Disaster Update: Lost Passports and Fractured Noses

In Vang Vieng, one is apt to scream ‘Frikkin Awe-some!’ while hurtling oneself  down a river, inebriated on rice whisky.  One is apt, apparently, to scrawl marker-pen slogans all over one’s semi-naked torso.  But only, luckily, if one happens to be a Spring-Break-aged US citizen with a healthy American zest for life.

For the rest of us, Vang Vieng was a bit of a shock.  To deal with said shock, we helped numerous bottles of whisky to empty themselves, thereby possibly saving various unseasoned US drinkers from an untimely doom, and ensuring their further economic support of the local beverage industry. 

The highway on the way there didn’t have signs screaming ‘This Way To East Tijuana’, or tequila-swigging donkeys swaggering to a latin beat.  It didn’t even have dodgy looking Gringos wearing inappropriate headgear … oh no, wait, it did have those.

So nothing had warned us.  In fact I thought it might be a nice place to unwind in the hills for a few days. The roads wound in a snakelike fashion, past thatched roadside huts and people with strange tractors.  


The bridges were suitably rickety in a pleasant, didn’t-quite-die way, and the government signs were suitably communist.  


Anyway, we found ourselves a little jungle hut, and drank with some decent chaps we found.  Then the bar shut, so we drank coke with something very peculiarly aromatic, from a bottle that someone had seen fit to squash an entire cobra into.  Then we ran out of mixer, so we mixed it with the Lao beer. 

Then we woke up in a state of severe dehydration a day later, whispering ‘Frikkin Awe-suum’ to ourselves very, very quietly.

The days passed. 

Adam got hurled off a zipwire from an enormous height, did an impressive back-flip, and obtained two black eyes and a possibly fractured nose for his efforts.  He resembled Snuffalupagus for days.

I met the largest spider I have ever had the misfortune of meeting in my poor sheltered life.  I met her close up, on the wall, in my hut.  She was about 3 feet away. She was very, very large.  She was also hairy, and very peculiar-looking.  (She may have been thinking the same.)  She thought she had found a home.   I know she was a she because she had an egg-sack the size of a golf ball underneath her.  Adam heroically removed the spider.  I didn’t sleep for two nights. 

We visited an enormous cave with incredibly crystal formations.  We rode there on the back of a rotivator.  The driver stopped at the petrol station, and we got fuel from a beer-tap, into a water bottle.

a rotivator taxi with our cowboy driver

beer-tap fuel

Five days later we remembered we were supposed to be touring and not just moving to a cosy jungle hut, and left for Luang Prabang.

The road to Luang Prabang was very, very curvy.  Like Mariah Carey during a heavy phase, that kind of curvy.  The kind of curves where you aren’t quite sure if it would be better to go fast and get it over and done with, or go slowly and try not to die.  It would have been a truly jaw-dropping ride if it weren’t for the abundance of loose gravel strewn across the tarmac.  And the joy was tempered slightly by the large number of unexploded bombs in the area left over from the 60s US carpet-bombing.  You don’t wander off into the bush for a pee, you hold on...

Everyone waved.  There were a lot of people living in the villages alongside Route 13.  And every person in every village waved.  Some of the two-year olds waved even before they saw the bike, they were that good.

The roads were being used to dry red chillies.  Old tribal women in traditional headgear strode about purposefully.  Kids played with makeshift bows and arrows. 

85% of Lao are rural subsistence farmers- and they seem to be fairly healthy with it.  Most houses appear to have electricity, though not many have running water- I saw whole households taking it in turns to wash at the pump.  There doesn’t appear to be the usual influx of hungry rural migrants looking to make a quick buck in the tourist cities though, which always seems a dead giveaway of general malaise.

Luang Prabang is a very well-preserved UNESCO heritage site.  It is full of French colonial architecture, and Wifi cafes.  Some say the French colonialists did very little for Laos during their rule.  In fact, some suggest the only thing they did was build big mansions and eat baguettes.  (OK, not the baguettes bit, that was me). 

The buildings are pretty.  They have all been turned into boutique hotels, which makes them slightly less than photogenic, unless you are particularly keen on rustic faux-antique signage.  And the tourists tend to be a little on the large size, possibly due to the abundance of $5 Steak a Poivres.   But the town is set on the Mekong River, and there are enough palm trees and temples to woo a weary wanderer.

We were woo’d, wearily.  We wandered about the temples in a daze.  

I tried not to sneak peeks at the beautiful things at the nightmarket, and tried even harder not to snigger when a very straight-laced English girl told us how ’er George had accidentally been forced to buy a duvet cover.

We left Luang Prabang when we realized we couldn’t afford breakfast. 
The plan was to head to the south, away from the tourist areas, via a visit to a waterfall that happened to be on the way.  It was all going well.  We’d left Luang Prabang and the expensive breakfasts behind, and were making good time. 

The waterfall was enormous, and incredibly beautiful, in a self-conscious sort of way.  It knew it was that good, and was strutting. 



 a really really big leaf, and me.

We found a bear sanctuary, quite by mistake, and watched person-size creatures playfully bite each others heads.. 

The bears had been rescued from poachers who keep them in ludicrously small boxes that the bears can’t even get all their limbs inside of, and ‘milk’ them via an open wound for ‘bear bile’.  The Chinese like to use bear bile in medicine.

We whizzed along, daydreaming about milking Chinese bear poachers and enjoying the ride.


Laos highway

Around two I heard a strange little repetitive tinny sound, like metal bumping along.   I dreamed on, oblivious. 

At half two the cogs in my brain began whirring and I turned to see a detached bungie cord bouncing along behind the bike.

Several minutes later I realized what that meant, and we screeched to a halt.

The bag containing both of our passports had fallen off the back of the bike. 

We feverishly hunted for the stuff along vast tracts of road. We retrieved the waterproof rucksack cover we kept the pan set in.  That was it. 

We had lost two passports, a wallet with $30, a USB pen drive, all my make-up, and our pan set and mugs. 

A good days work, and all thanks to my non-vicious bungie attachment method. 

I believe that morning I may also have been heard to mutter something along the lines of: ‘Don’t tie it down too tight or the mosquito cream will explode like last time.’ before taking it off Adam, who no doubt was doing a perfectly adequate job. Frankly in hindsight exploded mosquito cream would have been a far more amusing mess.

So our trip to South Laos won‘t happen, as we instead spend a week in Vientiane trying to sort out the ridiculous faff involved in trying to leave Laos, in order to then go to Bangkok to procure new passports.  The price of the passports also means after Thailand we will no longer be able to afford to visit Cambodia and Vietnam, and will have to head straight down to Malaysia.  It will cost us 350 pounds. 

Ho, and indeed, Hum.

And with that the latest saga of our ever-more-ridiculous trip is told, and I leave you to sit in a dark room, flogging myself.  Goodbye.



  1. Hi Nicky, I only just cottoned on to the fact you are on an amazing motorcycling trip. It must be a distant memory for you now, but I was interested in reading the Turkey and Iran bits. Two things struck me:

    1) I am stunned you two had the balls to drive through Iran. I contend nowhere else on earth is as dangerous as an Iranian road. So you have my utmost respect.

    2) You stayed in the same place as me in Yazd. Oh the memories.

    Anyway, have fun on the rest of the trip, and keep up the blogging - it's very entertaining!

    Andrea (from school)

  2. ps by entertaining I mean good, obviously!

  3. I agree with Andrea. It's very entertaining and written very well. I know how much work it is keep your blog updated on the road.
    Great to hear that things are going well with you, apart from having to get new passports.
    Keep up the good blogging and enjoy yourselves.


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