Why is it that every next leg on my journey requires taking a bus at six o'clock in the morning... And one of those local things, built for people a head smaller than me. And the local buses always operate in "never full" mode... Anyway, to my surprise they run a direct bus from Muang Khua in Laos to Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam. The border formalities were easy. One of the border policemen pulled out his wallet and offered to change kip to dong with a really horrible exchange rate. Moonlighting as a currency scammer, how exotic.
Dien Bien Phu is known as the place where the French lost a major battle against the Viet Minh guerilla, and afterwards pulled out of Indochina. It's a modern town with some nice war memorials and museums but I didn't come for those, so I got on a bus to Lai Chau in the very far north of Vietnam, using highway 12. Which turned out to be a rutted trail full of potholes, deep mud, and big rocks. It's too narrow for passing, so I saw a lot of daring maneuvers that are not commonly seen on European roads. This is odd because in general the roads in Vietnam are excellent. Once we forded a river in the bus, with steam rising up from the hot engine where it touched the water.
The reason to do this trip was the fantastic mountain scenery, following deep valleys and lakeshores, in never-ending twists and turns up on the edge of the mountains. We lost a few hours waiting for road crews resurfacing the road, with absolutely no discernible success, but it was fun to watch them kick huge rocks into the river from high up. Spent 14 hours in the bus.