The distance between Huế, Vietnam’s pre-communist capital, and Savannakhet, a sleepy Lao city by the Mekong River, is over 400 kilometers of thick tropical forest, sparsely inhabited by dark-skinned mountain tribes. The border checkpoint, somewhere in between, lies truly in the middle of nowhere. Four hours got us this far, and it would be longer until Savannakhet: five hours by bus, and unimaginably longer if the bus, say, left without us.
Which, of course, it just did.
I’d asked my girlfriend to wait where it had parked, in case the driver tried to leave (unimaginable!), and jogged up to the bank to exchange our Vietnamese money for Lao kip. I was figuring out how best to mime “commission rate” to the English-impaired teller when a Dutch guy, mid-20s with a mullet, who’d been sitting behind us on the bus, opened the door and nervously announced: “Um, our bus is leaving.”
I looked out the window and saw two things: first, my girlfriend, looking incredulous by the empty parking space, mouth open and arms outstretched; second, our big grey bus, leisurely rolling away from her.
So now we found ourselves in this high-speed chase—me, my girlfriend and the Dutchman whose name I never learned—on three separate bikes, racing down this dusty mountain road. A canvas-covered shipment truck drove ahead of us, and when we overtook it, I glimpsed the edge of the cliff a few metres away. Beyond that, the whole Lao mountain range spread out into the horizon; everything was high-noon bright, but hazy, too, because of the mountain fog. The wind blew my hair hard but I turned into it, squinting ahead, honing into our target.
In that moment, I felt exactly like James Bond.
Finally, long after many of my esteemed peers, I’ve been published in the Globe and Mail.