Mekong meanderings – Part Two: Carry on regardless

Mekong riverSoon the Mekong took a right turn into Laos and the border was now defined by a smaller river more akin to the Thames. Now it was, as they say in Cornwall, “proper rural”. The road had gone from good to potholes to more potholes than road to just what was left. Progress was slower and habitation scarcer. I was heading north now towards a town called Nan and during the day kept on passing or being passed by a group of locals touring on their lovely lightweight enduro motorcycles. It got to a point that we started waiving to each other and they appeared to be going the same direction as me. I passed them all sat at a village shop having cold drinks and we waived as normal and I followed the clear signs onwards to Nan.

Being on the Laos border every village had a small bamboo hut with a pivoting red and white pole that could be let down to block the road at night . They are kept up during the day and only likely suspects stopped. I slowed down just in case but always get a friendly wave through so it didn't surprise me when I passed through one with no one in attendance but it did surprise me to get stopped at the next one. “Passport” the man with the gun demanded so I gave him mine which he opened and went through carefully “ Where your visa?” he asked so I showed him my Thai visa “No, no, you visa for Lao, you in Lao now”. How, what, where? Now I realised the unmanned post I had passed 10 or so miles back must have been the Thai border. I promised faithfully to return straight back to Thailand and not pass go or collect £200 and went gratefully back the way I'd come.

Thai bikers who I caught up after road ran out Back to the unmanned post which was now manned. “Passport” said the man with the gun so I handed mine over. “Where your exit stamp from Lao? where your Lao visa?” I told him what had happened in my inadequate Thai, “Where your exit stamp from Thailand?”  after much serious faces and repeats of “where your exit stamp?” I was sure I heard the penny drop and his face softened as he realised I had obviously gone through while he was asleep. With a “you be more careful next time” I was sent on my way, phew!

I backtracked the 10 or so miles to the next turn off and waived to the others as I passed them mounting up, after a couple of miles they all passed me beeping and waiving as we climbed up a steep hair pined road for some 6 miles. I was getting low on fuel but knew the next village would have some for sale in used whiskey bottles as all rural settlements do. I finally reached the top and swung round a left hander to start my descent to find the road stopped and became a single dirt track. Now I was in a pickle, it was at least twenty miles back to the last village.

Waterfall near Laos borderI had about an hour’s daylight left and my map didn't agree with what was in front of me. I could see tyre tracks so decided to push on and free wheel as much as I could knowing full well that a village must be just round the next bend. Light was fading and I was resigning myself to ending my days lost in the mountains when I caught sight of the back of a motorcycle, it was the others! I was saved…. if only I could catch them. After ages one of them looked back and I finally caught them up, boy was I happy and relieved. It turned out one of them knew the area and assured me we only had 35 kilometres to go!!! They said I was a brave man coming down the track as I did but little did they know that desperation was behind it.

It was dark when we finally found tarmac again and I topped the fumes my bike was running on with the proper stuff, it was a good job it was downhill all the way. By eight o'clock I was buying my rescuers all a beer in Nan and reflecting on a hard lesson learnt about a) trusting Thai road maps and signs and b) topping the bike up whenever you can. (I now have a bike that does 230 miles to a tank full as opposed to the big Honda that did 100).

•  Read Part One: Meeting the Prime Minister … and a local

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Steve Francis

Thailand tour guide

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