Monday 18th of December – 2023 – Thakhek Loop
The ride across the countryside is magnificent with stunning views. The road is not too bad with many potholes and few rough patches due to landslides.
Once we reach a small town we stop at a clothes shop to buy hoodies and gloves. It is still fairly cold.
As you may guess, the moment we buy that the weather warms up! Sod’s Law always apply!
In the evening we arrive at our guesthouse for the night. We booked a guesthouse within walking distance of the main local attraction : Kong Lor cave. The cave is enormous and 7 km long. By boat it can be navigated to its exit on the other side, joining another village. Some people put their bikes on the thin small boats to pass to the other side. We are considering that but want to check out the “lay of the land” first. After the cave, there is a 60km track that gets back to the main road. Could be nice.
As it is late, the staff let us in to have a look for free. We walk down to the big entrance to the cave. There is a waterfall coming out. To access the cave involves a steep deep sandy drop to access the river, then cross the river via a flimsy bamboo bridge, then walk across deep sand and over rocks up and down. The boats are tiny, barely big enough to fit a scooter. We decide against it as there are so many things that can go wrong. Should a scooter be damaged and lost in the water if the boat flips, we would have to pay 1,500 USD. Not worth it. We walk back to our guesthouse.
Tuesday 19th December 2023 – Thakhek loop
As I ride out of the hotel I have to stop, I have a puncture. No sign of damage to the tyre. A girl from the hotel jump into her scooter and ask me to follow her. I follow with Alistair’s scooter while he pushes my bike. Having a husband has its uses!!!
About a mile away there is a tiny workshop, shop, everything shop. The girl helps explain my predicament and wait for Alistair to arrive before returning to her jab in the hotel. that is Laos in a nutshell, people are so nice. We try using Google translate to ask the lad working on my scooter to put a new inner tube as the old one already has two puncture repairs. The lad reply “Vietnam”. We show the same screen to the older lady with the same answer. Alistair switch to Vietnamese and we finally communicate. While all this is going on and old man turn up and we speak in French together for a while. Cost of all this? 2.5 USD! We give the lad a good tip and get off.
The last section of the loop involves a 130kms of main highway that is no fun at all. Most travellers just ride to the intersection and turn back the way they came. We do the same as we don’t fancy a full miserable day on the Highway when we can ride across beautiful mountain roads.
We stop here and there, on the way, to view points or points of interest.
When we reach the worst section of road, a bit rough and bumpy, we come across Julie, riding the bike while Marion is walking behind. We stop to have a chat. The girls had a bad fall the day before at they got over a pothole that they saw at the last minute. With the shadow from trees it is hard to see them. They are injured with scratches and skin lesions but seem to manage.
After a long chat we decide we might catch up in the evening as we all stop in the same village.
Back to Sabbaidee guesthouse, the big fire is already starting. After getting in our room and a shower we go to the main area by the fire and have a long chat with a retired Dutchman. He was already there two days ago, going slowly on the scooter. Interesting guy to talk to, he travelled all over the world with his job on merchants and passenger boats.
We pass on the BBQ that night. We have a couple of beers and speak to 3 travellers from Hungary. First time we met backpackers from there so it is an interesting chat. Too tired to go to check on Julie and Marion at their guesthouse we decide to just go to sleep early.
Wednesday 20th December 2023 – Thakhek
It is rather cool so I start and ride all day with my brand new hoody and gloves!
The ride to Thakhek is nice. We take few side roads to visit some places. One of them is called the “ghost boat”. It lays by the side of an immense reservoir, abandoned. Maybe it was a hotel or restaurant? Maybe someone had grand plans few years ago? The place is fenced, but this being Laos, trespassing is not an issue! We get under the barbed wire, like the locals, and walk around and in the boat. The weather is incredibly windy and the immense reservoir looks like an angry sea. It still has some old trees sticking out of the water, showing it was, once upon a time, a forest. A dam has been built and a hydroelectric power station is being completed, hence we see many flooded forests turn into reservoirs.
Eventually we get back to Thakhek. We ride to a money changer to exchange some bahts. The rate is 640 Kip per baht, the bank rate is 588! Not sure why they give us more money than the official rate but we are happy to get that! The Kip has been nosediving for the last few years. I guess people prefer stable currencies and Thai Baht is very stable.
The Kip was around 8500 to 9000 to the USD until august 2021. Since then it has nosedived to 21,000 to the dollar! It must be hard for the locals.
At the guesthouse we see Mozie again as he is waiting for his nightbus to Vientiane. He will go to Vang Vieng next so we might probably see him there.
Walking out in the evening we also see our retire marine engineer Dutchman having a beer by the river. We join him and have a nice time listening to his stories from all over the world.
Thursday 21st December 2023 – Vientiane
With the bus station miles away out of town, we had bought our tickets to Vientiane at the usual shop/travel agency/scooter rental etc… that pop up everywhere in these countries. It is convenient as it includes transfer to the bus station and avoid the chaos there.
Our bus leaves at 9:30 and we were told to get at the shop at 8:30. We get there and wait as they deal with the scooters rentals. Eventually we are asked what we want and then a woman runs to a tuktuk driver with a load of cash. Basically our bus tickets are not booked. The tuktuk driver takes us to the bus station then rushes off to buy our tickets while we load our backpacks.
Ah well, it works. This time “VIP Bus” has AirCon and real sits! We spot Julie and sit across the aisle from her. She shows us photos of her main injury and it looks bad as all the skin has been ripped away. She is clearly in pain. Marion is off to Vietnam so she is already gone. Julie is flying tomorrow to Bali. We urge her to seek proper medical help once in Bali, as it looks bad, Although she is carefully desinfecting and taking antibiotics she should get it checked.
The drive to Vientiane is as slow and bad as the previous one. It takes a total of nearly 9 hours to cover 200 miles.
In the seat in front of us is a local woman who is also in a bad way. We deduce, from the fact their scooter and luggage were loaded in the bus, and her shredded top, that she probably had a bad fall from the scooter too. Her husband is ok but she can barely walk. She is also clearly in a lot of pain. Mid way to Vientiane they get off. I hope some family picked them up in a car as I don’t think she could have been riding pillion with her husband.
We get to Vientiane eventually in the evening.
Anabel and Vim, by WhatsApp, told me that they paid 50,000 Kip per person for the ride to the town centre, 11kms away. The tuktuk guy asks for 100k but we eventually get it down to 50. Two other French lads ride with us and I tell the driver same same for them.
The tuktuk also board a Chinese couple and carry some locals with big bags.
The tuktuk then get on the way, going completely on the opposite direction to the town. Off we go on a mystery tour then. We eventually stop in the middle of nowhere in some hotel. The Chinese couple gets off, looks around. They don’t look impressed. They get back in and off we go again.
This time we head back to town where, after a long ride we stop to another random guesthouse. Chinese couple not impressed. Eventually the driver dump us and the French lads in the “town centre” in some random place. Fortunately we are about 400m from our hotel.
So after a long day we can have a rest. The place seem to be mainly for Chinese tourists or business people. The manageress does not seem impress with us dirty backpackers and frown at me. Obviously we are given the room that face a wall 1m away from our room’s window. Such is life. I guess rooms with a view are not for us!
Next to come: famous party village Vang Vieng