6/12 I decide to follow the road along the river bank, but that turns out to be a mistake: there is lots of traffic and I only get glimpses of the river. Soon the road turns to dirt, undulating with very big holes. Things get really interesting when I catch up with some trucks. They stir up so much dust that I can't see a thing. Overtaking them on the 1 1/2 lane track is interesting. The drivers can't hear my horn, either. When I finally get back onto the main highway the rear tyre picks up a long nail. During the repair I find that my little tube of vulcanising fluid contains a lot of air and not much else. After patching 2 holes I find another and I give up and change the tube. I carry two spares precisely for this sort of event. From here on it's a cruise towards Paksan, but I find myself a little spot in the forest where I drop my bike in soft sand. A few m further I find a place to pitch the tent, so I don't need to load my luggage back on tonight, after having unloaded it to pick up my bike. ;-)
7/12 I get away early, continue a little way SE, then turn off onto Highway 8 in search of one of the great natural wonders of Laos: the Tham Lot Kong Lo limestone cave. First, I check into the lovely Auberge Hin Boun and after lunch leave to find the village from where to hire a boat to and into the cave. Unfortunately, I was given outdated info regarding the price and since I left everything else in the lodge I don't have enough money to pay for the trip. The villagers evidently have seen a few too many tourists: they want to change my dollars at a terrible rate, then charge me to park my bike in their village. A family from Nice/France turn up for the rescue, but no, too many people for one boat. An Aussie family don't want to share, so I return to the lodge. Tomorrow is another day...
8/12 Today I have more luck and I end up sharing a boat with two other people. It's certainly an amazing trip through the cave. Sorry, but the pictures don't do it justice. On my map there is a sight marked "bomb boats". I'm intrigued, but can't find anything, so it's just a scenic detour. Heading back West towards Route 13 I stop again at the lookout, hoping for better light for taking pictures. The French couple from Nice are already there. It's getting late again and I have no hope to even get half way to Savannaketh today, but I find a simple place to stay on the main road. Beats camping, the days are too short. As I sit in front of my room typing this there is a funny hissing noise and then a centipede quietly walks away from the terrace. It's only a little over 10 cm long!
9/12 The ride to Savannakhet is fairly fast and boring. Lots of greenery and villages, very little traffic (This is the only N-S road in the country).
11/12 I apply for my Thai visa. There is a big crowd at the consulate and staff are officious. I can collect it tomorrow at 14h. I ride North along the river. There I pass under the Friendship Bridge linking Laos to Thailand. The border post is 1/2 km back from the river, but it's not easy to find my way there. I want to ask whether I have to pay anything to leave, as I'm short of cash, but to my consternation I'm told bikes aren't allowed on the bridge. I check the passenger ferries, but they don't want to take my bike. If I can't get across here, perhaps on the back of a pickup, I have to ride South to Pakse, a detour of 250 km and another day lost. 3 days left on my visa, but that's not critical. Even if I can cross tomorrow, I can't make it to Koh Samui on the 14th any more, but that's not critical, either.
12/12 So, after collecting my visa I head for the border checkpoint. I haven't got much to loose to try anyway. After a few minutes I am called into the main building, then the director of immigration takes me into his office where he explaines to me that according to an agreement between the two govts. only cars, trucks and buses are allowed onto the bridge. He then proceedes to call his counterpart in Thailand and they agree to exceptionally let me cross.
After that processing is quick. Nobody asks for any bike documentation, which I don't have anyway, I only have to show the rego. Approaching the toll booth a girl and a young man jump out and stop me again. They have a problem with me crossing and want me to go to the police, which I don't, obviously. I think their problem is that the toll system is automated and they don't have a rate for bikes, but there are induction loops in the road. After 10 or 15 mins they indicate that I can go, but I have to leave via the wrong way, where there is no barrier or loop.