Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Dien Bien Phu to Luang Prabang, Laos, Part 1

Vietnam/Laos border

This Motortaxi was hired by Thuan to lead us to the border which is about 30 km away. To be exact, he needed this taxi driver taking him back to Dien Bien Phu from the border. There was bus service but he wasn't sure what time we would complete the formality crossing the border. With the Motortaxi, he would be sure of returning to Dien Bien Phu any time. The custom office was expecting us as Thuan had reported to Vietnamese authority yesterday. The immigration and custom building looked new and the border was very quite. We were the only one at the border this time.

After the car was cleared to leave, we drove the car to the front of the immigration building. Here I had a chance to say goodbye to Thuan. "Thank you, Thuan, for traveling with us for the past 20 days. You had provided useful information about the route we were taking and helped us to keep our schedule so that we could leave exactly on 6 June. I wish you all the best and be successful in tourism industry." The border police lifted the gantry and off we went. Until we were 100 meter away, we stopped and took a picture. We were out of Vietnam now.

This was the last building on Vietnam side flying Vietnamese flag on the gateway. At the far end, we could see Laos flag flying. Pave road was up to the gateway of Vietnam. As soon as you crossed the gateway of Laos, it was laterite road. A contrast that shows the financial strength of these two countries.

New Laos Immigration & Custom location
According to the information in Lonely Planet, Laos immigration check point is 3 km after Vietnam border. The was a couple of building about 3 km away but was unmanned. So we continued our search driving forward for 2 km and nothing was in sight. With our experience of going through custom without stopping when we left Laos the last time, we were debating if the building we saw was indeed their immigration. Now we were in the middle of nowhere. We decided to go another km or two before we turned back on the narrow mountain road. We saw this new building just before we gave up. This is the new building for immigration about 5 to 6 km away from Vietnam border. For someone who crosses the border by bus, it would be a longer walk than before.

Car clearance

It took us about 45 minutes to complete the formality of car crossing. Neo Chian tried using the carnet de passage for the car. It worked. The Laos custom processed the document efficiently. The custom officer spoke good English. We paid 25,000 Kips for the car and 10,000 Kips each for both of us. At the immigration office, there was a table displaying the cost of visa for different nationality on top of the immigration fee. As Singaporean, we do not require visa to enter Laos. After we crossed the barrier, we stopped the car and took a picture. As soon as we turned the corner, we were back to the laterite road for almost 50 km.

When we made our way down the mountain, we went through many minority villages. We met and welcome by childern playing in mud water, the goat family suntanning and the cow family meeting on the road.

First obstacle

The road ended in front of a small stream about 10 meter wide. There was a pedestrian bridge at one side. We stopped the car and walked across the bridge and checked the water. It wasn't deep and we figured out we could cross. Neo Chian walked back to the car and drove across. We passed the first test. Well done, Neo Chian.

More Obstacles

Not for long, we noticed a beautiful suspension pedestrain bridge spanning across a river. Just around the corner, we were stunned to see the road leading into a river, at least more than 30 meters wide. We parked the car and walked to the river. Neo Chian and I stared at the river for a couple of minutes and we didn't know how should we cross this river. Then a truck came to the river at the opposite side and stopped. All the passengers came out of the truck and walked to our side. For a moment we thought the truck decided not to cross the river. No, the drive got back to the truck and drove straight through without hesitation. No problem! The truck stopped after it came out of water, all the passengers climbed back to the truck and speed off. All that happens in last than a couple of minutes. It was their daily routine.

We wasn't sure of the path taken by the truck. So, I took off my shoes and walked into the river. Neo Chian drove behind me until we crossed the river. Before I could put on my shoes, Neo Chian drove through another water about 50 meters away. He was so charged up for closing river that he forgot about his co-driver.

We looked back at the suspension bridge and the two streams

Laos Countryside

We traveled on laterite road and went through many villages. Some part of the road were really bad due to the rain. The road became soggy, mushy and full of potholes. The speed was real slow. Our car was so dirty that as if we had gone through a offroad car rallie.

The road ended at Nam Ou river, Muang Khua. This time, we could not drive across. We saw a ferry but could find the ticketing office. Luckily, the operater spotted Neo Chian when he went down to the river front. On the other side of the river, there was a bus loading its cargo on top of the bus. Appearently, the car doesn't cross on the feery. It just terminate on both side of the river. If you are on the other side, you need to cross the river by small boat and catch the bus.

We met three Irishmen touring Indochina on bike. They started from Bangkok and rode to Cambodia. They entered Vietnam from HCM city and traveled to Ha Noi then Dien Bien Phu on almost similar to our route. They crossed Dien Bien Phu border one day earlier. We met them at the restaurant in Muang Khua having lunch. They took six months off from work for this adventure. They are heading for Luang Prabang, then to Vientiane. From there, they will cross into Thailand and head for Bangkok. Two of them would fly home and one of them will continue to Australia. We were tired driving from Dien Bien Phu to here. One stretch of uphill is about 20 km. They said that was the toughest stretch so far. We salute them for their courage of seeing the world on bicycle. We wish them a safe journey.

View of the crossing from the other side of Nam Ou river.

After Muang Khua, there were many spots of landslide and reduced the land to one. Repair works were underway. The truck unloaded the granite for repair and it blocked our way. Neo Chian got out of the car and helped them to move the stone by hand clearing the path for car. Neo Chian was ready to guide me through the path.
We couldn't make it to Luang Prabang and we decided to stop at Oudomxay for a night.

1 comment:

  1. it looks v fun crossing the rivers and streams, one checking by foot (No 11), the other driving, after a while, neo chian doesnt care much about whats going on infront, just "chiong" with his pajero into the water and crossed the river, well done pajero!! it passed the test to show that it can swim in the sea!!