Tag Archives: wild camping

Hue to Mui Ne 28 May – 8 June 2013

Long days on the bike, sticky nights in the tent (frustratingly the wind that dogs us all afternoon disappears at sundown), an impressive imperial palace at Hue, beautifully restored merchants’ houses in Hoi An (not to mention shopping opportunities galore and no damn space in the panniers)….and the extraordinary variety of things simply happening in every day Vietnamese life alongside Route One.

It’s been a tough few days. We usually cover around 80km a day. In the last 6 days we’ve ridden over 780. Our shortest day was 5hrs 45min pedaling (107km) and our longest was 8hrs 36min (160km). These long days have been partly due to the fact that we’re getting up at the crack of dawn to beat the heat but then cycling through the heat anyway as it’s really hard to find anywhere to camp so we tend to leave it until near sun-down to reduce the chance of discovery, and partly due to the fact that we wanted to ‘buy’ ourselves a couple of extra days sightseeing when we get to Ho Chi Minh City as we don’t think the single day our previous itinerary allowed would be nearly enough.

Here’s a run-through of a typical day since leaving Hue: the alarm goes off at 5am and we’re on the road a bit after 6 (having reduced breakfast to a hastily assembled and scoffed mashed banana baguette, or in Keith’s case two baguettes with mashed banana and brown sugar……and I thought I was meant to have the sweet tooth!). We try to get 20-30km done before stopping for breakfast number 2 (noodle soup, or rice and meat). Sometimes, if we’re peckish, we have a third breakfast of snacky things bought in the market whilst shopping for vegetables for our evening meal. Bananas and lychees keep us going until lunchtime (more noodle soup or rice & meat) and then in the afternoon we have more bananas or lychees and sometimes a nice big water-melon (warm water-melon is remarkably refreshing). We also stop a couple of times during the day for either fresh coconut or fresh sugar-cane juice. It’s amazing how the hours disappear. Even though you’re enjoying long summer days back in the UK we barely get 13 hours of daylight here (although what it lacks in hours it makes up for in intensity). All of a sudden it’s 5pm and we’re starting to look for a campsite. It’s tiring riding long days but more rewarding than the relentless hills through China, Laos and Northern Vietnam…at least the flat terrain means we’re getting some good distance covered.

Lunch number two....not all that long after breakfast number three was devoured.

Lunch number two….not all that long after breakfast number three was devoured.

Before this recent stint of pedaling activity we’d had a couple of sightseeing stops in two very different but both enjoyable locations. Our last blog post saw us arriving into Hue (pronounced Hway not Hugh), the old capital of the Nguyen dynasty which ruled Vietnam for almost 150 years prior to 1945 (even though it was part of French Indochina). The city of Hue suffered considerable damage in the struggle between North and South Vietnam and after the war ended the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party had no interest in restoring what they saw as a symbol of the old feudal regime and left already damaged buildings to fall further into disrepair. More recently though, the Party has recognized the value of the citadel as a national treasure and renovation work is underway to restore this UNESCO World Heritage Site to its former glory. Even semi-restored the site is impressive. Contained within walls 10km in circumference the citadel includes a forbidden city where only the Emporer, his concubines and some eunuchs were allowed to tread – on pain of death.

Inside the Citadel grounds in Hue.

Inside the Citadel grounds in Hue.

Beautifully renovated doors in Hue Citadel.

Beautifully renovated doors in Hue Citadel.

A couple of days ride down the coast from Hue is Hoi An, our next sightseeing stop. There’s been a trading port at Hoi An for over 2000 years, but it really saw its heyday in the 15th – 19th centuries, when Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Dutch traders settled there. The ancient town centre is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and packed full of beautifully restored buildings spanning 3 centuries. Old traders’ buildings jostle against Chinese assembly halls, family graves and a 16th century Japanese bridge (which has a Buddhist pagoda attached to it) nestle in amongst French colonial houses.

In keeping with its trading history, Hoi An today is packed with shops. Any one of the hundreds of tailors can whip you up a made-to-measure shirt or dress in an afternoon. Suits may take a little longer. As well as beautiful bespoke clothes there was a plethora of other artisan offerings from gorgeous paintings to leatherware, silk lanterns, wood carvings, bone carvings and embroidery. I ummed and ahhed over a couple of gorgeous silk tops….but in the end decided they wouldn’t go with anything else in my panniers….and indeed wouldn’t fit in my panniers.

Early morning in Hoi An, before the tourist hordes descend.

Early morning in historic Hoi An, before the tourist hordes descend.

The old Japanese bridge.

The 16th century covered Japanese bridge.

Traditional Hoi An musicians.

Traditional Hoi An musicians.

Huge incense cones hanging from the ceiling in the Fukien Assembly Hall.

Huge incense cones hanging from the ceiling in the Fukien Assembly Hall.

After Hoi An came our six days of hard pedaling effort down to Mui Ne. We were originally going to stop in Nha Trang, but another traveler recommended Mui Ne instead, two days further on from Nha Trang.

The temperature cooled a little (down to 30 degrees instead of 40) as we left Hoi An under overcast skies, but our reprieve didn’t last more than a couple of days. We’ve come up with some new strategies for coping with the relentless sunshine. Keith has invested in some sandals as his sweat-soaked feet and trainers were beginning to rot. He’s had to revert to wearing socks with these though as it didn’t take long for his white feet to turn pink. I have bought some thin off-white gloves (increasingly off-white as the days go by) to protect my hands and wrists and wrap a thin cotton scarf over my helmet to keep the sun off the sides of my face and neck. Very fetching doncha think?

Hot, but not too sunburnt.

Hot, but not too sunburnt.

Route 1 (marked on maps and kilometre markers as either QL1 or AH1) is the main north-south artery in Vietnam. It isn’t generally recommended as a cycling route due to the relatively heavy traffic levels….and an approach to driving that rivals the Chinese for sheer breathtaking stupidity.

A typical example of the traffic using route 1.

A typical example of the traffic using route 1.

Vietnamese Driving Test:

Q1 – You’re driving on busy Route 1, where trucks and coaches slow for no-one. As you approach the brow of a hill you spot a Pino proceeding slowly along on the narrow hard shoulder. Do you:
a) Pull safely into the layby at the top of the hill and wait for the Pino to reach you whilst giving a cheery thumbs-up of encouragement.
b) Blare your horn loudly as you pass the laboring tandemists.
c) Stop in the middle of the road (with car straddling the white line) to let your passenger out, who then stands, camera in hand, blocking the hard shoulder whilst you block the road, ignoring the blaring horn of the large lorry which is now determinedly overtaking you on entirely the wrong side of the road just before the brow of the hill. (Luckily he’s got a magic horn so anything approaching on the other side of the hill will instantly de-materialize…or at least this is what the truck driver appears to believe.)

Q2 – You’re on a motorbike or a pushbike and want to turn left onto Route 1. Do you:
a) Wait for a safe gap in the traffic to cross to the opposite lane and proceed with the traffic, suffering a momentary inconvenience whilst waiting for a gap.
b) Swing immediately and with gay abandon into the oncoming traffic, thus inconveniencing everyone else (this is a particularly effective manoeuvre if you have a 2.5m wide aviary strapped across the back of your motorbike).

Q3 – You see an interesting tandem on the road ahead of you and wish to express your approval of their chosen mode of transport. Do you:
a) Make eye-contact as you pass and give a grin and a thumbs up.
b) Ride/drive next to them beeping your horn and screaming “Hey! Oy!” almost loudly enough to drown out the scream of the airhorn on the massive juggernaut that’s also trying to overtake you.
c) Quickly overtake them and then pull in and drop your speed forcing the Pino to pull out and overtake you, which lets you take another look at them without risking your own ass out with the lorries. This works best if you repeat the sequence a few times, giving you and your family plenty of opportunity to point and stare at the increasingly irritated Westerners on the funny bike.

If you have answered A to any of the above you have just failed your Vietnamese driving test. (Actually, I’m exaggerating just a bit with Q3. Most people here do grin and stick their thumbs up, but there have also been rather too many who scream, shout and get in the way a lot.)

Thankfully though, aside from a couple of days which were particularly noisy and stressful (most notably between Hoi An and Quy Nhon) where the above behaviours were frequently observed, it’s actually not been too bad a road. It’s got a pretty good surface, avoids hills (OK, there are a few notable lumps, but it’s a lot flatter than the Ho Chi Minh road, which is the only other north-south route) and it goes through loads of towns and villages so you’re never far from a snack stop. It’s also really interesting. On the couple of occasions when we’ve slipped away to ride along the coast, our initial relief at being on a quiet road often degenerated into stultifying boredom as we’ve trundled along empty roads next to unfinished beach resorts with unchanging kilometers merging into the heat haze. Swinging back onto route 1 the noise hits you like a physical insult, but there’s something really exciting about the hustle and bustle of life along route 1 that helps the long days pass quickly. Here are some of the sights we’ve seen:

Eucalyptus oil being produced (metal drums in background) and sold (bottles in foreground).

Eucalyptus oil being produced (metal drums in background) and sold (bottles in foreground).

Incense sticks drying on racks.

Incense sticks drying on racks.

Crispy rice cakes.

Crispy rice cakes.

Rice paddies being leveled prior to sowing

Rice paddies being leveled prior to sowing

Rice being sowed.

Rice being sowed.

Reeds...

Reeds…

...being dried...

…being dried…

...dyed...

…dyed…

...and made into mats.

…and made into mats.

Jamie, running 240km in 8 days for the STV Appeal.  Just found out he made it in 7 days - well done! http://jamieinthejungle.blogspot.com/

Jamie, running 240km in 8 days for the STV Appeal. Just found out he made it in 7.  Well done!
http://jamieinthejungle.blogspot.com/

 

Fishing nets.

Fishing nets.

Several dozen unhappy chickens.

Several dozen unhappy chickens.

A strong contender in this year's How Many Mattresses Can You Fit On A Motorbike contest.

A strong contender in this year’s How Many Mattresses Can You Fit On A Motorbike contest.

Rainbow brushes.

Rainbow brushes.

The iceman cometh.

The iceman cometh.

Cham temples at dusk - an unexpected treat in an otherwise non-descript little town.

Cham temples at dusk – an unexpected treat in an otherwise non-descript little town.

Aside from the traffic, the only other downside to route 1 is the paucity of good camping spots. We’ve struck lucky most of the time, but gave up about 10km before Nha Trang and got a guesthouse (aircon, wifi, shower, for a fiver….what a hardship!). We have had to be less picky than usual though with our choice of campsite and spent one rather disturbed night in a small plantation between two houses almost 6km down a side road off route 1 (that we then had to ride back along the following morning) listening to a dog barking for hours. We’d arrived at dusk and were soon hidden by darkness, but as expected were discovered by the plantation owner at 5am. I have to make sure I get up really early if I want to have a pee unobserved. A few nights later we were surrounded by endless acres of waterlogged rice paddies and ended up having to make do on a small dirt trail linking a handful of houses dotted across the watery landscape. After about 2km the trail widened just enough to get our tent on and leave room for a motorbike to get past. It was right next to a house so we said hello to the occupants and asked their permission to camp, which was readily granted. I have to say it’s not our usual strategy – I like to be well away from habitation and curious locals – but it turned out fine so maybe we’ll do it more readily in future.

We’re currently enjoying a two day break in Mui Ne, a lengthy strip of sand, sea and Russian tourists about two days ride from Ho Chi Minh City. Today’s been blogging, admin and odd-jobs day. Tomorrow is our relaxing day. We can’t wait!

Phonsavan to Vinh 8 – 22 May 2013

Enigmatic stones on the Plain of Jars, a hidden city in the caves of Vieng Xai, 12% hills in 35+degree heat, two campsites infested with leeches (but thankfully not unexploded ordnance) and one campsite disturbed by the police, (who expected us to pack up and cycle in the dark to a guesthouse, which may or may not exist, 20km away. Haha. Funny guys!). Yup, it’s been another fun-packed few days for your favourite Pino pedallers.

North eastern Laos has felt a little different to the parts of Laos we’ve been in before. Although the area is poorer than where we’ve been before, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of houses that are built of brick – we think this could be a result of the influx of aid from the Soviet Union and other communist countries when America finally stopped bombing the cr@p out of the place in 1973. Another hangover from this period is the number of elderly Kamaz trucks on the road. We also noticed that both brick and bamboo buildings were now surrounded by fences, carefully denoting each family’s plot of land, and quite unlike the clusters of houses jostling together in villages elsewhere. The most obvious difference though was the sudden decline in tourists. In Phonsavan we saw a handful of other ‘falangs’ but from there on it was clear the guidebook had been accurate when it described this corner of Laos as one of the least visited. The only other Western faces we’ve seen belonged to a Spanish couple on a homestay in a medium-size village we passed through. We’re not sure why this part of Laos is less popular as it’s got a fascinating history and the scenery is truly breathtaking.

The town of Phonsavan captured our attention for several days. It’s set in rolling pastureland that looks like alpine meadows, surrounded by conifer trees (where did the jungle go??). It’s also one of the parts of Laos that was particularly targeted by US bombers during their ‘secret war’ of ’64-’73. We visited the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) Information Centre and were shocked by what we learnt there.

MAG trucks ready for action in Phonsavan

MAG trucks ready for action in Phonsavan

The legacy of those nine dark years continues to wreck lives and stifle development in Laos to this day, in the form of unexploded ordnance (UXO). We want to support the work of MAG here in Laos and other countries contaminated by UXO, and if you haven’t already done so then please do visit our ‘Giving’ page where you can read more about the work of MAG or go straight to our ‘Just Giving’ page to make a donation.
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We saw first-hand the results of the work that MAG has been doing here in Laos when we cycled out to see some of the iron-age stone jars that give the area its name: the Plain of Jars. In between the numerous bomb-craters that pock-mark the earth are scattered several hundred huge stone jars dating from 500BC to 500AD.

A crater-scarred hillside on the Plain of Jars

A crater-scarred hillside on the Plain of Jars

The jars are located at 90 sites – each containing between 1 and 400 jars – and seven sites have now been cleared of UXO and are open to tourists. Laos is applying for UNESCO World Heritage status for the entire area to help preserve the jars and boost tourism, but much more work needs to be done to make the area safe for tourists before that status can be granted. Three of the jars sites, (the three that were first made safe and opened to tourists between 2004 & 2007 – over 30 years after the bombing stopped) are within 35km of Phonsavan so we decided to do a day-trip without the panniers and trailer (a wise decision given that a few km out of town the roads deteriorate to hard-packed dirt) to visit them. On the way, we passed a MAG team clearing UXO from some farmland.

MAG at work - their signage is hidden behind Keith's left thigh

MAG at work – their signage is hidden behind Keith’s left thigh

Nice to see this particular clean-up operation is funded by the US

Nice to see this particular clean-up operation is funded (in part at least) by the US

If our visit to the MAG info centre hadn’t brought home the message that UXO is a real and present danger then this surely did.

Despite their location at the heart of worst UXO contamination, the jars sites are strangely peaceful places. At site one there were a couple of Laotian tourists, and a few more arrived as we were leaving, but we had sites two and three to ourselves.

Jar site one

Jar site one

A number of theories have been mooted as to the purpose of the jars. Local tales favour an ancient race of giants who used the jars as ‘LaoLao’ (rice whisky) glasses. Another theory sticks with the LaoLao theme but suggests they were vats for fermenting vast quantities of the stuff for standard-sized humans (now that would be some party!). The most widely accepted theory is that they are some kind of funerary urn, but whether for a whole body (they’re certainly more than big enough to fit one) or for cremated remains is still being researched and debated.

MAG were brought in to make the sites safe for tourists and have done this in two ways. Between white markers the ground has been swept with metal detectors and any ordnance above ground or below ground has been destroyed. Outside this area are red markers which denote where surface UXO has been removed, but not the underground ordnance. You are advised not to walk in this area. Working in such a historically significant area was particularly challenging and MAG worked with archaeology experts to develop new methods to destroy the bombs without damaging the artefacts.

Jar site three

Jar site three

With time ticking away on our visas we had to drag ourselves away from Phonsavan and head north east towards Sam Neua and Vieng Xai. The terrain became even hillier than it had been between Luang Prabang and Phonsavan. And the days became even hotter. We were lucky on the first couple of big climbs as the weather was fairly overcast, but even so we still dripped with sweat. And then it got really tough. We’re rarely confronted with gradients of more than 5 or 6%…but from Phonsavan to Vieng Xai we were regularly seeing over 12%….a steepness that has us straining every fibre just to keep our heavy rig moving forward at a pitiful 5kph. Add to this a blazing sun and not a breath of wind and we soon realised we were not going to be having a fun day. We hauled ourselves over 1450m that day (the height of Ben Nevis) but covered just 50km. I’m not sure exactly how hot it was, but it was hot enough that even when the road levelled off we were still panting for breath and unable to recover ourselves. Progress slowed to a crawl. We would literally flop off the bike in a patch of shade and lie on the road until we’d composed ourselves, then haul ourselves back into the saddles, strain on the pedals, and gasp and pant our way up to the next patch of shade. On flatter sections we might manage 2-3km between rests. On the steeper sections we sometimes couldn’t even keep the pedals turning for 1km before having to stop. It was a long, long day. We tried pushing the bike but to be honest it was no better. Even the descents were stressful as they were so steep we cooked our brakes, glazing the surface of the pads and losing braking power. We had to stop and let them cool down. It’s the first time that’s happened to us in over 27,000km (inc 2011 trip). After that we began employing our emergency v-brake to take some of the strain off the disks. By 4.30 our legs were like jelly, our lungs were scorched, our heads were melting. On the outskirts of a village we found a little track leading to a clearing that was just the right size for our tent. It was a bit closer to habitation than we’d prefer, but because of the steep terrain suitable sites were few and far between, and to be honest, we were so cooked we didn’t care. We just wanted to stop.

A few of the villagers came to gawp at us as we cooked our dinner, but they politely left when we served up and began to eat. By 8.30 I was in bed and drifting in that ‘exhausted but unable to sleep’ state that can be rather irksome, and Keith was typing up his log. At 9 o’clock we were disturbed by torches and voices outside the tent. It was the police. I was not pleased. I HATE being woken up, particularly when I’ve finally dozed off after the aforementioned irksome state of affairs. They insisted on seeing our passports and visas. I was all for telling them to bloody well come back in the morning, but thankfully Keith was in a more sensible frame of mind. After failing to put them off by explaining that we were in bed and trying to sleep he gallantly got dressed and went out into the bug-infested night whilst I wrapped a scarf around my head and tried to ignore the torchlight glaring into the tent. They spent the next 40 minutes laboriously copying out all our passport and visa details (not made easier by the fact that border guards never seem to put their stamp on a page anywhere near the visa, which had clearly expired, and the visa extension we got in Luang Prabang was only denoted by a biro’d-in note over a stamp that said we could now stay until the 17th instead of the 8th). Keith explained we have pedalled from the UK and showed them our route across Laos. He told them what a tough day we’d had and how tired we were, and of course also threw in some nice comments about how much we like Laos etc. The conversation eventually went something along the lines of this:
Plod: “Why are you here?”
Keith: “We’re cycling to Sam Neua and then to Vietnam.”
Plod: “ Why aren’t you in a guesthouse?”
Keith: “We stayed in guesthouses in Luang Namtha, Nambak, Luang Prabang and Phonsavan, and now we’re going to Sam Neua where we will stay in another guesthouse, but in between it is too far for us to pedal so we camp.”
Plod: “But why are you camping here and not staying in a guesthouse?”
Keith: “Because today it was very hot and the hills were very steep. We have only been able to cycle 50km and we have not seen any guesthouses.”
Plod: “But what do you intend to do here?”
Keith: “We intend to go to sleep – we were asleep. We are very tired.”
Plod: “We need you to stay in a guesthouse.”
Keith: “Is there one in the village?”
Plod: “No. But I think there is one in village X which is about 20km away.”
Keith: “It has taken us all day to ride 50km. I don’t think we can ride another 20km. We are too tired. It is now half past nine at night and dark. The road surface is too dangerous to ride in the dark.”
Plod: “Well, perhaps we can let you stay here for tonight. Are you planning on going into the village? You must not go into the village tonight.”
Keith: “I don’t want to go into the village. I just want to go to bed!”

Honestly. It really was that ridiculous, and I don’t know how Keith kept his polite demeanour. I was gnashing my teeth and muttering dark curses as I really wanted to be asleep and not listening to stupid conversations.

The next day we had more steep hills, but thankfully not so many, and we were helped up one of them by a couple of youngsters on a scooter. They started off insisting on pushing the bike whilst we pedalled (one kid on foot pushing us, the other riding the scooter), and then we hit upon being towed by the scooter. It was rather precarious as I had to lean right forward to grab the handle on the back of the scooter without my pedals bashing into it – and even then there was barely enough room – but it got up us up a couple of steep kilometres that would have taken us considerably longer under our own steam. We gave the guys our business cards by way of a memento and a little thank you, but then they rather spoiled their spontaneous act of kindness by asking for petrol money.

The kids who gave us a tow up the final steep hill section

The kids who gave us a tow up the final steep hill section

After being disturbed by the plods we took more care the following night to camp well away from habitation. Sadly our ‘perfect’ site turned out to be occupied by an army of little blood-suckers. We thought leeches only lived in damp conditions on riverbanks or near ditches, but twice now we’ve found them in grass where we’re trying to camp. The first night we found them wasn’t too bad, but on the second occasion they were everywhere. Putting the tent up and unpacking our things took far longer than usual as we had to dance around and keep our eyes on our feet to catch them before they breached the shoe/sock barrier and made contact with soft, juicy flesh. Somewhat scarily, crushing them with rocks had little effect – after a few minutes the crumpled body would re-inflate and begin looping towards you like some unstoppable zombie-leech. A quick snip with a pair of scissors is the only answer.

Leech on my helmet - ugh

Leech on my helmet – ugh

We rolled through Sam Neua, sad that we hadn’t the time to linger as the market looked like a good one, and then there was just one more small climb to breach before rolling into beautiful Vieng Xai.

The beautiful approach road to Vieng Xai from Sam Neua

The beautiful approach to Vieng Xai from Sam Neua

If we’d thought the rest of Laos was stunning then we were lost for words when we got to Vieng Xai. Densely jungled hills surround a small plain that’s punctured by grey karst peaks dripping with yet more foliage.

A heavily scented frangipani blossom

A heavily scented frangipani blossom

Frangipani trees (the national flower of Laos) scent the air and although it’s not a large town it’s been built with wide boulevards and elegant residences that housed the victorious leaders of the Pathet Lao (who subsequently became the governing party in Lao People’s Democratic Republic) when the American bombing finally ceased.

Frangipani trees outside one of the Pathet Lao leaders' houses in Vieng Xai

Frangipani trees outside one of the Pathet Lao leaders’ houses in Vieng Xai

For nine long years the fight for independence was directed from a series of caves built into the karst cliffs around modern-day Vieng Xai. At the time the town didn’t exist, it was simply jungle. Over 2000 people lived in the cave complexes, only able to leave after dark to try to grow some rice and gather food. The seven leaders of the Soviet-funded Pathet Lao had their headquarters here and directed the civil war effort against the US-funded Royalist party from these caves. Against all the odds communication lines were maintained and convoys of food to supplement what they could grow at night managed to get through despite the constant bombardment. Allegedly the US spent $2million a day on bombs. It’s inconceivable that people survived here…and yet they did, raising their families, schooling their children, and defending their land as best they could. We went on a guided tour of the caves and were impressed – there was everything from government offices to a hospital, to a cinema, all hidden in the rock.

A cinema in a cave - now used for civic events

A cinema in a cave – now used for civic events

From Vieng Xai it is just fifty-five (thankfully predominantly flat or downhill) kilometres to the border with Vietnam. It’s a little-used border so was a breeze to cross. At the Laos side there was no queue at all and we were quickly stamped through. On the Vietnam side there was a queue at customs, but by the time we’d had our passports and visas checked the cars had vanished and we just opened a couple of panniers for inspection and then were waved on our way.

First impressions of Vietnam are:

1 – The roads are awful! We’re hoping matters will improve when we get off the minor road we’re currently on, but at the moment we’re bumping along on broken tarmac punctuated with sections of rock and dirt.

2 – The Vietnamese people seem as determined as the Chinese to abuse our poor Pino. We stopped to buy some eggs just a couple of kilometres over the border, and although we only stopped for a five minutes we had to almost forcibly prevent a woman and a few moments later, her son, from using the Pino as a climbing frame. Grrr.

3 – The Vietnamese are just as noisy as the Chinese, shrieking ‘Hello!’ repeatedly from the minute they see us until the minute we fade into the distance, hooting their horns at anything and everything else on the road, and shouting in hotel corridors until late into the night.

4 – There are no ATMs in the mountains. It took us four days to find one. Luckily we’d bought some Vietnamese Dong back in Luang Prabang in Laos.

Matters improved a little on our second day in Vietnam – there were longer stretches of better tarmac and although people like to touch the bike no-one actually tried to clamber on it again. And the owner of a cafe we stopped in for lunch was really kind to us when Keith took ill (it wasn’t her food, he’d been feeling peaky for the hour before lunch). She let him sleep on a bench and gave him some paracetamol and some other unidentified drugs after he’d finally rushed into the street to vomit. An hour later and he was feeling sufficiently revived to make it to the next town where we took a guesthouse for a couple of nights so Keith could recover properly in an ensuite aircon room – much nicer than being ill in a sweaty tent.

The days have continued to be punishingly hot as we’ve made our way down the Ho Chi Minh Highway (good tarmac but frequently reduced to half a lane by harvested crops that have been spread out to dry on the road). We reached the coast yesterday and Keith enjoyed a quick dip in the South China Sea. We haven’t seen the sea since our ferry crossing from Harwich to Hook of Holland a year ago.

We’ll write more about Vietnam in our next post and leave you with a few last pictures from lovely Laos.

Queuing for the ATM in Phonsavan

Queuing for the ATM in Phonsavan

Heavy traffic on the back roads between Jars site three and Phonsavan

Heavy traffic on the back roads between Jars site three and Phonsavan

Looks like fun!

That looks like fun!

An unimpressed dog. We saw all manner of livestock attached to motorbikes on our travels.  Baskets of chickens were very common, as were pigs, slung in small, pig-sized wire baskets like pink torpedos on either side of the bike.  One day, whilst having lunch, we heard a goat approaching at speed, and looked up to see a motobike zip by carrying two men with a goat sandwiched between them.

An unimpressed dog.
We saw all manner of livestock attached to motorbikes on our travels. Baskets of chickens were very common, as were pigs, slung in small, pig-sized wire baskets like pink torpedos on either side of the bike. One day, whilst having lunch, we heard a goat approaching at speed, and looked up to see a motobike zip by carrying two men with a goat sandwiched between them.

Preparing rice paddies

Preparing rice paddies

Cluster bomb casings being used as decoration/boundary markers.  We also saw them used as supports for houses.  Whilst re-use of items is nice to see, it is not without dangers - adults and children alike become used to seeing these as harmless every day items and that familiarity contributes to some of the accidents when live bombs are encountered.

Cluster bomb casings being used as decoration/boundary markers. We also saw them used as supports for houses. Whilst re-use of items is nice to see, it is not without dangers – adults and children alike become used to seeing these as harmless every day items and that familiarity contributes to some of the accidents when live bombs are encountered.