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GO-60 Expedition Fri 18th July

Fri 18th July

At last something is beginning to happen.  We were rang early by Chien to say that the vehicles were going to come across soon.  'Soon’ turned out to be early afternoon with a morning of waiting, wondering and playing cards.  It felt as this was going to be yet another Groundhog Day again but finally we saw some movement.

Rachel drove a Discovery and towed the damaged Defender across with Ian fighting the steering to keep it straight.  There were several cheers and shouts of congratulations before Ian and Rachel, who couldn’t physically cross the border without loads of paperwork, turned and walked back to get the others.  With another two runs, the vehicles were all across and parked up in no-man’s land near the Vietnamese border gate.  The damaged Defender looked pretty sad!

Out of China, the Vietnam customs process kicked into sloth-like action.   We waited and waited, thinking the cars would be over any second, until it grew dark.  Finally, over they came much to everyone’s muted excitement.  We got the impression that the customs officials didn’t want the public presence of them sat in the main road and were told to move them.  We’d hoped to be able to drive them but the decision was made that they must be bonded and put onto trucks before being ‘shipped’ to Laos.  Chien was working hard to grease the wheels of the system as ever.

We decided to send most of the team ahead to Den Bien Phu where we hope we’ll be able to cross into Laos, while Ian and I stayed to load the vehicles onto the lorries before following, hoping we’d only be a few hours behind.

Eventually two lorries turned up for the four surviving cars.  Each had a rear bay around 10m in length, but no loading ramp.  We had to find a piece of raised ground nearby where the lorry could back up, drop its short tailgate so we could then drive them on.

By the time we were ready to load the vehicles, 2am, hot, and pouring with rain.  The lorry backed in but was on a side slope which meant each vehicle slipped perilously as it drove in, with around 6 inches to spare either side.  This was made even worse as the lorries had previously been moving a load of wet clay so the floor was like a skid-pan.  It was 4am by the time the cars were on, with some minor damage to the rear door of number 4, one of the Discoveries.

Chien, Thanh, Ian and I moved to a local hotel where we washed our clothes in the shower and fell into bed, exhausted, at 4am.

We made one big mistake: never be separated from your own kit, an old military lesson.  We’d put our bags on the minibus to Den Bien when we should have held onto them.  We were to spend the next 48hrs without anything other than what we carried.

In a waterproof 'bum-bag’, I had the following:


  • Wallet
  • Compact camera
  • Packet of tissues
  • Small amount of cash
  • Mobile phone
  • Leatherman

Whilst comfortable with surviving without most of my kit, the things I missed were my Malarone (malaria prevention), toothbrush, and insect repellent.  Luckily I’d kept the 'legs’ to my zip-off shorts which meant I could reduce the number of bites at night, but Ian was still in his shorts!

Malcolm Russell