Laos | Huay Xai - Luang Namtha - Boten | 19th to 22nd July 2015 | 11254km
We could have been back in Manchester as a scouser shouts abuse at us from a passing truck, but it was just Alan taking some backpackers to the border. We were rolling super slow to test out Flo’s knee, no major agenda for the day other than leaving Thailand. The border crossing was quiet and calm for once, apart from a group of Chinese tourists with long-lensed cameras coming the other way. Paying $36 for a 30 day visa was a bit annoying as we’ll be here less than a week, but not as bad as paying five times the price of a human per bike to be bussed the two minutes to Laos immigration. Out the other side we realise we're now cycling on the wrong (right) side of the road and pass a sign saying 221km to Boten, China is close.
It wasn’t exactly the boulangerie ridden boulevard we had built it up to be, but the muddy street though Huay Xai did have plenty of places offering up baguettes, and who were we to refuse after so long without decent bread! Yellow beer Lao crates are everywhere, enough to build houses with. After 30km we end up directly opposite where we stayed the night before in Chiang Khong, only this time on the other side of the Mekong. We spent the rest of the afternoon off catching up on diaries, books and tasting the aforementioned national beer. Town slowly filled up with people either having hopped off or waiting for the slow boat down to Luang Prabang. Killer bowls of Laos noodle soup for dinner.
Aware that another succession of mountains awaited Flora, she jumped on what we hoped would be her final bus. Sitting next to a french girl called Clara, she got told off by a the locals for talking too much. Several passengers were sick out of the window.
Not since Timor have the kids been quite so excited to see Falang (Laos for westerner, something to do with having long noses?), so lots of waving and Sabadee’ing all the way to Luang Namtha, the northern most city of Laos. There was plenty of sweaty climbing but not half as tough as those blistering days in Thailand and Malaysia as it stayed mainly cloudy. Muddy fields were being ploughed, irrigated and rice sewn by hand; it was Sunday and most generations seemed to be out helping. By mid afternoon, younger members of the working parties were losing concentration and became more interested in mud wrestling. The late afternoon saw them trudging back along the road and eventually big group washing sessions. So much happens road side in Asia, so cycling is such a good way to see it. When stopping for food just before the 100km mark, they had a tiny pet monkey that hung around my feet.
We’ve seen so few cycle tourists since New Zealand that it is genuinely a huge shock to look down the road and think ‘that person looks a bit like us’, then, 'oh!'. This time Luke was greeted with a well rehearsed, 'Hello, I Leeyuezhong from China cycling 18 years’. He reckons he’s on his last year and is heading down towards Australia and New Zealand to add to the 145 countries he’s been through. We’ve no idea how you go back to normal life after cycling around the world for 18 years. A few stories of his trip through Iran on $40 and later deportation from Somalia and he was off again. Treated ourselves to western style breakfast, enjoying watching them make toast very deftly with chop sticks. Took a rest day and went for a gentle ride with Clara. Locals mentioned a waterfall that was worth seeing. Paid 10,000 Kip (80p) to walk up the path which was pretty for 200m but then became washed away and impassable, with the waterfall only audible round the corner. The ‘ticket’ guys looks sheepish and suddenly don’t understand any English. Spring roles at the night market.
Rolled out together all loaded up for the first time in a while. Forty lumpy km through Laos, still on the relatively new AH3 road, part of Chinese funded routes into SE Asia. Flo managed the climbs but can feel pain when she has to push down hard. Villages small and rickety, trucks come through very quick. Hoping for a final Laos noodle soup before the border we pulled up at a place with the usual pans and fire going. A disinterested young girl doled out noodles into cold water by hand. Weren't sure if she was joking or not, all a bit odd. And inedible. Final approach to China and we already thought we were there, everything in Chinese apart from beer Lao signs. Big truck stops and associated facilities, all looking pretty grim in the drizzle. We saw an American tourer travelling light down from Kunming. He said it had taken him 14 days - we have 10 and are going ‘uphill’. He also said the G213 road we were due to follow was sublime but killer.