|20-25 km stretch of bumpy road with loose gravels|
|Kids on their home run|
|Chong Met, Thailand immigration|
Everyone were in good spirits on the morning of Day 2. Everyone had rave reviews about their stay....new boutique hotel, great facilities including a gym, complimentary tea and coffee with a small kettle in the room....they even spoil us with chocolate wafers and chips!!!
Everyone except Claudine! She did not have a good night's sleep. The satin-like comforter kept slipping off the bed, exposing her to the cold air-conditioned room.
Breakfast was a choice of pork rib noodle soup, pork rib porridge, pan fried eggs topped with Chinese sausages, thinly julienned ham, minced meat, veges and spring onions or an American breakfast of eggs with 2 puny frankfurters! Besides that, there was a buffet set up of fruits, salads, breads and jams, juices, tea and coffee. The whole dining area was designed in a quirky retro design that was at the same time cosy and relaxing.
Papa and KC did not get to enjoy the ambience of the restaurant for long. Eddie, the proprietor came as promised. They went in search of the missing hub nut on Papa's bike.
While the three set off from bicycle shops to bicycle shops, the remaining team had something else to do. Frank, Claudine and VT followed Alvin to a nearby bike shop to pump up their bikes.
Yudee Cycle had people banging on their doors before they were ready for business. Yudee Cycle corrected Frank's wheel alignment for a mere 80 Baht. Three cheers for Yudee Cycle!!!
Out of goodwill and feeling grateful, Frank went on to buy an extra inner tube, having broken the valve at the airport. Last night, while everyone retired in their rooms, he was given a lesson on Tyre Change 101 by legends KC and Alvin.
When they got back, the Howards and Meadows were already packing their bikes. They used clear laundry plastic bags to wrap their bikes. These were acquired from the nearby dhoby shop the night before after a struggle with words and hand gestures.
The 2 eleven seater vans came timely. Everyone convened timely. Even Papa, KC and Eddie came back right on time.
The bikes and bags were loaded onto the vans. But.....we could not set out! Papa's hub nut was being machined out of solid steel. The whole job will take 2 hours to complete.
One option was for us to set out on the hired van without Papa. He will find his way to the border town of Chong Mek alone! However, nobody wanted to leave him behind.
While Alvin negotiated with the van drivers, Claudine shared the remaining chocolates, presents from Papa Mike with everyone. As usual, Alvin's winning smiles bowled over the drivers. They agreed to wait in exchange for a small tip on top of the van rentals of 3700 baht.
With 2 hours to spare, many of us decided to scour the shops on the streets. At the junction where there were a few coin operated washing machines displayed openly by the side of the street, the Howards and Meadows turned left while the Choongs turned right.
The Choongs checked out the two 7 Eleven shops located a few hundred meters from each other....Collagen drinks at 40bahts, a cheap alternative to cosmetic surgery.....Still single??? Get a Man Some drink for 10.50 baht!!!
They passed by the many hair salons, the open air gym located on a corner shop lot, Tesco Extra, a drink shop that sells cold, up-sized drinks...
The drink shop was enjoying brisk business. Cups or bags were packed full with shaved ice, before the choice of syrup and flavours were added. On that hot mid-afternoon, they had many take aways!!!
On their walk back, VT and Claudine chanced upon KC and Papa enjoying barbecued chicken wings in a shop. They stepped in to join the conspirators to a pre-lunch snack!
When they got back, Alvin was hanging upside down at the gym. Celia had propped him there. Treatment for a slipped disc!
The next order is to have lunch before moving out. Quoting Papa Mike, "When you loose your nuts, you get screwed!", he did not get to eat. His hub nut was ready and he had to pick it up together with Eddie and KC.
We finally made the journey to Chong Mek in our rented vans. Papa and KC did not miss their lunch, actually. We changed their orders to a take-away so that they could have it on the go.
The hub nut costs 200 baht but Papa was so grateful he paid 300 baht instead.
The journey to Chong Mek took about an hour. Our vans turned left as soon as the Thai check point became visible. A corner shop selling all clothings in army fatigue prints caught VT's eye. "If you can't gain access into Laos, buy an army fatigue and go via the jungles, commando style!"
As soon as our vans screeched to a stop outside a 7 Eleven, eager porters with pushcarts hurried over. They soon left, disappointed when they saw us unpacking our bikes.
When all were ready, we pushed our bikes to the Thai check point...
Then, the dilemma of crossing the border came about. The lorries, motorcycles and porters used the booths on the roads. The people on foot went into the building and exit the other side. We were a peculiar category. Frank went in the building and soon came back with instructions....leave the bikes outside, go in the building to get the passports stamped, retrieve the bicycles and roll out via the booths!
Before actually leaving Thailand, some of us needed to answer the call of nature. Toilets was by the car park on the other side of the building. Quite a walk but worth the clean toilets. Only Celia, Claudine and Barbara made the walk. The others were told by the porters, that there were cleaner toilets at the Laos Duty Free shops just a hundred meters away.
The ride into Laos was rather superficial. We rode past the Thai immigration booths, onto a bumpy road, then came upon the Laos Duty Free shop just as told. There were no border guards, boom gates nor check points to mark the entry into Laos!
Stopping at the Duty Free, Alvin was upset after a headcount. Nobody knew where Celia and Papa Mike was! It was a good 10 minutes before they reappeared.
Papa Mike had bike problem No. 2!!! He insisted his handle bar post has become shorter!!! Unconvinced but with no means to stand his ground, he left together with the group.
Just another hundred meters ahead, was the Laos immigration office. Located unsuspectingly up a knoll, its only tell tale signs are the number of tourists waiting for their visas and of course the usual flags on flag poles.
While VT and Alvin stood guard, the rest went up the stairs. We soon found out the front counters are for the locals, sides are for visas on arrival and the back are for foreigners.
The Malaysian and Singapore contingents went to the back. The Australian contingents though, had to apply for visas. They were made to fill up their visa forms on a large low table made up of very low quality plywood, unfinished and unlacquered!
The visa wait took forever!
While waiting, Alvin, Claudine and Papa Mike walked down the road to Lao Development Bank. A new building, it stood starkly alone. Surrounding the building were loose gravels. The whole place looked so deserted, at one point, Alvin thought it was not opened for business yet. They got some USD changed into the local kips currency for petty cash, then helped themselves to the cold water dispenser.
As the trio walked back up the road, they ogled over the makeshift stalls by the road.
Silver belts, crafts, clothings...
Honey combs, jumping baby frogs in a tub, sun dried frogs...
Meanwhile, Barbara was getting hot and thirsty. She found a local lady selling bottled water from an orange cooler box. Still new to the currencies and foreign to the local language, it took her, Claudine and VT quite awhile to convince the lady 7 bottles of drinks is just about right for 3 persons!
Finally, we set out for Pakse!
The roads were wide and new here. The lorries that ply the roads all pull a trailer besides the original load it was already carrying.
A few kilometers later, we saw school kids on their home run. Kids on foot, kids on bicycles, kids on motorcycles without helmets. Some of the kids riding on motorcycles looked no more than 10 years old!!!
We came upon dry paddy fields. Already harvested, the fields were left unattended.
We shared the road with peculiar looking farm vehicles. These were meant to plough the paddy fields. But as harvest time is over, it now pulls a trailer that sits the farmer's family! At one point, Papa held on to a farm vehicle for a free ride but soon realized it was travelling on a speed lower than his own footwork!
We shared the road with cows! They were everywhere and they left their droppings everywhere! Rolling on certain segments of the road was like riding on a mine field! After a while, we got bored and started observing the dung cakes. Flat cakes, rolled over cakes, 8 inch high cakes....
Soon, Papa Mike had bike problem No. 3!!!! His seat post kept sliding down.
We had our first drink stop at a mechanic cum convenience store. Here, we had our first taste of Laotian hospitality. The owner brought out more chairs for Papa, VT and Claudine when they rolled in.
They also allowed us to help ourselves to their large bottled water. It was so hot Colin poured cold water over his head. Barbara and Anne wet their bandanas, another cooling measure on this hot afternoon weather.
Then we set out again!
This time, the road starts to misbehave! Holes! Pebbles!! Sand!!!
Claudine's bike rattled so much she started to wonder who will be the first to get a puncture!
And then, it happened!!! On Celia's bike!
Celia borrowed Frank's inner tube.
And then, it happened again!!! On Frank's bike!
Frank borrowed VT's inner tube.
Both punctures were 45 minutes apart. The first puncture happened over a bright evening sky. The second puncture happened at dusk, when the sun was beginning to set. We finally rolled again at night fall.
It was a starry night. Occasionally we called out, "Holes!" to warn each other. Much later, an illuminated statue of Buddha on a hill greeted us.
We crossed the Mekong river on a wide and long bridge.
Champasak Grand Hotel beckoned us with it's 5 star luxury stay by the river. It's waterfront restaurant called out to us. Wearily, we rolled past.
Just ahead, at the roundabout everyone slowed down to regroup. We have reached the city.
We passed the English and computer studies center.
We saw the School of Health Science.
We rode passed the markets.
We stopped at Restaurant Xuan Mai.
Papa Mike was given the honour to order for us. He was in a celebratory mood. He ordered so much....Stir fried beef, Vietnamese spring roll, ginger chicken, fried pork, Mekong fish, papaya salad. We toasted the ride with beer, soda and Coke.
When we were ready to leave, we were slapped with a 924,000 Kips bill!!! Nobody bothered too much about the bill. Everyone were just too happy to walk the short distance to Pakse Hotel. Everyone were too grateful the rattling ride is finally over!
.....though it was only a mere 47 km!!!!