Trip Start Jun 25, 2011
85Trip End Dec 24, 2011
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Our bus is due to leave Vientiane at midday so we get our selves some lunch and wait for the transfer bus from our Guesthouse. This bowls up at half 12, an 8-seater minivan with 6 other westerners aborard, and proceeds to take us out of the centre for 20 minutes. In 5th gear the entire way and doing no more than 15 miles/hr at any time.
It drops us off, not at a bus station, but at the side of the main highway that leaves the city. Here we are told that our bus will pick us up. this is the falang stop it seems.
The double-decker 'VIP' bus that arrives is the nicest we have had yet. By this we mean that all of the features of interior decoration inside matches one another (limey green) and that there is a toilet downstairs (no light, no lock, sloppy bowl of water at your feet). We're excited!
We have been told that the journey takes between 4 and 5 hours...
7 hours later, after dark, we pull into Tha Khek bus station and once reunited with our bags are ushered onto a tuk tuk with the other westerners present for the standard 10,000 kip fare into town. 9 of us, plus luggage, manage to pile in and 3 of us get off at the first stop: The Tha Khek Travel Lodge (no relation to the English brand. trust us.). We've heard that this is the best place from which to start (and hopefully also finish) the 4 day motorcycle route around this area of central Laos know as 'The Loop'. The Lodge has a book where people who have done the trip can write about their experiences of it and leave advice for those intending to attempt it in the future, so we give it a good read over dinner. There are a lot of stories of break downs, poor road conditions and injuries but we decide that if we don't try we'll never know.
After dinner we overhear a nearby group talking about having been in Nong Khiaw, and describing how they were invited to the big celebration of a baby's birthday by the baby's cousin. Claire cannot resist asking them if the cousin was called 'Homm' and when they say yes we realize they attended the celebration of the baby we saw on the day it was born. Its a small Laos world out here.
We head to bed, or what feels more like wood planks with a cotton lining.
In preparation for 'The Loop', we have to have a boring admin morning sorting money out and sending a package home of some of the stuff we have bought so far home.
On arriving at the post office we meet some of the friendliest postal staff ever; it has to be said that they put the New York postal workers we met to absolute shame. They look at some of what we are sending home, but instead of checking that we aren't sending anything we shouldn't, it seems that they are more interested than wanting to do their job. The things we are sending home are mainly baby stuff, (for a new Nolan nephew due soon!) which the staff find hilarious and this results in one guy wearing various baby things we have brought and pretending to suck a dummy. When we then can't find 'United Kingdom' on their list of countries for pricing, we stand puzzled for 10 minutes trying to work out why our home country doesn't exist while they laugh at us. England aint there either and we finally find 'Great Britain' and feel very silly. Only then we realise we don't have enough cash - they don't take visa - which means Claire has to walk for half an hour to try and find an ATM, and then jump in a Tuk Tuk (using her new Lao money speaking skills along with 'oooh Peeeng' meaning - expensive!) and finally the package is sent.
We head into central Thakhek for lunch and see that there isn't much going on here. It's very dusty and quiet, similar to most border towns we have been to. We buy supplies for our trip round 'the loop' and go to the worst internet cafe ever. Two computers are working, one of which is linked to a huge flat screen TV so while Claire looks at her Facebook so do a group of Lao men behind her.
Back to the guesthouse where we meet Mr Ku who rents bikes for 'the loop'. He only has semi-automatics so Claire has some practice and reckons she'll survive. We've heard that there are parts of the loop which are pretty hard going, bad pot holes in the road and areas covered with mud, so we are a little nervous, but we have also heard that it is well worth it, so we book to leave the following day, starting with the difficult part of the route first.