22 December 2011
Today's main task is not the ride, but the border crossing into Vietnam. The weather is overcast, and unstable with it. I think there's a real chance of rain, and try to make quick progress.
About 10km from the border I see a bike tourist headed the other way. I slow up and he calls out 'Hi Matthew'. After an initial double take, I respond by suggesting he's run into Steve and Jane. Kies is Dutch, and seems well experienced with his bike touring - his Ortlieb panniers are 12 years old and showing it, but still going strong. He braindumps information onto me; I feel unable to offer much of use in return.
I grab some eats in Dansavan, the last town before the border post. I find interfacing with governments easier on a full stomach. Eggs, a couple of weeny links of Lao sausage and a wodge of sticky rice and I'm ready to roll again. I stop again and pack three mini baguettes for good measure.
I change my remaining kip at the border with the chain manny women. Their initial offer is daylight robbery. We arrive at a rate that gives them something like one pound fifty in commission, which is fine by me - they run costs, y'know: calculator batteries, seeds to chew on... what a life.
Both border posts are straightforward - there's so much two-wheeled traffic crossing this border it's easy to see where to go and to keep an eye on the bike while doing paperwork.
The Laos border guards ask for a dollar. As they've already stamped my passport, when I indicate that I want a receipt for their obviously unofficial fee, they just wave me on. The Vietnamese border guard has more over me - he ain't stamping until he gets his buck, and I'm properly up the creek if he refuses the stamp. I hand over a greenback with a cheery 'God bless America', while thinking about how right now I'd be fine with this country getting bombed back to the Dark Ages all over again.
The road climbs a bit towards Khe Sanh, but it does it gradually and in stages, so it's very manageable. The rain I've been expecting finally shows itself. I pitstop to put my top tube bag into a pannier. It's only a few kilometres more, but the rain is feeble and drizzly and does nothing for morale. The first hotel I stop at looks fine, and has WiFi. After a hot shower, things are looking better.
Wow, I speak zero Vietnamese. Dinner is ordered by pointing at a sign outside a small restaurant with the mildly amusing name Be Thin. I know a few food words, but my pronunciation is non-existent, as is anything approaching grammar. I go for bun bo, which I'm expecting to be a beef noodle dish. It is. Woohoo! This game could turn out to be easier than I'd thought.
65km, 20.0km/h, 3hr14min, 2547km