amazing wood carvings.
We reached the border crossing to Laos at Friendship Bridge 4 by about 1 in the afternoon. There was a question mark over how this was going to work, as it was against regulations to cross the bridge on a bicycle, and yet how on earth we would fit our tandem onto the foot passenger bus was yet to be seen.
Approaching the Thai border.
We were encouraged to see that the staff didn’t look horrified when we turned up on a tandem. They indicated for us to join the foot passengers.
We then had to fill out our departure cards, which we received when we entered Thailand. It was then that I remembered that we had left our departure cards in Bangkok. Oops! With my best contrite expression I explained this to the man and apologised.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry, I forget, I forget, all I hear every day,” he said.
I looked very apologetic.
“I could fine you, you know,” he said.
Sincere nod, contrite face.
He looked up at me and smiled a sort of “You darn kids!” smile. We were OK. He gave us a new departure card.
After passport control we were shown to a departure area where the coaches were waiting. After buying tickets for me, Eric and the bike (140 baht), the coach driver and Eric tried to put the bike in the luggage compartment of the coach. It didn’t work.
The coach driver probably could have forced it in, possibly causing a bit of damage in the process, but instead to his credit he saw that it wasn’t going to properly fit and so told us that we should just cycle it across the bridge. This was what we had been hoping for, so we were very pleased. I’m grateful that he was willing to bend the rules for us.
After being cleared by the people at the final traffic barrier, we were off, changing from the left side to the right side of the road in the process.
Goodbye Thailand! See you in about two and a half months.
Cycling over Friendship Bridge 4.
We reached the Laos side, and after filling in the forms we paid $35 each for a 30 day visa. There was barely a queue, and from arriving at the Thai border the whole thing took about an hour.
Then, we were in Laos!
We cycled to Huay Xai, which is very much a border town. First impressions of Laos: unsurprisingly, not too different to Thailand in terms of how it looks. The people seem nice, we were waved at a few times. Huay Xai is quite a dirty town, it certainly seems quite poor.
Over dinner we skimmed through the Wikipedia page on Laos and learnt a few shocking things. Laos’ literacy is said to be “over two thirds”. Laos is the 29th “hungriest” country in the world; 77% of people still grow their own rice, and many live below the poverty line, which is marked as those who live on less than $1.25 per day. I had been told that there’s much less variety of food in Laos, and now I realise that this is because there literally isn’t a lot of food.
Their currency has a lot of zeros, and having withdrawn some cash we are now millionaires (1000,000 kip = £83).
There are also a lot of positive things about Laos. It won the accolade of “best tourist destination in the world” in 2013 because of its cultural attractions and natural beauty. Tourism is its fastest growing industry, and 1 in 11 employed people work in tourism. (Thanks Wikipedia!) In our prior tourist-focused research on Laos we have always read very positive things about the places and the people, so it’s one of the countries that I’ve been most excited to visit.
Let’s see what the next few days bring.