Pleiku to Dak To 97km
Dak To to Sticksville(Laos) 102km
I am traveling with only two pairs of footwear, a pair of Keens sandles with cleats for cycling, and another pair of Keens sandles for street wear. Yesterday, I left the street sandles at the hotel , behind a pillar in the garage.
The morning was going really well. Had some passable noodle soup for breakfast, found a bakery on the way out of town that did lovely big baguettes, and the road was a series of rolling hills, with not too many roadworks. Even had a delicious cane sugar drink with one of the bread rolls. And then at 20km, something clicked. Golly gosh. I didn't put those sandles in the trailer.
Bother. What to do? They are good sandles. I could cycle back to the hotel, 20km takes 90 minutes, times two. I could catch a bus, but which one? I could hitch. But what's the local etiquette? Bother. Or I could leave them..... No, replacing them would be a real pain. I cross the medium strip and ask at a coffee shop whether I can leave Fiona with them. Then, using my excellent sign and Vietnamese, ask about buses and hitching. All very confusing. Then a coffee drinker says he will take me back to the hotel for $10. Yes. I was envisaging not being able to spot the hotel from a bus, and missing the coffee shop on the return trip. I take up the offer.
I think my driver was worried someone would drink his coffee, because we were off at a rush and roar. We passed everything. We squeezed between trucks, we went over a one way bridge the wrong way. We crashed red lights. Somehow we weren't stopped at any of the three speed traps being operated by the police....everyone else seemed to be getting stopped, but we zoomed through. I closed my eyes and prayed. But then I remembered I needed to navigate. I was trying to remember whether the stuff I was seeing was familiar from this morning or yesterday. We missed the hotel the first pass....we were going very quick, but then I recognized two wrecked buses from yesterday, so we did a u turn ...scarey.... and found the hotel, and my sandles. On the return trip, I just closed my eyes.
So I'm 40km from the Laos and Cambodian borders. I'm guessing that there are a few living in this area that have come from these countries. I'm guessing also, that local authorities believe they need to remind these immigrants that they are now living in Vietnam. That would explain the very loud military marching music, and indoctrination speeches happening over loud speakers at 4.30am. Takes me back to Indonesia, and the call to prayer.
I'm heading towards the border crossing, but the road is getting smaller and smaller, with less and less traffic. Now I did my homework on this one, and several sources have confirmed that I can cross here, but the road is not busy, so I'm getting a little worried. Eventually I arrive. Just me, one 20 seater bus, and a few scooters. No other white faces. The scooters seem to just scoot through, while 21 of us wait in line. Too easy. I'm stamped out of Vietnam.
I ride the 1km to the Laos side of the border. 21 of us in line. All the others get their passport swiped, stamped, and relieved of $VN10000. My passport is inspected. It's leafed through. Every page is read. The young lady scratches her head. She takes the passport for a walk into another office. 15 minutes later, she brings it back, stamped. I thank her, smile, and get a smile in return. The first one I've seen from any official all day.
I go to the final window, and get growled at for bringing my "motorbike" on to the footpath. Just at the end of the building is an official in uniform. He is lounging in the sun on a chair. On her knees in front of him, stroking his thigh, and with a fist full of $VN, is a woman, obviously pleading. He's having none of it. She was on a scooter, with what looks like a huge pile of rubbish. But they, the officials, have dug underneath the rubbish, and found three cases of scotch. She's only allowed one, and is physically fighting to stop them unload the other two. 5km down the road, I see two other similar scooters, piled with rubbish. They've got through undetected, and are shuffling their load for balance.
Woopie. I'm in Laos. And almost immediately start going downhill.....for 16km. And it's the best, even better than Sumatra Graham, and Vietnam Ju. Sweeping, swooping curves, with only the odd pothole, and no traffic. The road is very much like driving from Murupara to Waikerimoana but sealed. Even the native jungle is very similar. And only about 10 vehicles an hour on the road. Fantastic, beautiful cycling.
I'm just climbing a short hill after the tremendous downhill, and I meet a cyclist, from Japan. He's been on the road a year, in SE Asia, and is heading into Vietnam, then China, and Europe via Kazakhstan. We pass each other useful information about the road, towns, routes. Neither have really good news for the other. I tell him it is 20km to the border, but all uphill. He tells me I am at the bottom of a 12km climb, and the next town is 85km past the summit. Hmmmm. Seems I might be camping. I do a mental check of what provisions I have. 1.5l of water. A tin of tuna. One orange. Half a packet of cereal. Four barley sugars from the Lolly Pot. And heaps of Ems Power Bar Cookies. I will survive.
At 100km I come across my first building in Laos. Turns out it's a Conservation Dept check point, and they will let me stay. They want me to sleep on the floor inside, but I convince them I'll be happier in my tent.
I'm excited about a new country. I changed some money at the border. Loasian money looks just as confusing as Indonesian and Vietnamese money. I've got no idea how the food thing will pan out, because I've yet to see a town or shop. I can't understand the Laos script. My map doesn't seem too good. I can't read, let alone pronounce the town names. Hehehe. Adventure.