Our instructions were to leave at 07:30 and travel together to the Laos border. But such was the excitement of our crews that the carpark was empty by 07:30 to get to the border quickly.
The drive was a treat of wonderful fast roads though a rural setting with a little rush hour traffic to keep us on our toes. This really is a civilised country with dual carriageway through the few towns we encountered.
Then the fun started, at least for most. We headed into the hills and climbed from below 300 meters to nearly 800 meters very quickly, only to plunge down the other side almost too fast. Then the next hill and the next one added a frisson of excitement to the morning until we achieved a peak on a ridge with views to both sides, unfortunately obscured by the same grey haze that has accompanied us from the start.
The border hoved into view on top of a hill and consisted of a few huts and several coffee stalls, one of which served the best coffee of the rally.
Our exit from Thailand took but minutes and we were into Laos. Entry to Laos was efficiently organised by our Laos agent Claire who had cared for us in Cambodia.
We enjoyed a few kilometres of good road to lull us into a false sense of security before the adventure to come.
Knowing that we would not find a restaurant for lunch, the ever remarkable Claire had organised a lunch box for each car that could have earned Michelin stars.
Our route then took us into the Laos hills, a continuation of the same hills in Thailand, except that they were steeper and higher, rising at one point to 1150 meters.
This would have been a challenge on it’s own but the day was made more challenging by the road surface. Sometimes it did not exist and when it did, it was potholed such that our progress was a slalom course across both sides of the road. With oncoming traffic.
Bend followed bend and it was impossible to relax for fear of doing permanent damage to the car.
To relieve the stress, the scenery was spectacular. Rising peaks of treed hills, vegetation that threatened to engulf the road and deep valleys where we could not see the bottom. This was deepest rural Laos and almost devoid of habitation. Absolutely lovely. Just the ever present signs of people going about their jobs in the fields.
We eventually emerged onto relatively flat land to turn north for Luang Prabang and, joy of joys, proper tarmac. Except that the road proved equally challenging because although the surface was better, potholes appeared at random and of sufficient depth to make us cautious. It had also been ferociously hot all day, so the last 50 kms were filled with anticipation of a cold beer.
As always along the way we were greeted with smiles and waves, and from a local sports team, cheers and a willingness to pose for a group photo
Plus a chance to see the mighty Mekong again, less full than we have seen it in previous spots. But tomorrow we have a chance for a boat trip out on to it to see up close.
So arrival in town was a blessed relief for all, especially David and Lorraine whose Rover had been jinxed by the steepness of the hills, but they made it. As did Robin and Charlotte whose Aston has got a bit hot under the collar towards the end too.
And an enormous round of applause for Lee and Mandy who arrived with a new gear lever, fashioned with bits of steel and a soldering iron.
Luang Prabang, part of French Indochina until 1953 has been a World Heritage site since 1997. It lies in a valley at the confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers and was the Royal capital of the country until 1975 when the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) was established. Known for its many Buddhist temples PDR now also stands for Please Don’t Rush. Something we intend to take very seriously over the next 24 hours!
The night market is very touristy, but we are tourists so a visit was a must.
The day proved a little controversial in that some loved the drive and some didn’t. But everybody came together in the evening for an excellent meal of Laotian cuisine to die for, and the Hotel is a dream. It’s a two nighter so tomorrow is a day off.