Friday, 1 September 2017

LTF MR2 (7-15 August 2017), Day 3 : Ice Queen cometh, Escape from Vientiane

Personification of Ice Queen or struck by train???
Breakfast at Golden Sun Hotel
Patuxai, rich in Lao culture
One group photo before we leave Vientiane
Laos' CIQ
Immigration checkpoint, Laos
Leaving Laos
The gate marks the start of the Friendship Bridge
Still on Lao soil, approaching the bridge with the Mekong River below
Approaching Thailand
Sue, after her fall!!!
Thailand's CIQ
Nong Khai
You can't miss the train
Crossing the train tracks
Riding alongside Mekong River, overlooking Laos

"VT, the garlic pork ribs are fantastic!!!"

That was breakfast. 3 hours later, we were again, sitting down at Sister Nui's for juice and "subway" sandwiches. We ate so much, they ran out of bread!!! Nui's son had to go out to get us more baguette!!!

Earlier, we had spent the morning on a sightseeing tour of Vientiane. Making a stop at Patuxai and its adjacent water fountain, we marveled at its architecture which resembled the Arc de Triomphe from afar. However, on a closer look, it is rich in Lao influences; decorated with the country's mythical creatures such as the half bird, half female kinnari.

A war monument, dedicated to those who fought for the country's independence, it had taken 11 years for its completion. Funded by the Americans and cement intended for a new airport, it seems the Lao government had got their priorities all wrong. An airport, as a gateway for trade could have moved the economy much faster than a "vertical runway" which serves no purpose other than pride.

Our sightseeing continued on to Pha That Luang, a golden stupa containing the holy relic of Lord Buddha. With histories dating back to the 3rd century, what started off as a Hindu temple has since evolved into a Buddhist place of worship. Modern day, the facade has changed totally, taking on a new look after years of plundering and bombardment.

Outside the temple grounds, an open market was haven to souvenier seekers. Sue and Carolen spent some time shopping and haggling with the vendors. Following them on a procurement mission, it was fascinating to see how the price of a bracelet fluctuates like the stock market. Starting from 70,000 kips each at the first stall, it peaked at 200,000 kips for 2 before finally stabilizing at 35,000 kips each!

Waiting for the lost lambs...
Waiting for the lost lambs...after too long!

Leaving Sister Nui, we were to head back to Nong Khai but Vientiane would not allow us to leave!!! VT and the Roscoes were swallowed by Vientiane's chaotic traffic! We finally found them after more than half an hour and 3 search attempts!

As we headed in the direction of Friendship Bridge; again, the lingering arms of Vientiane pulled us back. Right before the roundabout that led us out of the city, George had a puncture. VT, who signaled his wife, did not mention a flat. She assumed it was a call to slow down as we had been spinning quickly, egged on by the cool and wet weather left by dwindling rain clouds.

The Roscoes who sensed the missing sweeper and his ward, stopped right at the roundabout and as the front runners went ahead oblivious to what was happening, Claudine had to give chase. Catching up with the first group later, Wendy reported on the puncture which induced Alvin and Claudine to turn back, leaving the rest to seek shelter at a bus stop.

It was a long wait. Alvin bought drinks from a nearby 7 Eleven, sending supplies to his stranded victims...VT and George just before the roundabout, Wendy and The Roscoes at the roundabout and the rest, at the bus stop further away.

Not having enough, Celia and Sue went out for more supplies returning with bags of ice, plastic bags with straws and bottled drinks for sharing. Pouring the drinks into bags filled with ice was a common practice for the yellow skinned but Carolen was amazed by the whole concept!!!

When the wait was finally over, we proceeded to the Friendship Bridge with no more hiccups....or so we thought! Arriving at the Laos border, the officers were quick to direct us to park our bikes and to proceed on foot to the immigration counter. Once cleared, we had to show him proof of stamping before we could leave Laos with our bikes.

The Friendship Bridge is, but a narrow cantilever bridge with a railway track in the center. Much like a tram line, the bridge is closed to traffic whenever a train chugs past. A pedestrian path, slightly elevated from the road with concrete dividers keeps pedestrians safe during crossing though we saw none on both days of travel.

Be very cautious when crossing the bridge and remember to hold your ground all the time. Drivers keep a safe distance from cyclists, following behind patiently whenever there are visible traffic ahead. When overtaking, they swerve to the center, sometimes over the train tracks, to give a good leeway!

The tricky bit would appear to be the train tracks. Curving from land to bridge, it crosses our path at an angle. If not alert, our narrow bike wheels could wedge into the groove.

Following behind Wendy as we left Laos, Claudine saw her stopping her bike right before the tracks before crossing on foot. Conscious of the potential danger, Claudine angled her wheels to a 90 degrees against the line before rolling over.

Sue was not as lucky. It seems Vientiane was angry we had escaped her crutches. She continued to pursue us....

Crossing the tracks on Thailand's side, Sue's back wheels fell into the grooves causing her to fall! The loss of balance bruised her bad shoulder, sprained her fingers and tore her expensive jersey. Her ego taking the worst brunt, she quickly picked herself up. Little did she realize, her phone was still on the train tracks!

Sue only realized her missing phone when we finally arrived at Ban Mae Rim Nam, our accommodation for the night. Dusk was approaching and a missing phone was almost the end of the world, considering the amount of data stored in it. Nobody wants to lose this all important gadget!

Celia who visits Thailand often enough volunteered to return to the accident site with her. Asking the receptionist for help, they managed to get a tuk tuk.

As mentioned earlier, phones has become more than a communication tool. Seeking google translate, Celia managed to convince the CIQ officers to allow them access to the site.

The phone was found but the train had since passed. The screen was cracked so badly, it looked like frost on a winter morning. Ice Queen cometh, she breathes on us, all the way from

That night, Alvin took us to Dee Dee restaurant for a Thai dinner. Sue was thrilled her simcard was still intact. Nobody tried their luck on the lottery tickets, pushed to us by the many street vendors!

After dinner as customary in most LTF tours, we continued the night with a walk down glutton street. While most returned to the hotel with a takeaway Cha Yen, our Chief Food Officer had something more.....Pad Thai fully loaded with lard!!!

Photo Credits :
Ped Al
KC Au Yeong

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