Cycling Vietnam and Laos by Exodus' client Cliff Simm

I first travelled with Exodus in 1984 on an adventure trek in Morocco and have been with them many times since on walking trips to Kilimanjaro, India, Nepal and elsewhere but only two years ago did I take up cycling and I am now hooked on. Before joining the Laos trip I had already cycled up to Hanoi from Saigon and have already made a booking for the Rajasthan cycling trip next January.

For many people “Morecombe and Wise” and “The Two Ronnies” mark the ultimate in double-acts, but for those who recently completed the Hanoi to Bangkok cycling trip through Laos we would add the names of Tui and Long. Exodus customer Cliff Simm reports.

Mr Long met us in Hanoi and led us out towards the Laos border at Na Meo following the route taken by the famed “Ho Chi Minh Trail”. Here, he was met by Mr Tui and his support team. We had an excellent picnic after passing through the Vietnamese Immigration post and before being cleared through the Laotian post ¼ mile away on the other side of the river marking the border between the two countries. That in itself was an unusual experience.

Both the spoken and written forms of the Vietnamese and Laotian languages are quite different, and Long and Tui had to communicate with each other in English but despite that they arranged a fantastic journey for us full of interest and humour. Laos has yet to be corrupted by the excesses of western culture. The people in towns and villages, although very different, are equally laid back and appear to take life as it comes. The roads are remarkably free from traffic and are a delight to cycle on. It is true that when they go through mountain passes they can go up for a long time but whilst grinding up in bottom gear you can savour the thoughts of freewheeling downhill for 20km or sometimes more. Our arrival at the Patuxai Monument in Victory Square, Vientianne to enjoy a Beerlao in the late afternoon sun to celebrate the (almost) completion of a superb cycling experience is something that none of us will forget.

It remained only for a final easy flat 50km ride the next day to the border crossing into Thailand. This proved to be as memorable as the entry into Laos 11 days earlier.

After passing through immigration in Laos we had to cross the new “Friendship Bridge” over the Mekong before arriving at the Thai immigration. Another “experience” but made more interesting since we cyclists, together with cars, trucks and buses each going in opposite directions had to change over from riding on the right side of the road to the left. Naively I had expected a flyover! Road markings were not particularly helpful in this procedure, which was compounded by railway lines, which also crossed the bridge in the centre with 30mm gaps between the rails, which seemed designed to catch the wheels of unwary cyclists. However Messrs Long and Tui guided us safely through this melee and it was with great sadness and very many thanks that we said “Goodbye” to Tui and our bikes at the railway station before boarding the overnight train to Bangkok.

Mr Long stayed with us all the way to Bangkok and at the final dinner the following limericks were read out. The last line was met by unanimous approval.

A genial boy is our Long,
A smile on the end of his tongue.
His jokes are a dream,
They make us all scream.
That cheerful young man with a song.
Our Long is a wonderful boy,
He keeps us all in employ.
He’s up in the morn,
Quite often before dawn,
And thinks that’s what we enjoy.
I’ll tell of a young man called Long,
Who took us to see the H’mong.
As cool as an icicle,
He rode on his bicycle,
I’m sure we’ll be back before long.

Cliff Simm travelled on Exodus’ Cycling Indochina trip. (MOL)

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