57.5km, 4hr 10 mins, av 13.8km/hr, max 42.4km/hr
We leave our little cabin at Naxay I to the din of what sound like headless chickens squarking themselves to death. There are chickens everywhere in Laos, but there seems to be a particularly high concentration hanging out behind, and under, our cabin.
After stocking up on doughnut-based goodies at the market, we start the 57.5km ride to the Laos/Vietnam border. Skies are cloudy but rain holds off until a small mountain pass takes us up to cloud/mist level and we get drizzled on a little. The climb isn’t too arduous, but the descent feels much steeper. The road on the descent is also in poor condition which means we have to go much slower than we’d like. On the way down, we meet another cycle tourist, Ernst from Germany, who warns us of treacherous road conditions ahead in Vietnam, as well as giving us a name and number of a friend in Hanoi who might be able to put us up. Nice guy!
On the other side of the hills the landscape morphs once more into wide, flat-bottomed valleys with rice paddies. This is the first time we’ve seen such scenery; the fields, the space, the flat road, the smiling children, it’s like some kind of cycling paradise. Definitely the most fun we’ve had on two wheels so far.
We reach the border just after lunch. From the hillside before the border you can see both the Lao and Vietnam checkpoints, with flags raised. In-between, a kind of no-man’s land and a bridge over a river, which presumably marks the border.
Getting out of Laos and into Vietnam is absolutely fine, with no delays or fees to pay, just lots of friendly smiles and waves of the hand. With the minimum of fuss, we’re in Vietnam!
The whole concept of international borders is kind of strange, and here it feels really odd to walk a few hundred yards and suddenly be in a different nation, with a different language, culture and history. It also looks markedly different, straight away. Not to mince words, Na Meo is a bit of a dump. It feels messy and busy and although we get a few friendly greetings, it definitely feels like we’re being watched more. We stop at the first guesthouse we come across (maybe not the best move but sometimes the easy option is the one to go for), it’s on the right as you cycle from the border, and has a ‘hotel’ sign out front. We pay 200,000 dong for an OK room with hot water and wifi. We don’t even think to haggle.
Our first dining experience in Vietnam isn’t great. There are language barriers for sure, but we also haven’t got the hang of a) being really specific about what we want, b) making double sure we’ve been understood, and c) confirming the price before the meal, rather than after. In the end we get a plate of mystery meat, rice, 4 boiled eggs, and a bowl of cabbage. Not quite what we were after. The only consolation is that, in the general confusion caused by the mix up and us then leaving the restaurant early, we don’t end up paying for any of it.
While eating we meet another cycle tourist; he’s had a long day in the saddle coming in the other direction (on Route 217). He tells of a 10 hour day, with thick mud and lots of pushing. Route 217 is currently being widened and rebuilt and is, by all accounts, a muddy quagmire right now (he’s not the first person to tell us this – Ernst’s bike was caked in mud too, and we even heard warnings about the road when we were in Phonsovan.) This leave us with a decision to make tomorrow – risk the mud, miles and dust, or risk being ripped off by the notorious Na Meo bus drivers…