Introduction: Route 13 Laos – life on the road, in the year of corona

Since March 18, 2020, I have been slowly traveling along the long road that is known as Route 13 Laos (but has many other names in various parts of the country. This road roughly follows the Mekong River from the southern border of Laos with Cambodia to the extreme norther border of Laos with Yunnan Province, China.

It wasn’t my choice to go on this long journey at this time, I had just intended to stay in the 4,000 Islands area of the Mekong River for a few weeks and then either return to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where I had just come from, or to travel further north on my bicycle and cross the border to Thailand at the city of Savannakhet. I had already been to Savannakhet quite a few times over the years, partially to extend a Thai Visa, the other to photograph the French Colonial Architecture of that fairly sleepy but interesting small Laotian city.

The trip to the border from Siem Reap would have been more interesting if if there had been enough time to do it by bicycle, but news reports said that the border could be closed for crossings in a few days, so I hurriedly arranged to travel in a backpacker mini-van, with my bicycle in luggage. Word at the time was that the border might be closed for a few weeks, so I took my computer and all the camera equipment with me, just in case the border was closed for a longer period of time.

Early in the morning of the 18th of March, I loaded my bicycle on the van and had some coffee with the driver, who became very friendly when he learned that I could speak Thai, he had spent some years working there and wanted to return. The bus was full of young backpackers, so he asked me if I would like to ride up front. Fantastic, I would have more room and also a large window to see the road and do some photography.

The trip to Stung Treng on the Cambodian side of the border went fairly quickly, but we had to wait for a van from Laos, to come pick us up and take us through Cambodian and Lao Immigration and across the border. I was thinking about just reassembling my bike and crossing the border by myself, but I had never crossed here before, so was not sure how much of a hassle that would be.

Luckily I waited because the road to the border was extremely rough. The border itself was not that difficult to cross, the paperwork out and in was done fairly quickly. The only hassle was that we were once again told to take all our stuff out of the van and look for a van to take us the rest of the way on the other side of the border. I had already paid the equivalent of three passengers to take my bike with me so we had a bit of a hassle, but eventually got my bike on the third change of van and driver of the day, without having to pay another “special” fee.

I was prepared to pay an extra fee to get my bike on a boat and across the river to the island of Don Det though, so when that fee was suggested, I immediately agreed. By the time we got to the island the light of the day was beginning to fade, but I was happy to load the bags on my bike, and head for my already booked on-line bungalow.

After a few wrong turns and a few interesting dead ends, I finally found the Mr. Tho’s Bungalows that I had booked on Agoda, and checked into my room. It was completely dark by now, but the restaurant was open, so I took a much needed shower, had some rice and a cold beer, and finally went to sleep for the night.

Story to be continued and more photos to be added – please check back tomorrow …..