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11 October 2011 / leggypeggy

Yes, there’s a motorcycle under all that stuff

How much stuff can you load on a motorbike?

Yesterday we were cliff hanging at the Laos–Vietnam border (see One bus and 40 cases of whiskey for more detail).

It was after 8pm. We were officially stamped out of Laos, but there was no way Vietnam was going to let us in until 7 the next morning.

It may be a busy international border, but every night they close up passport control about 7:30. They pack away the date stamps, hide the pens, lock the cupboards and go home.

Only the border guards are left behind, and all they can do is say that they can’t do anything.

Lu, our tour leader, begged, pleaded, threatened, negotiated and cajoled. Surely they could let the 21 of us through. Although that girl is a smooth talker, none of it got her anywhere except completely frustrated. Actually in the end, she managed to gain two concessions.

First, the guards let her return briefly to the Laotian side of the border—by a chauffeur-driven motorcycle—to buy food for us as we had had no meal since noon. Second, she convinced them to find a slightly better place for us to spend the night than on the kerb by the border gate.

‘Slightly better’ is stretching it. They unlocked a stairwell that was part of the brick wall that created one side of the border gate. It was dark (no electricity), airless (no windows) and buggy. We could sleep on the floor, the stairs or the landing. The toilet was the great outdoors.

Poor John and I looked it over and decided our best option was to sleep in the breezeway just outside the stairway’s entry door. There was an archway at each end of the breezeway, with one end open in the direction of Laos and the other end closed off by a metal grille (no doubt, to keep us from scampering into Vietnam during the night).

We were the only ones to stay outside and we appreciated the fresh air. The floor surface didn’t matter because it was all rock-hard and rather grubby terrazzo. A good slathering of bug repellent kept the mosquitos away and we added some extra clothes to stay warm. I wrapped a sarong around my legs and a skirt around my shoulders. Our backpacks made okay, if lumpy, pillows.

Even though the border was supposedly closed, there was a lot of motorcycle traffic all night long, going each way across the border. In every case, they were driving on a little footpath that ran around the outside of the breezeway. In spite of this frequent and infuriating activity (if they could go through the border why couldn’t we?), Poor John and I actually fell asleep—until 3:55am. That’s when the guards suddenly flung open the metal grille beside us.

The sun rises and the bikes just keep coming.

Time for the real action. For the next few hours, hundreds of heavily laden motorbikes passed by, with most crossing from Vietnam into Laos. Not one stopped for any kind of border check and the guards took no notice of them (except to open the grille to help them on their way). We’ll never know if they were smugglers or simply early-rising entrepreneurs. Although photos are not allowed at borders, I managed to snap a few pictures as the bikes sped past my ‘bed’.

It wasn’t long before Poor John and I abandoned our sleeping spot and returned to the kerb by the main gate. Our travelling companions weren’t too far behind and once the border opened at 7, we were on our way to Hué, our first stop in Vietnam.

This is the third time we’ve spent the night at or near a border, and it was certainly the most entertaining.


Leave a Comment
  1. Nona Shinagawa Myers / Oct 12 2011 3:50 am

    Glad you made it through Peggy. And sleeping with bug spray on is awful.


  2. leggypeggy / Oct 12 2011 9:57 am

    Thanks Nona! I never really working about making it through. Taken in the right spirit, these challenges make the trip more fun. As for the bug spray—I’m used to it. I wear it morning and night—like a badge of honour. Bugs have always pursued me. My mum once predicted that my perfume would always be eau-de-bug-spray.



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