Day 13 - Friday 14th April - Thakhek to Vientiane: 340k

New Years Day: We had anticipated a load of traffic, but the locals were mostly off the road, in that they were not in vehicles, but their presence was felt partying along the road side. The party mode, (read: water, ear shatteringly loud music, dancing and lots of beer) built up after mid-day.

Despite the morning being traffic free, we nearly had a couple of incidents on the road. The first occurred while we were overtaking a HiLux. A cow wandered onto the road – I could not veer right and the HiLux could not migrate to the left. In the end, somehow the cow managed to go between us and still survive unscathed. No so for a dog a short time later. He wandered onto the road, we braked and blasted the horn, the dog retreated straight under the wheels of a motor bike which was running parallel to us on the wrong side of the road. Much dog yelping, bike plastic crashing, and a couple of kids in traditional bike riding garb (helmetless, shorts, t-shirt and thongs) rolling across the roadway. For them the injuries mainly dealt with their pride and a broken bike.

Mountains to our right, the Mekong and the Thai border to our left and much cooler temperatures made for a pleasant and scenically interesting day driving. Villages dot the road every few kilometres. From the looks, this is traditional farming country: rice paddies, cows and buffalo. With small trade stores selling everything you can imagine. The one at our lunch stop sold:

Paddle pops, chips and other snack foods, cold Pepsi and juices or if you needed something to keep you awake Red and Black Lion Whisky (with a Australia in capitals amongst the fine print – but when you read the fine print, it was only blended and bottled under the supervision of someone trained in Australia – you can make up the rest of the story yourselves), cigarettes of every flavour and colour, and if you have a vehicular problem: batteries, tyres (which would have fitted an MG, which was handy as Shiraz had the first puncture of the trip earlier), belts and hoses, and lubricants (for the car) of every description.

On the outskirts of Vientiane the music was cranked up and the water was flowing. The general operation of the group (who all wear matching team T-shirts) is to gather around a large inflatable kids swimming pool which is filled with water, dunk their buckets in it and then hurl the contents at the passing cars. Moving slowly, with windows down in the bumper to bumper traffic encouraged them more. They became most proficient at getting the water straight through the window, or onto the windscreen (the soft top was not designed for water coming up the windscreen, so much then leaked in between the top of the windscreen and the vinyl top head board). Despite the drenching we probably did better than young girls on motor bikes. (I am not sure if there is a minimum age to ride a bike here as some of the kids look no older than 12). But it was usually the 16-18 year olds that copped the worst. The boys would stand in the middle of the road forcing the girls to stop. They were then drenched with buckets and hoses, topped off with a bag of flour. Choice! The MGs also copped the flour treatment as well. There also seemed to be a lot of beer, but no cold stuff coming our way, just water.

Last night as we walked around the city, there were times when we had to cover our ears. I am not sure how the locals managed a whole day of the noise, but suspect there are a large number who cannot hear anything the next day.

I don’t think I have ever experienced a celebration like this before. Certainly it could not happen in Australia without the noise police, the politically correct police and the harassment police all getting involved. We saw plenty of police during the day. But most were sitting by the road side under umbrellas watch the traffic speed by. This is Laos.