Tag Archives: puncture

Exploring the mountains in Laos

30 Jan

The next day we woke up to lovely warm sunshine so decided to have a coffee upstairs outside by the guesthouse. We were are staying has seven wooden bungalows surrounding a little garden where I am writing this

and a main guesthouse. There is an outside area to eat and drink which is much more sociable than a hotel. The boys who got us the coffee immediately descended so they could try out their English…it was their first day of a kind of work experience arrangement where they study English at school amongst other subjects, and then practice it working in guesthouses or on tourist sites. They wanted to know everything, how old we were, where we had been, where we were going, what the temperature is like in England, what our hobbies were – coffee turned into An Audience With Craig and Sarah which when you’ve just woken up and have only been somewhere a day, was quite intense!

But they were very sweet and had a really cute habit of if when they didn’t know how to say something in English, they’d have a go but just say it really, really quietly :) They taught us the words for Hello (sabadee) and Thank you (cuptai) and laughed at our attempts to say all their names.

We wanted to see what we had missed in the dark bit of the bus journey so we went and got another motorbike (sigh) for 100,000 kip for the day. I hated this stupid bike

because unlike the other ones I’ve been on, it was a manual but with an automatic clutch so it was really jerky. It therefore felt even less safe than the previous ones so whereas I was happy going at a leisurely 30 km/h (and by happy I mean I could stop watching the road for holes/cockerels/children, unclench my hands from Craig’s trousers and look at what we were going past) but over 40 km/h was just too nervewracking as although the roads were quite compared to Vietnam, they are not in as good condition and this happens all the time



After about 15 minutes we had to stop as the back wheel had gone flat. Luckily, there’s a mechanic every 300 yards because this kind of thing happens all the time. So Craig pushed the bike back to the last one and with some pointing and smiling, we were soon sitting on little bamboo stools, having a cold drink and watching a man repair the tyre

It seems that two white people don’t often do this so we had an audience of our own – the mechanic’s friends actually stopped in their truck to watch us watch him. He patched it up in about 15 minutes and held up five fingers when it was time to pay. I thought this meant 50,000 so gave him that…and got 30,000 change. So two bottles of drink and a tyre change cost a whole £1.60. Reminds me why I left England!

We went out towards the mountains (there’s only one road so even I can’t get lost here!) and saw a little sign in English and Laos saying waterfall 2km. We headed off down the little dirt track and after some serious off-road scootering and trekking through some bushes, we found it

We paddled for a bit before turning round to come back home as we hadn’t had any breakfast or lunch, but on the way back we saw another handwritten sign – “caves, 5km”. We couldn’t go past that so off we went down another dirt track to find them. We soon discovered that it was actually just a quick way to kill tourists – there was a rope tied across the road (handily the same colour as the road) which I saw at the last minute so we stopped just time and a little old man came out and gave us tickets to the caves for 4,000 kip each and undid the rope so we could go over it.

We got to where the parking was for the caves and there was no one around. We walked down many, many steps


before coming to a cave that had a sign saying Hospital Cave. As we hadn’t planned to come here, we didn’t have a torch and it suddenly occurred to us that exploring caves in the dark wouldn’t be as much fun as we thought. We walked to the next one to find it was locked and had six huge beehives at the mouth

Worst tourist attraction ever? We turned round to find two guides behind us – we were obviously meant to wait for them when we parked :) They unlocked the gate and gave us torches and led us into the cave. It was enormous…it was used for residence during the war and at one point held 1,000 soldiers. It was hot and you had to squeeze through little gaps to get to bigger caves – we must have been in there for half an hour or so. The guides were very nice and although they didn’t speak English, they showed us their favourite formations and pointed out where bats were sleeping.

Then came the arduous climb back up the million steps to get back to the bike. The guides were giggling as they still had their coats on and hadn’t even broken a sweat, whereas we were puce and sweating. Two more English tourists turned up when we got back to where the bike was and looked positively alarmed until we explained that we had been climbing steps for 15 minutes :)

We got back on the bike to head home and have a shower. We thought we’d have a beer at the guesthouse before finding somewhere in the town to eat…and as soon as we sat down, the four boys leapt on us again with 44,000 questions. I had brought my laptop, hoping to be able to update this, but it soon had to be abandoned as they kept talking and talking. We ended up eating there was it easier, and then Trille, Bror and two other people staying here joined us so the boys lit the bonfire and had a lovely evening

17 hours on a bus – leaving Vinh for Laos

30 Jan

…Surprisingly they did honour the $25 rate so after looking round a few more damp hotels, we decided to book another night as the bus to Laos left at 6am so we’d already missed it by the time we got up. We thought getting a good night’s sleep before a 12 hour bus journey was probably a good idea, despite the expense. The bus didn’t go to Vientiane like we’d hoped but it did go to Phonsavan which was in the right direction, and more importantly, 27 degrees according to the net so that was fine as North Vietnam was freezing. Our visa is still valid for Vietnam until March so we might go to the South after Laos, but we already visited Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City on our trip last year.

We went back upstairs to chill out for the day and enjoy the last bit of luxury for a while but whilst I was googling “what to do in Vinh” – surprisingly there was no results – we found that there was a KFC about 20 minutes away. Given that there was nothing else to do as the town is not geared up for tourists at all due to the main visitors being on business, we went to try and find the KFC to treat ourselves.

By the time we got there we were really hungry – this is in pounds.

As with most fast food experiences, somehow it never lives up to your expectations. The “queue” was typical Vietnamese style – this time a sticky group of children clamouring for ice cream – so it took forever to get served and it wasn’t quite what we ordered or particularly nice so we left in a film of grease and disappointment. However, we did find 60,000 dong on the way back so not a total waste of time :)

We then found that our hotel had misunderstood what we had asked earlier and did not have any dollars we could buy for our Laos visas ($35 each). Craig ended up trying pretty much every other hotel in Vinh before he found one who could change some money. He came back with $100 as this was the smallest they had! We then got a fairly early night as we had to be up at 4.30 the next day to get to the bus station in time and say good bye to grim Vinh

We got the taxi to the bus station and found two of the three Westerners we saw in Vinh on the bus. Everyone else was Vietnamese and as usual, the bus was completely packed with about 15 people sitting on plastic chairs in the aisle. It was fairly dirty

as was the habit of several of the men on the bus of hacking up phlegm and then spitting it on the floor where they were sitting :I The Norwegians told us later that the guy next to them was plucking his stubble…and then eating it. Lovely. Under every seat was a case of beer – not in-bus entertainment as I hoped – but due to be delivered to various tiny villages and shops along the way.

We paid the driver 450,000 dong each (I think it was meant to be 470,000 dong each but he didn’t have any change – £14 each is not bad for a 600+km journey) and left on time off into beautiful, if slightly soggy, countryside

We stopped after about 3 hours for some food and to go to the loo. Having looked at the dogs and flies in the kitchen we gave the food a miss but got chatting to the two Norwegians on our bus. They are taking a sabbatical from work before returning to Europe to meet their six children for a two month Croatian cruise on their yacht :) The toilets were as unappealing as the food – the doors had gaps in and there was a guy staring at me so I had to wait for ages for him to get the message and go away.

After about 7 hours, the sun finally broke through as we got nearer Laos and suddenly we were in the mountains going through the most gorgeous scenery

It was so beautiful I didn’t want to sleep. We were on one road through the mountains, carpeted with blue forget-me-nots,

the whole way until we stopped at the border control. The bus driver shepherded us through which was nice of him as we didn’t have a clue what to do and then we waited for the other 50 or so Vietnamese to get their passports stamped.

The blue sky slipped into red as the sunset enveloped the mountains (sadly the bus, being a bus, didn’t stop for me to get any good photographs of this!) and we settled down for the last bit of the journey. Until we stopped in the pitch black in the middle of nowhere. The bus driver got off and kept looking at our side of the bus…one of the wheels directly underneath our seats had gone flat and something had caught fire…so the driver threw a bottle of water on it and started jacking up the bus after ordering everyone off. This gave Craig an excuse to show off his head torch and to help undo the wheel nuts so he made instant friends with the driver :) I just enjoyed looking up at the stars because although you can see the same constellations in England, as there was no light pollution where we stopped, you could see a million more. Everyone else just went for a wee…against the bus, in the middle of the road, at the sides of the road…no one seemed to care!!

Eventually we got going again and finally reached Phonsavan at 9.30pm – nearly 16 hours after we set off from Vinh. The puncture, the border controls  The Norwegians, Bror and Trille, were planning to stay at the same guesthouse as us so we decided to walk together to see if we could find it. We got a bit lost so a boy offered to show us the way. We were pretty close but he showed us which track it was up and then stood there. It dawned on us he wanted a tip but neither of us had any kip as nothing was open and there was nowhere to change money in Vinh. He told us to put it on the room so Bror asked the receptionist to give him 10,000 kip ($1 is 7,000, £1 is 12,500). He stood there some more and then said he wanted 20,000 which, considering our wooden bungalow was costing us 50,000 kip (£4, win) for a whole night, was too much. It was beyond awkward but the receptionist eventually gave him the 10,000 and told him to go away, which he finally did. Hopefully he won’t come back to our bungalows and stab us in the night.

We dumped the bags and went out for a meal and a beer

Tired bus faces!