10th - 12th September (Sapa)
The border crossing i decided on is fairly new to tourists and there is not much about it in the lonely planet, but i didn't want to head south when my destination is north so i risk it. I get to the border ok where i meet a couple going the other way and exchange my leftover kip for their dong (yes, dong, stop giggling Phil), they told me, as did the Americans that buses don't run from here to anywhere in Vietnam, they say i will have to hitch or get a motorbike taxi.
The immigration is fun; a row of 4 huts, i go to each one in turn, having passport, and visa inspected and stamped several times, filling out a form, going to another office to have it checked and stamped, back to another to check my baggage (not very thoroughly) and finally walk 200m to the Vietnam side where they check my passport and visa again. The official told me that the motorbike taxi is expensive and i should bus 100km east to Thanh Hoa, 200km north to Hanoi, and 100km west to Mai Chau (my intended destination), i am wishing that i'd taken the bus through the crossing to the south straight to Hanoi for 25 dollars which at the time seemed expensive. I haggled a guy down from 40 dollars to 30 for a 140km numb bum 100cc motorbike ride to Mai Chau. It took about four and a half hours. The villages are more concrete eyesores than the quaint little huts of Laos but all the kids shout 'hello' when they see the white bloke on the back of a bike, the young ladies seem excited to see me as well but that is nothing new! I arrive at Lac village in Mai Chau where the staff are friendly and one speaks reasonable English which is always handy. It's a small village of stilt houses with a few tourist guest houses surrounded by paddy fields and mountains with only tvs and motorbikes to detract from the isolation.
I watch some kids having great fun with a cardboard box, i come back an hour later and they are still loving it - who needs playstation? My motorbike taxi adventure has left me with only 45 dollars and i am worried that it will not be enough to take me on my planned route with three stops before i next get to an ATM in Sapa, especially as i want to do treks and see the sights of the places i stop in otherwise what's the point?
Hoa, the woman who runs the guest house telephones her sister and then assures me there are now ATMs in Hoa Binh which i could get to on a motorbike taxi for a 14 dollar, 140km round trip, i'm not too sure but she convinces me.
There is no ATM in Hoa Binh and the banks will only exchange dollars and euros, my plastic, baht and pounds are useless. A waste of time and money and now i have no choice but to take the bus to Hanoi and abandon my route. I fancied drinking but now every dong counts. In the morning i leave for Hanoi having not seen much of what Mai Chau has to offer.