Laos, part 1

13.02.2013 – 18.02.2013

Wednesday:
Laos border – Khong:

At the beginning it looked like immigration would work out without an issue, I gave my second (empty) passport to the immigration and got Visa on Arrival (VA) fast and easily, price $36.
On a second booth (where they stamp the passport) they asked where is my Cambodian stamp and I had to show my other passport to them. After this started a real hassle. They were asking why I have two passports and I told them why I need them.
I also tried to tell them why I need to Lao visas (2nd visa just in case if I am turned back from Vietnam border).
Discussions lasted around 45 minutes and at this time they made several phone calls. I started to worry because sun was getting closer to the horizon and I was stuck at the border.
Final result was that they cancelled my VA, gave money back and stamped my other passport (where was Laos visa from Phnom Penh).
I cannot complain too much, because officials at the border were still nice and they just did they work. They called several times to check if it is possible to have two Laos visas at the same time.

Customs was 2km from the immigration, there I got my carnet stamped in 30 sec :). Funny thing is that no-one seemed to be interested what was inside my panniers and bags.

Sun had already set when I started to look for a place to sleep.
I stopped by at one resort, but they did not have restaurant (and I did not carry any food at this point). They told me another place, but they did not have internet, so I kept ongoing. Now it started to be already pitch black, so I rode quite slowly and I am happy that I did it. On one straight, a herd of water buffaloes were crossing the street and I was able to see them just around 10m away from them (no problems to stop)! If I would have ridden 80-100km/h, I would not had enough time to even touch my break levers…

At this point I decided to use gps to find a next town. I was surprised when I noticed that this town was actually in an island… I stopped asked few locals where I could find a ferry. Got instructions and found this expensive ferry ($3) to the island.

First hostel had restaurant and wifi, so I decided to stay over there for a night.

Before the dinner I met one French guy who had lost few screws from upstairs… He was just laughing, yelling and singing outside something like “I need love, I sleep under the stars” etc…

Thursday:
Khong – Don Det:

Wifi at the hostel did not work, so I decided to leace and go to a different island.
Luckily I was able to find an ATM close to this hotel, so I got some local currency to pay my room.

I decided to ride around this Don Khong island before heading to the other one.
There was nothing special on this island, so going around it was just a waste of time. Ferry to the mainland was again expensive (20 000Kip ($2)).

Someone had told me that I could get to Don Det island from Naka Sang. I found this village and noticed a group of longtail boats down to the shoreline. At this point I thought that it looks like they do not take any bikes to the island, so decided to have a coke there and think what I would do next.
When I was drinking my coke someone approached me and told that I could get my bike to a boat from 100m upstream.
One French couple was there with a scooter and they decided to share same ferry with me.

Ferry cost was 80 000Kip ($8), which was really expensive, but I decided to pay it.
Actually it was not a ferry, it was just two longtail boats which had small platform between them.

I waited till the French couple road their scooter to the ferry without a problem. I got down to the sandy beach and then I started to wonder how I could get the bike to the boat. There was only narrow wooden ramp between the shore and the boat. To make things even harder the boat platform was quite much higher than the beach, so I could not walk the bike to the boat either.
I asked this French guy to hold bike from one side and the boat owner from the other side while I would ride the bike to the boat.

Front wheel reached the platform without a problem, but rear wheel started slipping on this wooden ramp and caused bike to fall towards left.
It all happened really fast and next thing what I realized was that my bike was leaning against wooden railing (which got broken), I was standing one foot knee deep in the river while my other leg was still on top of the seat. Rear wheel was spinning in the water, so now I had a small problem, how to get the bike to the boat…

Soon there were few other men helping us to lift the bike and finally we got the bike to the boat! Big thanks to those locals and to this French guy for helping me!

Boat trip took around 15 minutes and then I saw the shoreline and thought “damn”… Shore was deep soft sand and from the shore there was really steep wooden ramp to the street. I knew immediately that this soft sand towards uphill would cause some problems…

This time I got the bike off the boat without a problem :), but soon I got stuck in the sand (could not gather enough speed to get through the sandybeach), but luckily someone came and pushed the bike while I was kicking speed with both of my legs. I managed to get enough speed to ride up to the street via this really steep ramp!
At the street I stopped to have a breath, wipe sweat away from my eyes and drink some tea.

I decided to ride to the southern tip of the other island (these two islands are connected via narrow bridge) and at the same time search a place to stay for a few nights.
I checked few places and finally found a nice place where I got my own Bungalow. Bungalow had only a ceiling fan, so I knew that it would be quite hot during the nights under the mosquito net. Best part of the bungalow was hammock on the porch.

Internet worked every now and then, but this seems to be a normal problem in Laos.

Later in the evening I had excellent fried chicken noodles and few cold beers. Air was still hot and humid and the mighty Mekong river was just few meters from my table, this felt really exotic!
It was interesting to notice how much different spices they were using compared to the similar food in Cambodia. Food was excellent, not too spicy, so I managed to finalize my portion without breaking a sweat.

Friday:
Don Det:

Even I had slept under the mosquito net, I had been bitten (luckily only once). Now my toe was itching like hell and I just hoped that the mosquito which had feasted with my toe did not carry Malaria…
Soon I was riding towards the southern tip of the island, fully equipped with my camera gear. I wanted to get a glimpse of these rare Mekong-river dolphins.

I rode to the southern tip of the islands (this is close to Cambodian border) and started asking offers for boat rides.
Price was 60000Kip ($6) for 30 minutes. Agreed and paid the requested price and soon I was sitting in a longtail boat heading towards the area where dolphins are known to be.
Boat owner said that there is roughly 70 dolphins left in this river and they can be found only from few places.
He guided the boat next to the deeper part of the river and then we just sat there waiting and hoping to see a glimpse of these creatures.

Soon I saw first, then second and third dolphin few hundred meters away. Boat owner said that in this part of the river there are roughly 10 dolphins, so it is quite hard to get close to them to get a picture. We could not go further south because then we would have crossed the border to Cambodia and this is not allowed.
I got few photos of these dolphins when they were roughly 50-100m away from the boat.

30 minutes went really fast, I could have stayed there easily for another 30 minutes to get better photos, but decided to head back to the shore.

I took a bit different route back to the bungalow and noticed that my GPS is moving a lot back and forth! Stopped to check it and realized that GPS holder had now broken from both sides… Well, I was still quite happy that my own holder design had lasted so long time.
Rest of the day I spent doing a quick fix to the GPS holder and writing Vietnam story.

Had an excellent BBQ pork for a dinner in the restaurant close to the bungalow. I had seen this restaurant kitchen earlier in the morning and noticed about a million flies in there (had an opinion at that point that I do not want to eat in this restaurant, but I thought that bbq food should be safe).

Saturday:
Don Det:

Before eight in the morning I was already riding towards the waterfall fully equipped with my camera gear.
Entrance fee to the falls was 25000kip ($2.5).
I do not know why they call these as waterfalls, for me they looked more like rapids. I bet this place looks more majestic during rainy season, now there was nothing special.

I walked around the area and met an Italian professional photographer, we spent some time talking and he mentioned that rainy season is best time to visit this area. Then river is really rough and dark clouds give a good contrast to the sky.

After an hour I rode back to the bungalow for breakfast and rest of the morning I spent washing my crispy motorcycle gear and continued writing my Vietnam story.

Later in the afternoon I walked to the area where boats leave back to the mainland. I wanted to know what time boats leave and where could I buy a ticket. There I was told that I could catch a boat at eight in the morning.

Close to the shore I saw two Austrian KTMs parked next to a restaurant.
I walked in to the restaurant and asked who owns those bikes outside.
Couple young guys (who had really bright greenish-bluish colored hair :)) admitted that they own these bikes. We had nice discussion about our trips and half an hour just flew by really fast. It was nice meeting other fellow bike riders in this place :).

At the bungalow I was resting in a hammock when I heard someone speaking finnish language! Group of young finnish guys passed my bungalow and I yelled my greetings to them.
I had a quick chat with them and got invited to their bungalow for the party later in the evening. They said that there I could had something stronger than beer (but not drinkable stuff)… I thanked them for the invitation but decided that beer is strong enough for me so no party tonight :).

For dinner I ordered a soup and fried noodles. Portions were huge, so I had a lot of work to get all of them down. At the same time four younger people sat to a table next to me, two French and two Finns. One of the Finns was already totally wasted at seven in the evening :D, his eyes were just staring to one point and speaking seemed to be extremely difficult…

Sunday:
Don Det – Thakhek:

At 07:30 I had paid the room and I was already on my way to the shore to check if any boats are there.
I saw one boat and went to ask if it´s going to the mainland and if I could get my bike to the boat (similar boat as on my way to the island).
Requested price was 100000, but soon we had agreed 90000. Got my bike to the shore without problems, did not even get stuck to the sand this time :).
I had learned something from the last time, so this time I walked my bike to the boat while boat owner held bike from the other side :). Seems like old dog can learn new things after all! 😀

After the boat ride I rode my bike off the boat (easier this way) and paid to the boat owner. It looked like he “forgot” to give money back so after I reminded him, he gave 20000 back. So this way I paid same 80000 as on my way to the island :).

Temperature was quite cool in the morning, only 26 degrees and I felt actually quite cold while riding towards Thakhek. I had 500km in front of me, so I knew that few hours later it would be darn hot again.

Road was in good shape, so I was able to keep the speed in 110km/h. Scenery did not offer anything special during the ride, only few hills close to Pakse and lot of burned fields.

During the ride I noticed a change how the houses look like. In south houses were mainly built from wood and looked like a shed. More north houses were built from bricks and even some work was done for the yards. Seems like money flows towards north and river Mekong to south.

Highest temperature during the day was 38C, not as hot as in previous days, but still pretty hot! During the day I stopped only couple of times for a drink, so I reached Thakhek quite early.

In Thakhek I stopped to a tourist information center to get an idea of different accommodation options.
When I took my helmet off I dropped one of my earplugs to the ground. I took ten minutes of crawling around the yard to find my missing earplug.
Transparent plugs are not good if you drop them, so next time it is better to get bright red ones.
Tourist info was totally useless, so I decided to ride around the town and ask prices from different hotels and guesthouses. None of the guesthouses had wifi, so finally I found myself from one hotel next to Mekong river. On the other side of the river I was Thailand.

For dinner I had morning glory and bbq duck. This was one of the worst dinners I have had in SE Asia, morning glory did not have any taste and duck was mainly just a pile of bones…

Monday:
Thakhek – Vietnam border:

I left the hotel at 10 heading towards Vietnam border. I did not know where I would find myself at the evening. Reason for this was that it was really unsure if I would be allowed to enter Vietnam with my bike (Normally you cannot enter Vietnam with big foreign motorcycle, but I decided to give it a go).

On my way to the border I passed nice looking hills and several caves (I thought that I would visit some of the caves if I would not be able to enter Vietnam).

Road was in good shape so I reached the border really fast.
I stopped next to a official looking building (looked like a customs office) and had to wait around one hour over there due to a officers lunch break.
When officers finished their lunch break they brought me one glass of tea and one glass of coffee! I was astonished! What a hospitality from these guys!

I met with the highest ranking customs officer and he told me to continue closer to the border. He also told me that if I have any problems with immigration or customs, I should ask them to give a call to him :). So I got his blessing to get through Lao border to Vietnam side :).
At the immigration I got my carnet (needed to tell them what to do with a carnet) and passport stamped. I was also told that if I cannot enter Vietnam and would return via this same border, Visa on Arrival would not be a problem. Excellent! Now my return was also guaranteed and I left Laos behind me with a wide smile on my face 😀

5 thoughts on “Laos, part 1

  1. Olet sie jo aika kaukana. Kiiti ku jaksat kertoilla, mun tulee aina yö vuorossa ihmeteltyä noita sun seikkailujas. Piä ittes terveenä ja mopo kunnossa niin saadaan täälläpäässä nautiskella tarinasta. kiitti vaan kovasti =). P-karjalassaki alkaa oleen lämmintä, huomenna sattaa 20c mennä puhki, ja sua palelee ku on +26c, niin se reissu mukauttaa miestä eri ilman aloihin. Onks tää sitä ilmastonmuutosta? =)

    • Moro Mikko,

      Terveiset täältä eteläiseltä pallonpuoliskolta.
      Joo, pitää kirjoitella lisää päivityksiä tässä mahdollisimman pian.
      On se tosiaan kumma kuinka nopeasti kroppa tottuu erilaisiin lämpötiloihin!

      -Marko

  2. I just love these photos! You could easily have a second career as a professional photographer. My favorite this time is exactly the same as E’s, pretty girl. Enjoy the ride and keep on posting. Cheers!

  3. wow, really great pix! That shade one is really amazing! also love the little pouring water girl and the squinty dog!

    • Thanks E,

      Dog was funny, did no even blink when I walked closer.
      Shade was close to the waterfalls, so had plenty of time to take that photo.
      There were lot of kids playing, but this girl was so focused for what she was doing 🙂

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