We woke early from our stay at Quan Son, showered and packed up. Only about 20 minutes now to pack things up, we are getting better at attaching our bags and racks to our bikes. We decided to get breakfast at the little place next to the guesthouse for some noodle soup and headed out early in case the border was going to be trouble. We were a little nervous about Buddha, and taking the bikes across the border into Laos. It's a little bit of a hassle for some according to blogs and posts on the lonely planet website forum, and seeing how the border at Na Meo was so remote. We have even read in the lonely planet guide that this border can be a "15 hour ordeal".
Letting Buddha Out to Pee Before the Border
Making Our Way To The Border
We got out-of-town before 8am. The ride was spectacular. Mountains, valleys, rice paddies, good roads, and good weather made this leg very enjoyable. We met up with a man from Holland while taking a bathroom break along side of the road who had already toured around Laos with a motorbike guide. He stated it took him 3-4 hours to get through the border and expect delays. He mentioned Vieng Xai, Laos would be our next stop. The GPS was getting us where we needed to go, but again had some anxiety about reading the Laotian signs which are characters, which are not discernible letters like in Vietnam.
We also bumped into two Canadians from Toronto who were making their way back to Hanoi like they guy from Holland, but they were on bicycles. CRAZY!!!! They had been on the road for about 3 weeks and stated the roads in Laos would take us through even bigger mountains than the ones we had in Vietnam, which was hard to believe. Some good information shared between us on the road ahead and we were on our way to the border.
Viet Side of the Na Meo Border
The Na Meo Border
We arrived at the Vietnam side of the border at 11:30 and found that we made it too late. The border closes from 11:3o to 1:30 for lunch. So we were informed that we had to wait until 1:30pm to get the bikes across and pass them through customs. We were a little apprehensive because, to make it to our next place (Vieng Xai, Laos) we needed to take 4 hours. That meant if we had any problems at the border, we were again riding in the dark down winding mountain passes. We sat there for 2 hours and at 1:15pm the border opened back up and we were informed that we needed bike passports from Hanoi's Ministry of Transportation to bring our bikes into Laos.
We played dumb (although I knew that we might have needed them but they would have taken 5 days to procure) (and I didn't know about it until about 2 days before leaving Hanoi) They were very helpful, and kind, and they had us pay 50 dollars total for the two bikes, and wrote us a hand written paper passport and we were on our way. We went to the next office and they stamped our exit on the passports and as we went outside to get on our bikes and go.... the guys from the customs department were hanging around our bikes focused on Buddha's bag.
The Laos Side Of the Na Meo Border
Buddha Charms the Border Guards
We nervously approached our bikes and could tell that they guards were suspicious of our bags. Buddha was in the cage on the bikes and they asked us to open the bag. A wave of anxiety went over me as I opened the bag, and let Buddha out. They obviously knew he was there and he was probably whining or barking while we were getting our passports stamped. We took him out, and they inspected him and we busted out some carrots and showed the guards some tricks. Buddha danced, and walked on his hind legs, and sat, and did SPEAK, and shook our hands... the guards were delighted and within a few minutes there were 5 of them all gathered around in amazement at Buddha. They smiled and sent us on our way after offering one of their mangy dogs for trade in jest. We hopped on our bikes and made it to the Lao border a few hundred meters away.
The Laos border went on without a hitch!!! They didn't bat an eye at our bikes, or bags, and we were glad we got the visa in Hanoi before making it to the border. We got stamped and made our way through the border.... total time..... 45 minutes!!! WE ARE IN LAOS!!!!!
Stopping To Get Out Of The Rain
Riding in the Mountains of Laos
The hills of Laos were incredible.We rode the good roads as the guy in Mai Chau forecasted in very steep mountains as the Canadians had indicated. We rode for a couple of hours and stopped for a break when we realized that the wonderful weather we have had this entire trip was about to end. Storm clouds loomed in the mountains ahead. They seemed further away and we decided not to suit up and pull out our rain suits. Bad idea!! Within 15-20 minutes it started to sprinkle. We stopped and before we could get our bags open... large rain drops started to fall. I put on my suit and Shelly realized her pants were in the bottom of her bag and only had her jacket. We also realized our ponchos were hidden as well.
Our day bags were going to get wet which housed our laptop, tablet, and kindles. We found a cheap plastic poncho and attached it the best we could although it didn't really cover the bags completely. Buddha was at least dry. We rode a bit in the rain before stopping under a tree to let the storm pass. The rain was letting up and as the sun was shining again ahead of us. Behind us was the biggest, closest rainbow I have ever seen. It seemed like it was about 5o yards away. Some cows approached us and stood there with us. We nervously decided to get on the bikes and go when a particular "friendly" large bull was too close to me for comfort and didn't flinch when I touched his nose. Laos has many more cows along the road than Vietnam did. It's normal to have cows from time to time as they allow them to graze along the roadside. Positive point is that the grass is always short and neat along the road, negative is dodging cows and cow pies along the way.
Scenery on the way to Vieng Xai
Playing in the Mud
Shortly after getting going again, the first wreck of the trip happened. The roads were wet and muddy from the rain, and although it wasn't currently raining, Shelly hit a mud patch and went down. We weren't going very fast, but I could hear her yell when she went down and by the time I got back to see if she was ok, people were pouring out of their homes to help. Like a pit crew, people were putting bike back upright, hammering the foot peg that was bent, and checking to see if Shelly was ok. The people of Laos are absolutely delightful! They made sure we were ok and that the bike was alright and we headed back on the road unscathed. Shelly was muddy, but not hurt, and Buddha was fine.
Getting To Vieng Xai
We made our way with our rain gear still on, clothes still wet below them, and made it to Vieng Xai around 4pm. The town had wide roads and appeared charming in its own right. We found a nice place to stay called the Mharmanhvanl Guesthouse, and we had it to ourselves. As we entered the room, no musty moldy smell like Quan Son, but there was a weird chemical smell. What is it with the weird smells in rooms around here? We took it, and paid our 6 dollars for the night.... yeah 6 dollars!!! In Quan Son, we paid about 8 dollars and were glad to have a better place for less money. We made our way into town (as we were about 1km outside of town) and found a Laotian BBQ place. We had no idea how to order anything in Lao, so we simply charaded food in our mouths and said in English, "you make it we will eat it". We were starved and only really ate our leftover choco pies and crackers from Quan Son since breakfast earlier today.
Eating Lao BBQ and Drinking Beer Lao
Lao BBQ and Beer Lao
The restaurant was actually the front room of the host's house. The TV was on in the corner with the kids watching and the husband was doing something as well in the corner. The wife was cooking and brought us out a large plate of raw meats, greens, eggs, noodles and a pail with coals. WHAT A TREAT!!!! We also got some delicious soy or mung bean paste/peanut sauce called Dio Suki. (not spelled right I am sure) We could have eaten a gallon of this stuff..... so good! There were also some rice noodles uncooked and we ordered a Beer Lao. There was a hole in table in front of us and they put the pail of coals in the hole then covered the pail with a rounded plate with small holes on the top. There was also a trough like moat around the outside of the metal plate. The lady serving us showed us that we needed to put the two large pieces of lard on the top of the rounded center and "grease" the metal plate. Then she showed us that we needed to put the meat on round part of the plate and cook it and then dip it in the sauce.
DELICIOUS!!! AMAZING!!!! Such an ingenious way of cooking food. Then she put a broth in the trough around the outside of the plate and put the noodles and veggies in the broth. We realized that she was making soup. She also took an egg, and poked a chopstick through it and put the egg in the broth as well by breaking the yoke still in the egg. We feasted on one of the best meals we had in awhile with huge smiles on our faces, saying frequently, this is so FREAKING GOOD!!!! The hosts of the restaurant were smiling and laughing at us lap up our soup and scarf down our meat.
Our Guesthouse In Vieng Xai
Getting Back To Our Guesthouse
We thanked them and paid them 60,000 KIP which is 8500 kip per dollar. Both of us with two of the coldest beers we have had in Asia and a full meal cost us 7 dollars. WE LOVE LAOS!!! We even learned how to say hello, and thank you. Sa Bai Dee is hello, and Hop Jai is thank you! In Laos when you say Sa Bai Dee, you put your hands together in prayer at your chest and bow slightly. Such a great way to say hello.
We went back to our hotel and fell asleep, full, content and happy to be safe and sound. We also decided to take the next day off and go to the Vieng Xai Caves. These are caves where the Lao communist government headquarters were during the Vietnam war. This area is also one of the heaviest bombed places (number of bombs to population)in the history of the world. Should be interesting.