(339km - 6days)
13/9 – 18/9/2017
Day 13 - 13 September - Khemerat, Thailand – Savannakhet, Lao – 105 km
Sluggish after the previous day's hills, it was a leisurely ride to the Thai/Laos border. While passing people, basket in hand, collecting leaves and herbs, I thought Thai people most privileged as they still had the luxury of foraging. It’s no wonder they can prepare the tastiest of meals with only one or two ingredients. They have a knack for collecting tiny fish, crabs, and snails in ponds or rice paddies and conjuring up a meal which will make you think you're in a 5-star restaurant.
Lunch consisted of noodle soup served with a basket of fresh greens, giving it an extra unique taste.
Then it was on to the Thai immigration for our exit stamp. Cycling across the Thai/Laos Friendship bridge that spanned the Mekong River, was not allowed. All pedestrians and cyclists were required to take a bus to the Laos side. It didn’t take much to corrupt Tania, and we hopped on the bicycles and gunned it across the bridge, to great protest of the border officials. We, however, kept going as fast as possible and laughed ourselves silly at how ridiculous it must have looked to a bystander.
Once in Laos, a $30 visa fee was paid after which it was a short cycle into Savannakhet and Savanpathana Guesthouse. The fun part was going to the ATM to draw local currency (Lao Kip). As the conversion rate was 8,280 Kip - US$1, one could draw 1,000,000 Kip without breaking the bank. I still had a SIM card from my previous visit and only had to top up and was good to go.
Day 14 - 14 September – Savannakhet
As Savannakhet had a Vietnamese consulate, it made for easy applying for a Vietnam visa. A 30-day visa was $45 and a 90-day visa $55, and therefore best to apply for the latter, as it left us with an opportunity to explore far more.
Savannakhet was a lovely place to wander about. We strolled the leafy streets of the old quarters and along the Mekong River, marvelling at all there was to eat at small stalls lining the river bank. I have to admit, pig’s brain in banana leaf didn’t do it for me!
Day 15 & 16 - 15-16 September – Savannakhet
There were rumours of a typhoon off the coast of Vietnam, but I didn’t think Laos was in the path of the storm. Savannakhet was located 300 kilometres inland from where the typhoon was to make landfall. It, however, still rained the entire day and most of the day was spent in our guesthouse. At around 15h00, it was back to the Vietnamese consulate to pick up our visas. As our abode also lost power, there was little else to do but eat. Not an unpleasant way to spend a day. That evening, I somehow managed to lock us out of our room. Fortunately, those places mostly have spare keys. It, however, took a surprisingly long time to locate it in the dark.
The following morning, it was bucketing down and, as the weather forecast predicted rain throughout the day for the entire region, another day was spent in Savannakhet.
Day 17 - 17 September – Savannakhet – Muang Phalanxay - 119 km
Tania was up and packed by 5h50. I wasn’t equally inspired and took considerably longer to get ready. The route to the Vietnamese border ran in an easterly direction and, from Savannakhet, one could follow a rural road past Ban Bungva, a lake with restaurants on stilts, which looked rather inviting.
Our path eventually ended up at That Ing Hang, a stupa rumoured to house a relic of Buddha’s spine. We snapped a few pics and continued in the direction of the Vietnamese border. It was a lovely ride, through a rural area with tiny settlements and roadside markets. Late afternoon, a roadside guesthouse with food close by made for an excellent overnight stay. It was hardly worth 60,000 Kip but then what does a person expect for 60,000 Kip ($7)?
Day 18 - 18 September Muang Phalanxay – Ban Dong – 115 km
It rained throughout the night and in the morning, we left our humble abode via a muddy, potholed road which ran right through the morning market. One could tell by the stares and giggles not many “farangs” ever visited the market.
Like the previous day, it was a day spent biking through tiny settlements with simple houses on stilts and past people carrying their wares in woven baskets on their backs or on shoulder poles. Women preparing food on open fires and small children herding cattle reminded me of Africa. We overtook people going to the market in basic, wooden, homemade carts and others in equally minimalistic longboats heading upriver. Bare-bottomed children played in the dirt next to the road while their parents sold bamboo slivers for tying up rice. Lunch was again a bowl of noodle soup from a roadside stall while admiring the stunning scenery. On arrival in Ban Dong, we dodged chickens, goats, and small black pigs before finding a suitable guesthouse. The conveniently located food stall across the way made for a perfect overnight stop.