Over into Laos at the first attempt. I did wonder when I found the border post deserted. Turns out everyone was on lunch. Beautiful remote crossing on top of a mountain pass. Whilst I waited I managed to hack into the Vietnam immigration wifi, amazing how often 12345678 works, and listened to United v Huddersfield on BBC Radio 5. One of the stranger spots in the world I have listened to the football. You can get a Visa on arrival on the Laos side. $30 for the visa. $5 'Processing' fee. $2 'Weekend' fee. $2 'Stamping' fee and a $1 'I have no idea what for' fee. Everyone gets their cut. Sailed down the mountain and camped by a river.
I enjoyed a very pleasant week cycling across northern Laos. No alarms, no surprises. Laos is sparsely populated. There is little traffic on the roads. The back roads are largely deserted. It is often a bumpy ride. I imagine the dirt roads are one big puddle in the wet season. The villages are poor. Wooden houses built on stilts but every door is open and the people gather together outside their homes. Farmyard animals scurrying around everywhere. Each village has a little shop that sells nothing but noodles and biscuits. The villages seem wholly self sufficient. The land is mostly farmed to produce rice but they also produce corn, cotton, mung beans, tobacco, peanuts, potatoes and opium. The only crop produced for export is coffee. Laos is known as the land of a million smiles. There's a wonderfully laid back atmosphere everywhere you go. Camping is easy. Plenty of rivers to pitch your tent by and get clean. I have been here before and didn't explore too much until I got to the west of Laos where I took narrow dirt roads towards the Myanmar border and meandered through the shade of the jungle in the heart of the golden triangle. I eventually found the Mekong river and followed it to the Laos/Thailand border. I encountered all kinds of tourists. Many young backpackers in multi coloured harem pants clinging to their lonely planets. Quite a few motorbikers and in a remote village near the Myanmar border I came across a cycle tourer called Sergei from Poland. Probably in his early thirties. A nose the size of a cricket ball. He was hardly carrying anything. Slept in a bivvy bag. Lived on white rice. He tells me he entered Myanmar illegally from China and had just entered Laos the same way. He probably doesn't bother carrying a passport. His approach to cycling was if the road is paved he does not take it. I don't know whether this was for aesthetic reasons or because he just wanted to avoid the authorities. Hats off to his adventurous spirit. He'll end up in a foreign prison no doubt but he'll just see that as part of the adventure. I'm going to stick to official border crossings. There is no Laos/Myanmar border crossing open to foreigners so I will head into Thailand and see if I can cross a little further south.