Thakhek

I arrived in Vientiane, the capital and felt completely alone and very lonely. This city seemed to be filled with mostly bars and restaurants, activities usually enjoyed by groups. I had to get out and decided that the next day I would get on a bus and leave to the next stop. I took out the map and tried to figure out whether I wanted to do a northern loop in the country or travel directly south. I had read a lot about each place and remembered that Thakhek had something cool to offer and so I purchased myself a ticket and arrived there the next night.
I found myself a hotel and headed out to get something to eat for dinner. I decided now would be a good time to figure out what to do next. I read through the Wikitravel article on Thakhek and realized the single reason people come to this town is to do a 360 mile motorcycle loop through the jungle. I had two options, get back on the bus and head somewhere else or learn how to operate a motorcycle. I opted for the latter and picked adventure over wussing out.  
I inquired at my hotel where I could go about getting a motorcycle  The attendant said he could have his friend there early in the morning with a motorcycle. I retired to bed and woke up early to get started learning how to ride a motorcycle. The man showed up and he gave me a five minute lesson and then tossed me the keys. 
At this point I assessed the state of the bike. Various parts of it were falling apart or already broken. I remembered from months ago, reading a blog about the motorcycle loop and how the guy had a broken odometer and indicated its value. If I was recalling correctly, I was now sitting on the same bike with the same broken odometer value. The rental price for the bike was $8 a day so I couldn’t exactly complain about the state of the bike. 
I grabbed a few key articles of clothing and other necessities from my big backpack, filled up the gas tank(with a broken gas gauge), and headed off for mile one of the journey. 
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Hanoi to Vientiane

This bus journey was quite possibly the most bizarre experience of my travels. I booked the transportation through a travel agency that would take care of getting me from the hotel, to the bus station, across the Vietnam-Laos border, and to Vientiane, the capital. It all started with a shuttle bus which picked me up at around 8pm and then continued on to pick up other backpackers who had shared the same idea of an overnight bus ride to save time for more exciting activities. We continued  to pick up more people. Eventually we reached a comfortable maximum capacity and then continued to pick up even more people. By the time we were ‘full’ we filled a ten seat bus with fourteen people with a backpack for each person roughly the size of its owner. The bus then sat on the side of the road for another ten minutes or so with a driver who didn’t speak English and the guy who picked us up missing in action. The bus driver received a call and we started moving again. We eventually made our way to the bus station, got just about pushed out of the shuttle and directed towards the entrance to the bus station. The group of us entered and found a very grumpy worker at the counter who refused to acknowledge us or let anyone go to the bathroom. He continued to not answer our questions but eventually started handing out bus passes and we were herded onto the two buses. I found my seat and tried to get comfortable for the bus ride that would occupy the next eighteen or so hours of my time. 
Surprisingly the ride went pretty smooth until we made it to the border crossing at around 5am. The group of us filed out and into the border crossing building. One by one we got our paperwork filled out and then directed out the next door. After a long wait and a small fee to line the employees’ pockets, I found myself on the other side of the door. What awaited me was a scene from a horror movie. There was extremely thick fog which reduced my vision to a considerably shorter range. For some reason, we’re not allowed to ride the bus between the two countries I had to walk to the other side. The road to the left ran back into Vietnam so I took to the right and started walking. I could see shapes of other travelers in the fog and so I followed them. On the sides of the road sat trucks waiting to pass through the border. They weren’t turned on and no light illuminated from inside. This added to the creepiness of the whole thing. After a five or so minute walk, thinking something was going to attack me from the fog, I found our bus waiting to continue on to Vientiane. 

Hanoi: Last Stop

Seventeen wonderful hours later, the train finally pulled into Hanoi. We disembarked and were greeted by a much different climate than when we boarded. Just days ago we had suffered from sunburn and now we were bundled up in all the cold clothes we had.
We made a beeline for pho, dropped our stuff off at a hotel, and then continued on to a tourist agency. The only destination high on my friend’s list of places to see was Ha Long Bay and so we made a reservation to leave on a shuttle the next morning.
After making the purchase, we wandered the city for the night without any real goals.
The next morning we woke early and headed to the shuttle. Several hours later we arrived at the entrance to the bay. Since most of it was a lazy cruise I’ll place a few pictures below of the last two days of our trip.
Our boat for two days one night.

The view looked like this for miles.
We got kayaks and went paddling into different caves. 

Fresh fruit and vegetable vendor. 

Catching some sun. 

There were several floating villages throughout the area. This is a floating school.