After a good breakfast at Sabaidee GH we set off south again. Heading towards Road 12 to take us closer to Vietnam. Almost straight away we had a problem with Bas’s bike. The chain snapped. I had spare links but they were of no use being for a 9 speed and Bas’s being 8 speed. The only thing I could suggest is too just remove the broken link and ride with a shorter chain. Luckily it did not cause him anymore problems throughout the trip. I had a chain once in India that snapped five times in as many days! Chain fixed we continued on riding on asphalt through small towns and villages on Road 1-E to the sound of children and adults shouting “Sabaidee” and “Falang”.Sabaidee is the greeting in Lao language and falang means French but as been adopted to mean all foreign people. We stopped for lunch just south of Gnommalath. Cowpat(fried rice) for Bas and fir(noodle soup)for me. While looking on GPS I found a POI(point of interest)entry saying Russian SAM missile so we decided to go and take a look. We cycled round the back of some buildings and there on stands was indeed a Russian surface to air missile about eight metres in length. ￼ Russian S.A.M. Near Gnommalath. You can still find interesting war junk on the trail but a lot of it as been cut up for its scrap value. At one point we searched in vain for an A.P.C. vehicle. I can only assume it had ended up in the scrapyard. Ironically probably sold to Vietnamese scrap merchants. All of today was spent riding on asphalt turning east on Road 12 which would take to Nongchan. This is where we would say good bye to the road and turn south again. We found a shitty guest house after a bit of searching for the owner. It was a dump but then the whole town was. A typical border town. Trucks and karaoke. Today we would heading for a town called Villabury on Road 28A near the Xepon mine(the letter x in lao is pronounced like a “s”). Leaving Nongchan south passing through a small local market we were truly on The Ho Chi Minh Trail. With little traffic except the odd cow or two. ￼￼ Passing through villages we kept coming across signs by a group called MAG(Mines Advisory Group)stating that this and that village,area had been cleared of UXO(unexploded ordinance).MAG along with other organisations do great work clearing up the mess after the “war” in Laos. They certainly have their work cut out and will be here a long time in the future. You can see more about the amazing work these people do from these websites: http://www.maginternational.org/, Laos. ￼ MAG sign. It had been fairly dry upto now but we started coming across muddy sections on the trail which were not to bad to ride through. Nothing compared to the mud south of Lak Xao. Stopping occasionally for a break and something to eat. ￼￼ We had seen few villagers on the trail and the ones we did see seemed a bit freaked out to see falang on silent motorbikes. Their usual reaction to us was to run away,fast as their legs could carry them. The first time this happened was when I was ahead of Bas. I came across a lone woman on the trail. She heard me. I said “Sabaidee.” She turned,looked at me. And with a look of terror in her eyes she scarpered up the track and disappeared into the jungle. As I rode past the spot where she had exited the track I could see a pair of wide eyes peering out of the green foliage. She may have been freaked out but I can tell you this sort of freaked me out to the first few times it happened. But we soon came used to it. When approaching villagers I say “Sabaidee” sometimes getting a “Sabaidee” back. If not I would just cycle past them if they had not already ran away. Respecting that they may have not seen many falang at all if any. Continuing through the mud we came to a fairly large village. As soon as we were on the outskirts the villagers starting retreating into the village. While doing this they were shouting to other villagers further up the trail “Falang,falang!”. I said too Bas “Just keep going.” We pedalled on with people leaving the track,children dropping everything and running off almost hysterical. It was like the parting of the Red sea. Reaching the end of the village we came across a small river to cross. We crossed this pretty quickly and when on the other side I said to Bas “Look behind to the opposite bank.” On the riverbank were about a hundred villagers just standing looking at us not making a sound. Now this was a pretty eerie thing to experience,so we decided to beat a hasty retreat along the track and out of there. I have been through this village recently but they did not run away this time. But the children who were on the riverbank were shouting at me. Showing me their kung fu moves and throwing mud at me. So I guess they are still not at ease with falang. After that strange experience we hit an obstacle on the trail. A fallen tree. It was getting late so I sent Bas along a small trail to see if we could get around the fallen tree. Reminding him not to go off the track and to come back if it turned north. ￼ Fallen tree. ￼ Fallen tree. By now the light was fading and when Bas returned in one piece it started to drizzle rain. So I made decision that we would have to camp here for the night as there was no way around the tree. We set our tents up on the small trail leading off into the jungle. Ate what food we had and bedded down for the night. I didn’t sleep to well because I was thinking about the broken zip on the inner of my tent and the possibility of snakes slithering in. Next morning we were up early and ready to tackle the fallen tree. I climbed on top and Bas passed me the bags up and I rolled them down the other side. With the bikes we had to to take the wheels of and send them and the rest of the bikes over seperately. Putting everything back together on the far side of the tree. ￼ Other side of the fallen tree. I had found a village not far from the fallen tree on the GPS. So we decided to head for that hoping for a better reception than yesterday. It was not far and we soon cycling into the village. Now this was the complete opposite of yesterday. No one ran away,”Sabaidees” all round and smiling faces. We located a shop which was locked but the owner soon came along and opened up. Bought water and some bags of snacks for some well needed carbs. We had to stay a while while I fixed a puncture I had picked up arriving at the village. There was soon a crowd of villagers around us. They were intrigued by us but not totally freaked out. I started acting the clown a little bit and they were soon laughing and smiling. A great start to the day apart from puncture. It is a good feeling to put smiles on peoples faces and leave them with a positive experience. Anyway puncture fixed and bellies almost full we were ready for the off. More in Part 3.