After a couple of relaxed nights and days in Ninh Binh I moved on, heading west for the border to Laos at Na Meo. Soon after leaving the highway, the scenery changed a lot. Almost no traffic out here, easy riding without horns and fumes for a nice change. A couple of small concrete houses every once in a while between the sugarcane, rice and corn fields. Banana and Papaya trees here and there, and in a little distance forested mountains and giant limestone rocks. In the middle of nowhere a neat and cozy cafe shop with a nice garden and bamboo huts to sit in. Shall I stay here? I move on towards Cam Thye, and end up in an old colonial style hotel with orchids hanging from the balcony. On a noisy and smelly road again...

Kids on the street

Next day, I head for Quan Hoa, again on small roads without traffic. Farmers plow rice paddies with the water buffaloes in the small valleys between the steep limestone rocks. There's more and more wooden pile houses the more I move on, and few towns with shops only. Steady ascending. Just after lunchtime I reach Quan Hoa, have a stopover and a coffee in a neat wooden "Eco Guesthouse" off the road beside a big river. Looking at the map, it's approximately 50 miles to go to the border, which I decide to do tomorrow. Finish for today. Two little boys join me for a walk and show me where to swim in the river...


Struggling to find my road to Na Meo next morning. The locals all send me 12 miles back to where I came from today, to take that road. Steep uphill from there for an hour, a truck collapsed on the road and a crane is maintaining the truck. The entire road is blocked, yet the locals help me to bypass the scene. Jungle, small wooden pile houses here and there, terrace rice paddies in the small valleys. Up and up the road goes. The locals take bamboo from the woods, cut it into meter long pieces and half them, pile them up. A few Eastgerman trucks bring the piles back down. Sunset, and still 20 miles to go to the town at the border. No guesthouses nor restaurants out here anymore, and the road is just steep ups and downs and serpentines in the jungle. I'm tired, stop by a concrete house with official symbols in a very small village and ask for a room to stay. The friendly silent man shows me the meeting room of the house, making a gesture I could stay here. Providing even a diner, and two shoots of the local liqueur. I'm more than happy with that! We talk with paper and pen and hands. Only one lamp in the police station, and an early rest. My savior refuses any money. A firefly in the moonlight.

Pile house in Vietnam

Last miles towards the border in the early morning, some trouble with the payment for the visa due to the old dollar pieces I'm carrying. 55 miles till Xam Nua, the first real town where I expect to get Laos money. The same crazy ups and downs as yesterday, with tired legs. At a cigarette break in the jungle, an old man on a bicycle hands me three potato like big white roots and shows me how to peel and eat them. The kids on the street would wave and scream "Sabaidee" now. Nice welcome! Same wooden pile houses as in Vietnam, but more deforested hills. Unlike 8 years ago, there is electricity everywhere on the road now. But still hardly any traffic. I manage to cycle only 34 miles to Vieng Xai, a small town with no ATM but guesthouses, that is famous for the cave systems in which the Laos Communists lived during the heavy bombings during the Vietnam war. Get a room in a wooden guesthouse on a lake, and coffee, food and beers on credit. Air, a 20 year old relative of the owners, talks good English and teaches me my first few words in Laos, gives me some advices. Manage to change my remaining Vietnam Dong into Kip, just enough to get a bus to Xam Nua on the next day. Need a break from cycling. When I arrive in Xam Nua both ATMs are out of service. It's Saturday, and all banks closed. I'm close to freak out, when a tourist on a bicycle passes by, and tells me about an Indian restaurant where I could possibly get my old dollars exchanged. He's cycling towards Phongsavan tomorrow, he says, and I wouldn't mind some company on my way. A few minutes later the ATM is working again, and I finally receive some KIPs, return back to Vieng Xai. The caves can only be visited with a guide, and I miss the afternoon tour. However, I get some information to read and have a nice walk between the nice limestone rocks. After diner with a nice American motorbike tourist, Air invites me for some barbeque with his friends. Nice moonlight walk, great barbeque and talks about freedom and money dependencies in modern Laos.