Made it to Mengla, about 45km north of chinese border. On the road at 0745. Followed hwy 3A which linked up with hwy 3 - another great smooth winding road around the mountains. Mostly comfortable 5% grades with some steeper 10% ones but not too many. Arrived at Boten - which is the border town on the Laos side 1145, got my exit stamp and proceeded on to Chinese border town of Mohan. There is a bank at Boten but for some reason they didn't want to change my money, so I went to some shopkeepers and got a few yuan (chinese currency) before going on. The Lao border town is nothing special but does have some basic accomodation and restaraunts. The chinese border town has more facilities. The chinese border was deserted and laid out like an airport security check. Just had to fill out an entry/departure card - using an automated computer - one of the guards did it for me, was very quick. I was asked what my mode of transport was twice by two different guards and when I said bicycle, neither flinched. I was expecting a bit of a kerfuffle like the embassy back in Bangkok - but no, got my entry stamp and I was in! It was 1215, so decided to push on to Mengla - about 45km on - it was too early to call it a day, was feeling strong, besides I have alot of ground to cover here so can't afford to take it too easy. Just followed the main road (1x1 with 1m shoulder) little traffic, although shoulder had alot of debris - no glass just stones and sticks. Smooth bitumen with linemarking, gradients were comfortable around 4%, tunnels have been punched through the mountains ( I went through 4, no more than 400m long each but no shoulder) here so no need to go up and over them like in Laos. Superb mountain scenery continues. Rolled into town at 1415. Stopped at small store to buy a drink and the lady didn't want my money! Very surprised with her generosity - wasn't expecting it - most of the chinese I encountered in Malaysia and Thailand weren't so gracious - hopefully a sign of things to come. The second bottle I insisted on paying though. Went in search for some accomodation  - alot of chinese characters but some english as well. Found a place within half an hour - have to negotiate on price. Communication will definately be difficult here as not many people seem to speak english. The phrasebook I bought is coming in handy though and has seen plenty of use already. I'll have to learn some common phrases here. In Thailand and Laos I managed to get by using very little of the local language. Changed some money at the bank which charges 50Y commision if you change anything less than 500USD (quite big as I only paid 40Y for accomodation, oh well) Western style stores here, cool electric motor scooters and tuk tuks, girls with short skirts and high heels, river of sewerage running through town with veggie patches in the middle, haven't seen any tourists yet. Found some markets where I had a simple meal of steamed rice, pork with veggies and sauted cabbage. Quite a happening place, people eating out, flashing lights, stores with loud speakers out front pumping out the music, cars honking. A bit of sensory overload at the moment after laid back Laos. I can't believe I'm the only tourist here with so many people - this is just a small town too. Can't get onto facebook, tried two different internet places but is blocked for some reason. I think their running pirated software here so can't get passed security measures. I'll be heading north from here towards Kunming which is about 650km away.

More coming soon.

Made it to Ban Pangsalao. A tiny village of about half a dozen houses. One of the toughest days of the trip so far. Over 1000m climbing and similar descending. On the road at 0900 short 10 minute ride to border post. No problems, short wait, got exit stamp - still 4 days left on visa. Skinny long boats make the short trip across the Mekong to Laos (there's a bridge under construction which is due to be completed December 2012)  I didn't want to unpack panniers and then refit so took the vehicle ferry instead. Met 3 local motorcycle tourists who were doing a one week ride around Laos and Thailand. We had to wait till 1000, when 4 big petrol tankers arrived so ferry was full. Huay Xai - is the border town on the Laos side. It is similar to Chiang Khong (on thai side) - has all the usual tourist facilities. Rode about 1km east to get my Laos entry stamp. Again no issues. You can get a visa on arrival here - which most tourists were doing. Me, I already had my Lao visa (got in Bangkok) so I avoided the line up and just had to fill out an entry/exit card. There's a bank here too which exchanges money at a good rate so got some local currency as well (kip). It was 1100 by the time I had taken care of business, so didn't hang around and hit the road. The chinese border is only about 220km from here, so will be a short, one week or so stint through Laos. People noticabely poorer here than in Thailand. Cars have dissapeared (the ones I saw all had thai numberplates) replaced with rattly motorbikes and bicycles. Houses are basic thatched affairs built of timber and straw bail roofs, with the odd concrete footing but most are on timber stilts.They all have power though and big satelite dishes for TV. All roads are dirt apart from the main road I'm on (highway 3) Great twisty smooth bitumen road (freshy laid in places) no shoulders but no traffic either. Superb mountain scenery, impossibly steep tracks leading up to villages in the hills - most only accessible by foot. During the first 40km there were a few villages with stalls where you can  pickup water and light snacks (crisps, biscuits, 2 minute noodles, sweet drinks if you're lucky, not much else), after that nothing much. My first meal in Laos was some rice noodles over which the locals pour a tea like liquid and spice it up with chilli - pretty plain and tasteless. All villages have bottled water though even if you can't see it - so just ask if you're desperate. At 55km mark the motorcyclists I met on the ferry passed me, they must have hung around the border for a while (they were on their way to Luang Prabang) I was starting to stuggle at 68km mark - mainly due to lack of food - no restaraunts along the way, and by this time I had come up and over 2 big 1000m passes at 10% grades I was glad to roll in to Ban Pangsalao around 1800 with the sun going down - even though there was no guesthouse here the locals invited me in. Apparently there was a guesthouse 3km back, but when I asked the locals there they told me to come here? In any case the locals are happy to see you, not many tourists stop in these villages - most catch the bus to Luang Nam Tha. I got alot of hellos and waves as I rode through the villages. I got a room in a simple block rendered house with metal roof. A straw mat and thin mattress on the floor was supplied. I setup my mosquito net over the top and cleaned up (back to good old squat toilet and horse trough and bucket for bathing) A restaraunt was next door so they prepared some fresh rice and a greasy omelette for my dinner. No internet here - the locals entertain themselves with karaoke, the music belching out of massive speakers. Beer Lao is the choice drink here, with both men and women getting into it. Crashed at 2015, I was totally exhausted, the ongoing music didn't bother me. I was offered a woman for the night which I kindly refused as I simply didn't have the energy.

Made it to Luang Nam Tha. I was up early this morning and after a noodle soup breakfast I was underway at 0745. I was expecting more climbing today but luckily it was undulating mostly downhill through the valley eventually hitting the valley floor about 10km out of town. I was conserving as much energy as possible expecting a mammoth climb out of the valley but never eventuated, so I arrived quite refreshed at 1130. Tourist town this one with plenty of guesthouses and western food. Found a nice quiet place off the main street where all the foreigners hang out. Had another noodle soup and just updating website now.

12/03/12 - Rest Day, relax, wander around town, research China. Great little night markets here - the local hill tribes come down to sell their handmade jewellery. Half and whole roast chickens, roast pork by the kilo, papaya salad, spring rolls and fried rice all available cheap here. Very tasty stuff - although I was the only foreigner here - most seem content in sitting in restaraunts and enjoying their plastic burger and fries? All the local cats and dogs seem to know about it too - they gather around and wander around the bottoms of tables cleaning up the scraps. Laos has to be one of the few places where dogs and cats seem to coexist in peace. Towns divided into new and old towns - I'm in new area - will check out old area in coming days.

13/03/12 - Rest Day. Hired motorbike 0800 and rode to Muang Sing and Udomxai. Wandered around towns, checked out a few wats on hilltops as well as some villages in the hills. Long day, returned bike 1930.

14/03/12 - Rest Day. Having an easy day today before riding into China tomorrow. Rode around old town area which is mainly residential.

Coming Soon!

Made it to Vieng Phoukha. Larger town this one but still small compared to Thailand. Hit the road 0930 after having a delicious beef with ginger and rice breakfast. First 20km was undulating mainly uphill to around 950m elevation, then the road undulated around this mark following the ridgeline of the mountain. Big drop offs either side and some magnificient scenery. Final 25km was undulating mainly downhill into Vieng Phoukha. Arrived 1600. At least 4 guesthouses here with signs, so no issues with accomodation. The usual stalls along the way were more frequent than yesterday and was enough to keep me fueled up. Restaraunts serve noodle soup - like thailand but much bigger servings, accompanied with a plate of fresh veggies (lettuce, mint, bean like stalk, and some other leaf) Went for stroll through town then to bed. The guesthouse has a seperate karaoke room where the locals come to drink and sing into the we hours. Me, in bed fast asleep.

10/03/12 - Decided to have a rest day here as I was still tired and sore from previous days climbing. Went for walk to nearby villages, up a couple of hills to a wat and lookout over the town. Found a local veggie market, stalls selling clothes, tools, snacks, a couple of motorbike repair shops, about 4 restaraunts (2 closed), the rest residential homes. Rested and relaxed for half day, had a bit of a snooze and went to bed early so that I was asleep before the nightly drinking session and karaoke started.

Made it to Chiang Khong - this is the border town between Thailand and Laos. I can see Laos from the guesthouse, just across the Mekong river - it's all mountains!On the road at 0900. Frank rode with me for the first 55km and we were escorted by Thomas and his wife Raklor in their ute as well. Was nice to have some company as we rode along the quiet and lightly undulating bitumen  (road 1020) Crumbling tobacco drying huts and fields lining the roadside. At 65km mark I got my 2nd puncture on the rear - same place as where I had patched it up a couple of days ago. I can only assume that the tube is being forced into the countersunk spoke holes causing the punture - I couldn't see any evidence of anything else that could be causing problems - although I noticed the sidewalls starting to develop cracks where it contacts the rim. I had a set of these tyres on a previous bike, and the sidewalls cracked there too well before the tread ran out. I want to keep these tyres for as long as possible, as I want to save the fresh tyres for the Stans where the roads will be bad. These tyres have a wire bead so I can't fold them - though I could strap them to the top of my panniers, but they weigh 1kg each. I placed a larger patch over the top of the smaller one - this will hopefully be a bit more resistant to bending. After a solid hour I was rolling again (I had to remove all panniers in refit in order to tip bike upside down to remove rear wheel) Arrived in town 1330, found the markets for some lunch, accomodation overlooking the Mekong river and settled in.

06/03/12 - Another busy day - hired a motorbike 0900 and headed for another Golden Triangle loop. Visited Chiang Saen which had some ancient wat ruins and then looped back south to Phu Chi Fa - a massive mountain range. The moterbike struggled up at 25kph on the steeper sections - I thought it was going to conk out a couple of times but luckily it didn't. If I was packing another 10kgs I would have been pushing no doubt. I made it up to 1350m above sea level but had to turn back as I had to return the bike. The roads again were nicely winding, up and down but quite rough with a littering of patched up potholes all the way. Unfortunately the views were covered by a thick blanket of smoke from backburning in the area - normal for this time of year. Made it back to town 1800 and straight to bed - I was exhausted. 

07/03/12 - Lazy day, resting, wandered around town and did a night ride through town. Crossing into mountainous northern Laos tomorrow.

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