Flying to Vietnam today

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by easyrider11, Feb 1, 2020.

  1. jowul

    jowul Been here awhile

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    I did some riding about 10 years ago out of Luang Namtha. That used to be one of the main centres while it was the golden triangle There are many roads (trails) in the area but I did not have a map and was riding with two French guys who were developing some eco villages in the region.
    #21
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  2. Sideoff

    Sideoff Been here awhile

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    Great. Thanks. I found it on the map and we’ll check it out if we’re in the neighborhood.
    #22
  3. Sideoff

    Sideoff Been here awhile

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    Made it about 320km down the road yesterday to a town called Nhong Kiaw. Really beautiful ride. Long day at around around 40 km/h. Twisty roads, great views, small villages, lots of waves and smiles.

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    We booked a room at this plush tourist hotel hotel for $58. This is a nice spot. If we hadn’t just taken a day off, we’d chill here for a minute.

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    This is what the cigarette packs look like in Laos now. Glad we don’t smoke anymore.

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    Right now we’re killing time, waiting on a boat to take us up river to a place called Muang Khua. It’s a 6 hour trip, but its more direct than taking the road. From Muang Khua there’s a dirt track continuing north to a place called Samphan, and from there it continues until it rejoins the main road at Bountai. That’s where we’re headed next, we think.

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    #23
  4. BornAgain

    BornAgain Been here awhile

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    Sheesh talk about truth in advertising if that doesn't turn off from smoking nothing will.
    #24
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  5. Sideoff

    Sideoff Been here awhile

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    Up too early as usual, waiting for the sunrise on this deck outside our $10 room here in Muang Khua, which is where the boat dropped us off yesterday.

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    Getting a boat out of Nong Khiao was easy. There’s a ticket office down by the water, where we learned that we’d have to get a private boat because of the size of the bikes. The cost for that was 1.2m Kip, or $135 USD. When we saw the lineup of backpackers waiting for shared boats, a private boat actually sounded pretty good. This route is clearly on the main Laos backpacker circuit.

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    You’d be hard pressed to fit anything bigger than these 150s on the boats. It took some wrangling to get them in there. If you have a scooter, they’ll put it on the shared boat for the same price as an additional passenger (ie you buy one ticket for you and one for the bike).

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    The boat ride is nice. The river twists & turns through some big limestone rocks. The scenery is very dramatic.

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    About a third of the way into the trip there’s a new Chinese hydroelectric dam. That’s as far as the original boat will go because they can’t cross the dam. There we unloaded and rode around the dam, to get on another boat to Muang Khua. There’s no road signs for navigating around the dam. For anyone else going this way, this might help: left when you hit the gravel, left on the bridge over the river, right on the other side of the bridge.

    At the next boat ramp there was a boat, but not our boat. The captain said that our boat was coming in 10 minutes. When the boat showed up they’d never heard of us, which was weird since there was nobody at the ramp besides us. The captain got a little worked up and asked for money, saying he wasn’t told about any bikes, and bikes cost more. It seemed like a shakedown, since we were totally trapped there with no other boats and no roads in or out. The captain was being really surly. Despite that we just kind of laughed it off and sat around and waited for something to happen.

    There was a flurry of phone calls by the captain and his helper/wife, and some shouting at the phone and stuff, then 45 minutes later another boat suddenly showed up with a much friendlier captain and he HAD heard of us. Also right then, a shuttle showed up with some different passengers who were meant for the other boat. It turns out the first boat was just the wrong boat, but neither they nor we knew it. Communication problems. Go figure.

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    It’s a pretty great boat ride after that. The captain knows every rock and rapid. The long canoe-like boats hardly draw any water, and they can zip straight up some impressive sections of fast moving river, squeezing between rocks. If you didn’t know the river, you’d never make it through.

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    Here’s Ash, packing in Muang Khua with an audience.

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    After the dam, the deforestation in the surrounding countryside is intense. There’s hardly an original tree left standing, just saplings and a ton of bushes. It makes sense, being this close to the China border, with virtually limitless demand for natural resources on that side, and a poor country needing money on this side. But man, between the dam and the barren countryside, it paints a bleak picture. I can only imagine how it has affected the fish and wildlife, and the small villages along the river that now stand alone in the middle of this big treeless landscape. Around several of the villages were some awkwardly planted skinny trees of a different variety that look like something you’d see at a tree farm.

    Back in cell service we learned that in 2016 the Laos government put a moratorium on all logging for export, and despite some ongoing illegal logging, the situation is getting back under control. So that’s cool. I doubt life will ever be the same for the people who live along the river though. Even if the trees grow back and don’t get re-harvested, the dams are here to stay.

    Today we’re headed out on a dirt route north from here via a town called Samphan. Looks interesting, hope it connects.
    #25
  6. black 8

    black 8 coddiwompling motographer

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    In again for another adventure... :lurk
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  7. dano619

    dano619 Long timer Supporter

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    ^^^^ Ditto, Thanks!!
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  8. Kanatako

    Kanatako n00b

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    :lol3 as a genuine Vietnamese, I think I gotta do this trip, someday :lol3
    #28
  9. third eye

    third eye back road loon Supporter

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    still tagging along :)
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  10. Sideoff

    Sideoff Been here awhile

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    Waking up this morning in Boun Neua, Laos, a transport stop on the main road north to the China border, which is currently closed to all travel due to the coronavirus, and which is never open to foreigners (only Laotians and Chinese). We’ll turn off the main road here toward Phongsali, which will probably be as far north as we go on this trip. After that we have to start heading south toward HCMC.

    Yesterday’s ride was pretty fun, getting from Muang Khua to here on dirt roads. We’re starting to see more interesting hill tribe clothing in the small towns we pass through, which is very unique and eye catching. So far we’re resisting the urge to stop and ask for pics. Our experience in Ethiopia last year, and the conversations we had after, have caused us to think twice before asking strangers for pics in the countryside.

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    This is the hydroelectric dam in Samphan. We were told we’d need to get a boat around this one too, but when we got there we found a newly cut road around the dam - not yet on google maps - and a river ford instead.

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    The roads were super easy, graded dirt with occasional gravel sections or silt. Mostly like this.

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    Stopped for lunch in one of the small towns on the way. Noodles always seem like a good bet for road food. They’re boiled.

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    Something I love about SE Asia is that even on the backroads you’re rarely more than a few minutes from a mechanic, and it hardly costs anything to fix anything. It’s worth going to a mechanic even for little things like a chain adjustment and lube, oil change, tire puncture, etc, because they do a great job in half the time and you don’t even have to get your hands dirty. We bring tools and tire irons, but rarely use them here.

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    About 40km south of where we are now, we popped out on the main paved road and pulled into Boun Neua just before dark and found this big Brand new Chinese hotel for $20 with an Alaskan King bed (way bigger than a normal King), a whirlpool tub, and even an elevator! The hotel is eerily empty. I’m guessing they rely on Chinese business customers coming through for infrastructure projects (like the dam), but with the border now closed due to the virus, we have the whole place to ourselves.

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    The Chinese food dinner was epic, and ample.

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    When Ash wakes up in a bit, we’ll head up into the hills again. We’re hoping to use the bikes to visit some of the more remote villages up there today and tomorrow.
    #30
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  11. Mofrid

    Mofrid Been here awhile Supporter

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    There is a lot of love out there for you guys!!
    Thanks
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  12. RedDogAlberta

    RedDogAlberta High Plains Drifter

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    ^^^^^ Agreed. Ride safe and be aware of this newly named COVID-19 (by the World Health Organization).
    #32
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  13. Sideoff

    Sideoff Been here awhile

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    Waking up this morning in Phongsali.

    Leaving Boun Nuea we headed into the hills as planned yesterday on a twisty paved road. It rained the night before, so the road was wet, and the surface slippery with diesel and oil. I dragged a foot on the pavement and when I put it back on the peg it was all oily and sliding around. So we knew it was sketchy and were going slow.

    I came around a turn that looked dry and sticky by comparison to the others. I was still going slow (~20 mph) but not slow enough. The bike went down and I slid maybe 30 feet with my left foot trapped under the bike, twisting it up pretty bad. Afterward we checked out the start of the slide and there was a distinct, very slippery patch where it started.

    Here you can see the white line caused by the footpeg gouge. You can trace it back to the beginning, before where it turns white, near the apex of the turn. Ash saw the whole thing unfold. She has more pics, I was shaken up and only took this one.

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    The damage.

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    We continued to Phongsali, about 10 km more, and found a room to lay up for a bit. That’s where we are now. Ash found some ice and a bandage.

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    I settled in to see if it would get better or worse (still not sure). Ash stocked me up on snacks, then went to see if there were any local medical options. There’s a building marked ‘hospital,’ but no medical activity happening there. The room marked ‘ICU’ was being used for storage. No x ray machines or doctors or anything like that. The nearest hospital is 5-6 hours away in Oudomxay so we’ll probably head that direction at some point soon.

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    Further complicating things, Ash woke up with a cough yesterday that got worse through the day. By last night she had a fever too, and she still has it this morning. Not a bad one, 100.4 degrees, but definitely a fever. Plus runny nose, aches and pains, and all that. Given our location, the headlines, and the symptoms, it’d be hard not to reference the virus. More likely though, it’s a minor respiratory infection from all the dust.

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    So basically we’re just kind of a mess here in Phongsali this morning. I can barely walk, and Ash isn’t very motivated to get out of bed. We’ll see how the day unfolds.

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    #33
  14. borderlinebob

    borderlinebob Been here awhile

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    Well it appears you’re both still smiling.
    Heal up and get well.

    Take your time, we can all wait for the rest of this story.

    :drums
    #34
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  15. AdvMoto18

    AdvMoto18 NORDO Supporter

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    Pete

    Hope you're not too dinged up!

    PM in your Inbox.
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  16. Sideoff

    Sideoff Been here awhile

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    Here’s something I can confirm about the virus from where we are right now in northern Laos.

    The infection statistics in Asia are surely way understated. It seems impossibly optimistic to think that the virus hasn’t reached Laos, despite the government’s ‘0 confirmed cases’ statistic. Given the amount of trade and labor going back and forth across the border (which is now shut) for all these Chinese dam and construction projects, the virus is here for sure. There are loads of people coughing and sneezing all over the place here, and I’m sure many of them have fevers too - which is probably completely normal, not the virus - but not a single one has been checked, because nobody is checking. Here in this hotel I can hear people in other rooms down the hall coughing. Virus? Probably not. But who would know?

    The two special hospitals that Laos has setup to deal with it are both located in Vientiane, which is 20 hours south. If someone in a village here near the China border was sick, and IF they had an awareness of the virus through the news or whatever, and IF they knew there were hospitals down south setup to deal with it (very unlikely), I just can’t imagine they would - in their feverish and coughing state - pack up their stuff and pay for public transportation to go 20 hours south (infecting other people along the way) to a city they’ve never been to, just for the privilege of a ‘possible’ positive diagnosis followed by an uncomfortable and boring multi-week quarantine a long ways from their friends and family. What if they go all that way, the diagnosis is negative, and it was only a cold? What a hassle.

    Way more likely if someone got sick, is that they would put on a face mask (if they could find one, the stores here are mostly sold out, and the government has officially fixed the price of face masks and hand sanitizer to prevent price gouging, which is now leading to widespread shortages) and go about their business, doing their best to power through and keep working, and trying not to let anyone else see they’re sick. For sure that is happening all around us, and in other areas as well. Anyone who’s seen videos of people forcibly dragged from their homes and taken to quarantine in China, is going to keep their mouth shut until they’re nearly dead.

    I know this because we’re facing a similar decision. If a traveling foreigner walks into a rural hospital in Laos today with a cough and fever, what would they do? Quarantine, for sure, but where? Most rural hospitals here probably can’t even test for the virus. So unless one of us got really sick, we’d opt to self quarantine instead.

    Just laying around musing on this stuff. Ash is asleep. She just woke up long enough to say she doesn’t feel up to riding today. Not much else to do except stare at the wall.

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    #36
  17. b4thenite

    b4thenite Been here awhile

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    go have some hot soup and rice noodle.
    Good luck and keep us posted.
    #37
  18. 95Monster

    95Monster Long timer

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    I crossed from Laos to Vietnam a couple days ago and was checked for fever 3 times on the Vietnamese border. Now I’m in a fancy hotel near HCMC where they checked my temperature before check in, entering the restaurant for dinner and again this morning at breakfast.

    So get well before you attempt a border crossing.
    #38
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  19. Sideoff

    Sideoff Been here awhile

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    Thanks for that information. We were figuring as much. Our ability to leave Laos with a fever by either air or land would be pretty limited. Even to arrange any kind of transport other than our bikes right now would be tricky, since everyone is on high alert. I’m sure Ash’ll bounce back after some rest and then my ankle can go back to being our main impediment Rough day yesterday. Hope your trip is going well man!
    #39
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  20. 95Monster

    95Monster Long timer

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    Wish I were closer as I have antibiotics for respiratory infections. Hopefully she gets over it quickly.
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