I didn’t want to overstay my visa so the first step for getting the bike into Laos was extending it. I know people from some countries, among them Sweden, can enter Vietnam on a visa exemption for fifteen days. I called to make sure that this would be possible for me and they confirmed that this applies at all border crossings and I can get it as long as it was more than 30 days since my last visa exempt entry. So, the day after getting rejected at the border I got on the bus headed for the nearest town in Laos, Muang Khua. I was surprised to see eight other foreigners on bus because I hadn’t seen that many on my entire afternoon of sightseeing in Dien Bien Phu. We got to the border and after paying various fees (visa $30, stamping $3, tourism fund $2, medical check $1) I got through without trouble. When we got to Muang Khua I just followed the other foreigners until we found a guesthouse that looked good. Muang Khua is a small town and there’s really not much to see there so I spent my time sitting on the balcony reading and chatting with my bus companions. We had a really pleasant afternoon and evening together.
The next day I got on the bus back to Dien Bien Phu again. It was easy to find information on how to get to Muang Khua, but no matter how much I googled I couldn’t find any information on how to get back. However, I found this information nailed to the door of the tourist information office:
Bus timetable for Muang Khua
At first there seemed to but some trouble with my passport but after the guards had explained that I can only stay 15 days, which I agreed to of course, everything was cleared up and I got in. The bus arrived back in Dien Bien Phu at noon, relieved to find the bike still there, I set off towards the next crossing point.
Some views along the way
I was hoping to reach a town called Mai Chau not too far from the border but when darkness fell I still had a fair way to go and the road was not that good so I decided to stop in a place called Moc Chau instead.
Ever since I found out I couldn’t cross at DBP I’ve been using this (seemingly defunct @June 2019) post as a guide for the border crossing. According to that blog the road up to Na Meo is in bad shape. Not wanting to relive the misery of the road to Sapa, I figured it’s best to follow his advice and stay in the small town of Quan Son just at the start of the bad road.
Here is what Google suggests when you say you want to go from Quan Son to the Na Meo border crossing.
The distance between Moc Chau and Quan Son is pretty short (I think I have changed my standard a fair bit during this trip) so I figured I could do a bit of sightseeing on the way. Right in Moc Chau there are a couple of caves. Compared to the caves of Phong Nha they are not very impressive but it’s pretty interesting that they have put a couple of altars inside.
The altars in Moc Chau bat cave
It was raining most of the day so not much to see but just before I got in to Quan Son it cleared up and I got some decent views.
This morning I set off early, anticipating the bad road ahead but the construction work that the blog was talking about must have been completed since it was posted, because the road up to the border was nice and smooth. Formalities at the border went surprisingly well and at 9:35 am I rolled into Laos. It was a four day detour but I finally made it into the country with the motorbike.
As soon as I entered Laos the road became considerably worse but still better than the dirt track up to Sapa. To celebrate getting in to Laos, I stopped for a bit of sightseeing in a town called Viengxay. There are lots of caves in the area that were used by the Pathet Lao to escape from the American bombs during the secret war. You can visit a number of them on a tour from Viengxay. The guide basically just takes you to the different locations, all the information is provided by my least favorite medium, audioguide. The caves were not quite as impressive as I thought they would be. There’s no need to come here just to see them, but if you are passing by it’s not a bad way to kill some time.
When I was done with the caves I headed for my stopping place for the night in Xamneua. Tomorrow I start exploring Laos for real.