Saturday, December 31, 2016

Laos Or Not, Here I Come

Here I am at Quan Son, Vietnam, about 40 kilometers from what I am fairly sure is a valid crossing into Laos. This is the place that I thought I would get to yesterday, but then I took the wrong roads. The road here from Mai Chau, Vietnamese Highway QL15, was not too bad, though it had a few hairy spots, mostly before the turnoff for Highway QL15C. I originally wanted to take QL15 only part of the way, and then take QL15C, which would have taken me through Pu Luong National Park. But I turned off onto QL15C, and it was absolutely abysmal. It was a constant slog through about four inches deep of mud and slime, with many deep pits and ruts and bumps. I probably went about a quarter of a kilometer down that road, probably going slower than I would be walking most places. But walking through this would be a nightmare. Finally, I said, fuck this, and turned around to take the rest of QL15. And it was not bad at all for the rest of the way. I had already gone through the worst of it before I turned off. There were some places where it turned to dirt and/or got rutty, but it was definitely pretty solid for most of the way. I did go through some areas on it where they were laying down fresh asphalt, so maybe a year ago it would have been different.

When I pulled into Quan Son, I had three goals. One, to find a hotel. Two, to get gas. Three, to get an oil change. The first goal was the most important, so I drove all the way through the town Fairly slowly, looking at all the buildings, and I didn't find a hotel. But I did find a gas station on the edge of town after I drove through it, so I filled up. Actually, I found two gas stations; one was in the middle of town, but I passed it since my primary goal was to find a hotel. After I got gas, I doubled back through town, paying even more attention to each building, and finally I found a hotel. So I checked into the hotel, and they put a board on the stairs outside so I could ride my motorcycle into the building and keep it inside.

So now I've met my first two goals, and the only thing left is to get an oil change. I took my bike out again, but realized I had forgotten my helmet. Oh, well, I wasn't going far. The sight of a long haired westerner riding down the street without a helmet definitely did turn a few heads, though. I finally found a place down the main street, typed “oil change” into Google Translate, and the mechanic nodded his head. So I watched him change the oil, it was very quick and cheap, and then I pulled my bike back into the hotel, gunning it and driving up the board placed on the outer stairs through the front doors. Before I had just walked it up that board.

This hotel is probably one of the most expensive I've stayed in in Vietnam, and one of the least comfortable and nice ones. I'm not really complaining, I have a bed to crash on so I'm fine. But there is no toilet paper, the toilet has no flushing handle and no top on the tank, there's no garbage receptacle at all, the TV is completely blank (not that I'd be watching TV anyway, I just checked it out to see what was there and the answer was nothing at all). And the door does not lock from the outside at all, though I can lock it from the inside once I am in the room. Update: there is a button inside the open tank that apparently flushes the toilet. I have a small amount of emergency toilet paper that I bought in Mongolia and still haven't used, so if I need it, it is there. It will probably only last through one or two toilet events. I had a roll stuffed into my backpack, but at some point, I must have left it behind, because it is not there any more. And it's pretty darned chilly in here.  The bathroom seems to have a huge opening in the wall up near the ceiling that just leads to the outside; sort of a window without glass.  But on the plus side, the wi-fi is some of the strongest I've encountered yet in Vietnam.

I'm a little concerned about the road to Laos from here. Supposedly, it goes through to Na Meo, which is the last town in Vietnam before the Laos border, and the border crossing is actually about ten kilometers into Laos, so you are actually in Laos long before you go through a crossing with both Vietnamese and Laotian officials. But the reports I've read of it online vary widely. Some say it is not crossable at all, some say though there are some serious problems, it is passable. And one guy said he had almost no problems. But what bothers me the most is that when I try to find a route on Google Maps from Quan Son to Na Meo, it takes me through two alternate routes that create giant loops going way the hell out of the way, crossing into Laos at places that are probably impossible to cross, and then coming back into Vietnam, but no route actually taking the relatively straight road that goes right there. WTF? Google Maps gave me a frigging goat path the other day to drive on, and it showed me Highway QL15C, which was one of the most abysmal roads I've ever been on. There are only certain crossings into Laos that are designated as international crossings (where foreigners can cross); the rest are so-called domestic crossings where only locals who live around the border can cross. None of the crossings that Google Maps take me through in its little roundabout diversion seem to be crossings that I can actually cross at, and I would probably be turned back.

Another complication is the fact that due to my delay from taking the wrong road yesterday, I will be trying to cross into Laos on New Year's Day, which is an official holiday, but I have no idea if that means the border crossings will be closed. And if they are closed, I just might have to turn back via a road that might be completely hellish. So I just don't have enough information to determine if this whole attempt to cross into Laos will succeed or not. Oh, what the hell, I'm just going to go for it. If you never hear from me again, you'll know why.

No comments:

Post a Comment