Cycling from Laos to Vietnam via the Ban Naphong/Cau Treo border
Saturday 30th January
From our hotel in Lak Sao we had just over 20 miles to cover before we reached the border. The scenery was really quite nice, though we were mostly obsessing over whether we would get rained on or not (we did).
It gradually became more and more uphill, though the incline wasn’t too bad.
Half a kilometre from the Laos border the queue of trucks started. I felt sorry for these guys. It looked like they were in for a long wait.
We squeezed through some very narrow gaps between the trucks and found ourselves at the Laos Departure Office.
There were staff in very smart but dated “communist army” type uniforms. They looked kind of intimidating until I saw that one of the men was wearing a pair of teddy bear mittens (nice Laos people in a nutshell!).
It was surprisingly simple. I filled in the departure slips we had received when we arrived in Laos and handed them over with our passports. Our visas got stamped as “USED” and I had to pay a 20,000 kip “overtime” fee (because it’s the weekend I suppose). There was almost no queue, and that was it.
We bought some snacks and changed some money.
Then we cycled through a chaotic scene: mist, a very muddy, slimy, filthy, potholed road with trucks and buses and cars squashed together in something resembling a queue, and people wandering around everywhere.
There was a Vietnamese checkpoint, where an army man checked our visas and waved us on (here’s Eric just outside the checkpoint).
It looked busy, but almost everyone was simply waiting for their coach to turn up so that they could get back on it. Once again we didn’t have to queue. The people in the office inspected our passports and our visas, we paid $1 each and that was it.
We scooted past all the vehicles and… we were free, and in a brand new country!
The border crossing had looked incredibly chaotic, but all the staff there were very nice, and it had all gone smoothly.
Eric had been dreading this part (whereas I had been going with the fingers-in-my-ears “la la la it’s not happening” tactic) but… BUT… something happened that neither of us had considered…
It was ALL DOWNHILL.
Yes! Yes Vietnam! Yes!
“When did we climb this??” said Eric.
We hadn’t risen up that much this morning, so how could we have gained all this height? We went through the last few weeks, and realised that we’d on the whole been going uphill since Chiang Rai. It’s been a long month.
17 kilometres of downhill. It was fantastic.
On the way down we met a very nice Russian cycle tourist going in the other direction. He advised us to buy a rain poncho in Vietnam. Ominous.
The French connection – a miniature Eiffel Tower.
After some more beautiful scenery and a village or two we reached our first town. After a few weeks in Laos, the sight of a more developed town felt quite surreal.
Almost as soon as we crossed the border, the signs of wealth that are so easy to take for granted until they’re absent struck us: lines painted in the middle of the road, proper retaining walls for verges, pavements which are wide, smooth and clean(ish)… and people who look busy. In Laos the pace of life is pretty laid back. I think Vietnam is going to be different.
The people so far have been as friendly as in Laos, and the typical greeting is “hello” rather than the Vietnamese “xin chow”. A few people struck up conversations with us today, or, on a few occasions, pulled their scooter level with our bike and followed us along for a minute, having a look!
The roads were quite good… until they weren’t. We had to cycle a mile of thick, squishy, slippery mud, that was hard to balance on and splattered everything below knee height. It made me feel a bit sheepish when we turned up at the Lyha Hotel and tried not to drip mud all over the lobby.
Lunch and dinner was pho. On the way back from dinner was a sight I couldn’t explain. A deer in a tiny cage by the side of the road, with no obvious owner.
We have a lot to learn about you, Vietnam.