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Published: February 1st 2009
As we have been on the move recently we have included in this blog Udomxai (Laos), Muang Khau (Laos), and our entry into Vietnam at the border of Dien Bien Phu.
We stepped of the bus into Udomxai with a smile on our face. After braving the cold for a couple of weeks it was nice to have the sun beating down for a change. As mentioned in the last blog, we had 12 days of our Laos visa to kill, and not wanting to head back on ourselves and go south we didn't have much choice but to stay in the town Udomxai.
The place itself has nothing to offer tourist, its mainly a thoroughfare for Chinese truckers. It hosts one main road that leads through the town, and a couple of side streets with nothing of note. Crappy guesthouses for the truckers, 2 night clubs (for the truckers to hire prostitutes), and umpteen garages repairing tyres and truck parts is about as good as it gets.
We stayed in a decent guesthouse (Lithavixay), and it ended up keeping us sane with cable tv including 2 movie channels (much to Michelle's delight), hot shower (yipee!!) and free
water. Among all the bad road side cafes we managed to find a little gem north of town tucked away in a courtyard that served the best food we have had in the whole of Laos, serving traditional Laos food (she loved us and we loved her!!) we ate there morning, noon, and night!
Udomxai was rather uneventful, Eight days were spent wandering about, watching movies, playing cards (I have since found out that Michelle is better than what I had expected at Rummy). We also stumbled upon the local market, which we wish we hadn't. After passing the fried bats, rats, dogs, skinned pigs, and live tied up beaver (ready for the roast) we decided to swiftly move on and felt rather sick. The whole market was rank.
We needed to head north, as the next town was the last before heading into Vietnam. We both had some strange emotions going on. We were excited to be leaving Udomxai, but in a weird way we were just starting to like it, days were easy, food was good, and we had nothing to do. We were also looking forward to Vietnam, and the next stop would be our
last, but the thought of leaving the warmth and heading north for the cold nights again was scary!
The bus journey took us 4 hours and we met a really nice dutch couple on the way (hello Louis and Yvonne). When we arrived something clicked. I had wrote in our note book (a book where we keep notes!!!) do not visit Vietnam around TET - Chinese New Year. This is because the whole place closes for a week. Guesthouses shut, restaurants simply do not open, and transport is non existent. So when do our visas start... on NEW YEARS DAY!!!!!!
All four of us decided to check onward travel to the border and the next town in Vietnam (Dien Bien Phu) strolling down to the bus park laughing and joking about the cold we were suddenly brought back down to earth by being told 'no buses', 'Chinese new year' (celebrations last 1 week). Now this posed 2 problems, our Laos visa ran out in 2 days and our Vietnam visa started in 2days (meaning we would lose valuable time in Vietnam) We managed to arrange a taxi (after some very difficult verbal exchanges - nobody in Muang Khau
speaks ANY English.. or dutch!) but the asking price was $160 USD... opposed to the local bus that costs a couple of quid.
We stayed a night and decided to meet again in the morning and think it over. Louis and Yvonne went down to the bus park at 6am the following morning to see if they could catch a lift to the border (their visa started 1 day before ours) This proved to be unsuccessful, and as we strolled down at 9am they were still sat on their rucksacks waiting for an elusive bus. After managing to secure 3 more travellers that day, and arranging a taxi (minibus) for the following morning we were on our way.
The drive was a little rocky but as we climbed the mountain it seemed like the only way we were going was up. As the fog cleared around us and things became a little clearer the view over the mountains suddenly appeared, it was amazing. The driver stopped so we could take a few snaps, but they simply do not describe the view, It was almost what you imagine its like being in heaven. We were perched above huge clouds,
if you looked down you could see the pure whiteness of them, above that was mountain peaks, gaping through, and then the pure blue brilliant sky, and the sun shinning down like the cherry on top of a cake. Its hard to describe, and put into words but I doubt if we both will ever see something so magical ever again.
Anyway, back to the drive and trouble almost erupted at the border. We had all agreed that we would pay the driver half his fare at the border and the rest upon arrival. After all, if we had paid in full and the driver dropped us off in the middle of nowhere, we would be completely stuck. The driver did not trust us, and got rather jumpy at the offer, so after some rather harsh words, and a nice Vietnamese lady helping out we continued on. A swift passage through the Laos and Vietnam border we arrived in Dien Bien Phu (Vietnam) rather unscathed and relieved that the last 2 days was behind us and we would not have any more transport problems.
Dien Bien Phu was closed. Simple as. We were extremely lucky to find a
place to put us up, as well as cooking us all a meal ( while the family sat and watched us eat). One of the traditions for Chinese New Year is to invite rich people into your house for a cup of tea. Apparently it will bring good luck and a prosperous year. We needed to stock up on some goodies for our bus journey and found a small local shop across the road from our guesthouse. As we were deciding on prawn or chilli crisps the owner rushed out, grabbed Michelle by the arm and dragged her into her living room. She introduced us to her husband Kim (they both could not speak a word of English), and they fed us with wine, tea, sweets and biscuits! We eventually established that she had a son, daughter and a cat. After wishing them a Happy New Year, we made our excuses (with hand signals and left)
The next day half of our group got off to Sapa and Me, Michelle, Chris (a chap from Sweden) and Cat (Japan) managed to get an early morning bus from DBP to Vietnam's capital Hanoi!!! HOORAY!!
The journey was the worst yet.
The bus held about 25 people and took 11 hours. Apart from us falangs (tourists) the rest of the passengers were Vietnamese and it seems they have a problem with bus journeys! Most were sick and hurling the whole journey. I think just about all of the sick bags were used and the smell was not nice. I have to say that I am rather proud of Me and Michelle's cast iron stomach as we didn't hurl.
We arrived in Hanoi yesterday and love it already.
We will update you soon..
Love Lee and Michelle
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