After a successful two month flying season in France, it was time to fly back to Vientiane via Amsterdam, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Udon Thani. I caught a shuttle bus from Udon Thani to the Thai/Laos border, then another bus which goes between the border posts, (and across the Mekong River) and finally caught a Tuktuk to a guesthouse close to the UNICEF office in Vientiane.
I went to the UNICEF compound the following morning and was happy to see my truck was as I had left it.
It was a busy morning; I firstly met with UNICEF and discussed our plan for Laos, before going to the Mongolian Embassy to apply for a visa, (which was conveniently only a couple of hundred metres away). Lastly, I took my truck to a garage for a service.
The Mongolian Embassy in Vientiane must be one of the most easy-going embassies around. I gave them the paperwork and they told me to come back the following afternoon to pick the visa up. On arriving the following day, they showed me to a room, gave me a drink and I made the payment. It was all very easy and hopefully a sign of good things to come in Mongolia.
One of the UNICEF workers, Simon, kindly offered me his couch to stay on while my truck was at the mechanic. He is an ex-pat from the UK and had been working with UNICEF Laos in Vientiane for around a year. It was interesting to hear what he had been up to, plus he introduced me to a few other UN staff members at dinners we went to on a couple of nights. UN workers live interesting lives and often end up in far-flung and exotic places. For example, The Chief of Communication for UNICEF Laos was called to work in Iraq for a few months as they needed his expertise. Challenging to say the least.
The truck was with the mechanic for four days. I decided to learn something about my truck and stayed at the workshop while it was being worked on. The owner, Mike, an ex-pat from Canada, was a wealth of information and it was very worthwhile. He is an old-school mechanic and a great problem solver with lots of stories to tell.
We checked everything, including removing the aftermarket fuel tanks, replacing the radiator and an air hose, plus giving the truck a general service.
I left Vientiane in convoy with a UNICEF vehicle with two UNICEF workers who would be helping me in Vang Vieng for the balloon inflation. The road was not bad for Laos standards, but was quite potholed and windy in parts. I hear it will get much worse the further north I go. It took 3.5 hours to make the 160km journey to Vang Vieng.
We found a hotel and had a look around the small town. Vang Vieng was infamous for people tubing down the river and stopping off at the many riverside bars set up along the way. The bars would crank music as loud as they could and offered various entertainment, such as drinking games and dangerous water slides. Quite a number of people drowned because they fell off their tube completely drunk. The government clamped down on it a while ago and shut down a lot of the bars overnight. The place is much more peaceful now and there are only a few of the now infamous bars.
We have just received the final paperwork for inflating the balloon on the old runway in the middle of the town. The runway used to be part of a US Airforce base during the Vietnam War and was decommissioned at the end of it. There has been a lot of rain today and showers are due for tomorrow. We are hoping that there will be a window in the weather to inflate the balloon.
After the balloon event, I will head north to the Chinese border. I have received all the permissions required and will cross into China on Friday.
This is the rough plan over the coming months:
Laos: 16/9 – 26/9
China: 26/9 – 5/10
Mongolia: 5/10 – 26/10
Russia: 26/10 – 7/11
Kyrgyzstan:28/11 – 13/12
Tajikistan: 13/12 – 23/12
Uzbekistan: 22/12 – 2/1/15
Turkmenistan: 2/1 – 7/1
Azerbaijan: 7/1 – 15/1
Georgia: 15/1 – 25/1
Armenia:25/1 – 30/1
Georgia Transit 31/1