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Roving Rant Day 14 - That Phanom to Vientiane

Updated: Nov 12, 2018

So today was our last ditch attempt at getting in Laos. We’d tried 3 times to get into Cambodia & succeeded third time lucky, so would we succeed on our second (and last) attempt to get into Laos? Well, I’m sitting in a very nice room at the Crowne Plaza hotel, having eaten a very nice French meal, in the capital of Laos, Vientiane. We made it! Perseverance & a bit of knowledge of when & where to push from our previous brushes with authority meant we won through & rode through the border on our bikes! The Thai side at first refused to process our documents because they said that Laos customs would turn us back due to the fact that they only allowed Thai bikes in if they were ridden by their owners. Slightly different reason from the first border... I made an impassioned plea that we’d come all the way from New Zealand just to cross into Laos & Simon explained that we’d had good success at talking to the Cambodian customs people ourselves, so could we? After saying that his neck would be on the line for allowing us through, he went away to see & came back saying he would pass us through, but we may get turned back. That was the only chance we wanted. On the Laos side, all was easy & good, with charming officials & not a breath of a problem! Where the real issues lie & why they are trying to make it so hard, is anyone’s guess right now. But at this moment, I don’t care, we made it through to the next leg of our adventure. The first new country I’ve been to in, well, decades!

So we celebrated by booking a good hotel (at a very reasonable rate, I hasten to add) & eating out in a great French Bistro. The hotel I could have pictured, as the big chains are much the same all over Asia, but the French Bistro was a delight. I had the special, Rabbit stew with mash, which our delightful waitress said came from Australia, but the French co-owner told us later was actually Laos-bred. Wherever it was from, it was truly delicious. Simon had a “spot on” pork roast with mash. We washed it down with a bottle of French wine, which cost more than the meals & my dessert combined, but boy was it worth it! I finished off with a fried white chocolate spring roll. I know, sounds weird, but it was recommended so I gave it a go - gorgeous! I couldn’t recommend this place highly enough. It struck a fine balance between casual dining & fine dining - great food in a relaxed & convivial atmosphere. It says something that most of the voices I could hear were talking French. It’s called ATMOS (as the old place used to be called atmosphere), so if you ever get to Vientiane, try it!

I took a couple of pictures from outside & struck up a conversation with the other co-owner. Who turned out to be an Australian miner who was currently on contract in the Congo & spent 3 weeks in the month in Africa & one week in Laos. He was a bike rider, so a few tips about how to deal with local police didn’t go amiss. We had taken a tuktuk to the restaurant, but decided to walk back & Simon again questioned my sense of direction as I led him through back streets, but we ended up spot on back at the hotel! Not bad for in the dark after a good bottle of wine in a strange city :)

Riding into the capital, I started following a black Hyundai van when I noticed he had a picture of Kim Jong-Un stuck on his back window. That was odd, but what really took the biscuit was the fact that Kim’s arm was stuck to his rear window washer, so when he turned it on, Kim waved! I don’t know if he was a fan, or just someone with a great sense of humour, but I like to think the latter, especially as he turned it on, just once, to wave at me! Forgive the image quality, I was riding at the time!

The day started off well, albeit with a little bit of trepidation, but we did have a contingency plan to ride on to Chiang Mai (after a day visit) if the bikes weren’t allowed in. It was cooler this morning which made the long straight fast riding we were doing that much more comfortable. We stopped off in the main square of That Phanom to see the temple & the market, where you again could buy all and sundry. One particularly interesting stall was a fish & amphibious reptile stall selling plastic bags full of eels, fish, frogs, snails etc. Shame we weren’t staying longer :) I played quite a lot of music, enjoying some of the old Gabriel, Genesis, Collins classics, mixed in with Queen & Pink Floyd. Somehow rocking your head to Bohemian Rhapsody while riding through the Thai countryside seemed entirely appropriate.

We have grown used to seeing many people riding a single moped, but a young girl, maybe about 6, standing on the seat behind her father, hands lightly on his shoulders, while he did about 60 down the dual carriageway made us both stare! And some of the vehicles you see are astounding. A great example, which I have pictured here was a pretty much hand assembled truck, beautifully painted, but he obviously ran out of money or expertise before he could fit a bonnet or windscreen! Ah, you’ve got to love the ingenuity & fun of the Thai people!

As soon as we managed to cross the border into Laos, the pace of life slowed. Cars drove to the speed limit, mopeds rode slightly faster but in a relaxed organised way & life seems simpler, less cluttered. I hope this impression pays out over the next few days we intend to be here. We’re probably heading into the hills tomorrow & I’m not sure what the wifi is going to be like (but I’ve been continuously amazed by it in the most out of the way places so far!) If there is a hiatus of a couple of days, apologies, but as Arnie used to say... “I’ll be back” :)

You’ll find all the images from my Rovings here:

RiKsRovingRant Gallery

RiKsRovingRant Gallery 2

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