Day 6 - An Epic Border Crossing That Shouldn't Have Happened - Summer Thaime - CycleBlaze

July 23, 2018

Day 6 - An Epic Border Crossing That Shouldn't Have Happened

An early start was going to be an absolute must for whatever outcome the day had in store. The plan would involve biking 50km to the border over an insane roller coaster of hills then trying my luck with the actual crossing.

Some background info on this:  it is actually confirmed (since 2017) that you cannot ride bikes across the border from Thailand into Sayaboury province in Laos at three checkpoints.  The reasons for this are as clear as mud.  You can still exit via a bike at this crossings as I did last year but I knew that entering would be more difficult.  It would still be worth a try anyway.

There was plenty of time to think of a strategy after leaving the resort and hitting the hills. The day started off stunningly beautiful. Of course I had to stop off at the last 7/11 en route and stock up mightily on water.  

Beautiful start to the day
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Stocking up!
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The hills though weren't coming. This felt really odd as last year I distinctly remember some monsters while doing it in reverse.  With 40km, now 30km to the border and still no hills. When would they start? Well at about 25km to the border they began with a vengeance and the road turned skywards. The first climb was definitely the hardest as it switchbacked right up with no mercy.  But then strangely after that it all felt so much easier than I remembered from last year in reverse. Not to say it was a walk in the park, but the entire 50km ride only took a bit more than 4 hours and I had arrived at the border.

We're in hill country now
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I sat down to have a nice Thai meal, hopefully the last for awhile, then got psyched up to execute the strategy.  A carrying bag for the folding bike would have been essential but for whatever reason I didn't have one this time.  This was going to hamper the strategy big time but at this point I had no choice.  The bike was dismantled by the side of the road as I got busy finding vehicles to shuttle me and the bike across.  But after awhile nobody wanted to help, and I was essentially told to contact immigration and look for a taxi in no man's land after getting stamped out. This was exactly what I didn't want. 

The bike was folded up and left on the ground near immigration but out of sight.  I would get stamped out first then deal with the bike later if he asked about it.  He of course saw me hauling the bike and looked worried but I pre-empted any tough questions with a question of my own: "Where can I find a taxi?" .  Now there was no turning back. The folded up bike and other stuff got dumped into the tuktuk and off we went over the hill to a sense of impending doom.

Once at the Laos entry checkpoint, two guards approached the tuktuk and started chatting with me.  It didn't take long before they saw the bike, and even though it was folded up inside the tuktuk they said, "You can't bring the bike in.  You can come in, but not the bike."  So what was I supposed to do, just dump the bike?  And what if the bike was in a bag which should have been done all along?  Would they have said anything then?  Well at this point there wasn't much to say.  They then asked, "Did the immigration in Thailand say anything about this?"  I said "No they didn't" which was true.  They said, "The nearest border you can cross with a bike is in Huay Sai."  There was no fucking way I was gonna backtrack and do that, especially that I had gone to all the trouble of getting a pre-authorized Laos visa in Bangkok just in case of meeting a situation like this.  I politely explained the situation and showed the guards the visa and told them, "My plan is to go to Pak Beng and then get on a boat to Luang Prabang.  If you want, I can ride this tuktuk all the way to Pak Beng and not ride the bicycle there."  They discussed with each other for a bit then asked me, "Where will you get stamped out?"  I told them at Vientiane.  They discussed some more and agreed to the plan and let the tuktuk driver go ahead.   I thanked them for this, but was prepared to cut my losses and have to go back.  This was a lucky break for sure.  If I got sent back, I would have then forfeited Laos altogether, as a second attempt at Huay Sai wouldn't be worth the trouble and expense of another visa.  The pre-authorized visa most likely saved my butt.  My guess is hardly any foreign tourists apply for them anymore, as they're available at the border.  But you know me, I always have to do things differently.

I got stamped in at some decrepit old building that was mainly used by locals, this confirmed many foreigners don't use it.  Still it's allowed to cross but the bicycle situation is a mystery for sure.  It made no sense why I shouldn't be allowed to ride in here, after all it's not a national ban on cycle tourists.  Or maybe it is, but only certain provinces enforce it?  At any rate, I was going to "take the tuktuk".  Someone hopped in my tuktuk after passing the last guard station, most likely a spy to make sure I wasn't about to just abandon the tuktuk and start biking.  The spy requested to be dropped off in town (closest one to the border is a very small place called  Muang Ngeun), but I kept on.  Finally I said to the driver I'm tired, just drop me off at the nearest guesthouse.  He did, I paid him 200 baht, and he took off.

At that point I re-assembled the bike and rode into town to get something to eat and couldn't help but feel nervous that immigration might send more spies after me in the form of motorbikes to make sure I wasn't actually riding.  It seemed ridiculous but you never know.  So for the next while I hid my bike behind the restaurant and at for a very long time, over a couple of hours, and took a nap before judging that it was safe enough to take off and head out of town.

The sound of motorbikes coming behind me continued to make me nervous and I'd dip off the road occasionally.  This was of course totally ridiculous.  At the edge of town the road started climbing a hill and then the traffic petered out.  About halfway up the hill, there it was:  a sign advertising wifi and smoothies.  I was ecstatic.  I rolled on up the dirt road and arrived at the smoothie shop much to the gasps of astonishment from all the locals there.  Surely they had never seen a foreigner here before, much less on a bicycle.  If this ban had succeeded in anything, it was stopping foreign tourist traffic from visiting local businesses and enjoying amazing pristine local hospitality.  They were all super nice and helped me exchange money and set me up for a guesthouse for the night, after all the place doubled as such. 

Bike safely in the guesthouse and out of sight
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Spotted!! This picture was actually taken at 3am the next day, will explain later. On arrival it was around 5pm
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Today's ride: 62 km (39 miles)
Total: 409 km (254 miles)

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