04 September 2009

CYCLING LAO - Luang Prabang to Oudom Xai

11 September 2009 - Luang Prabang – Pak Mong - 115km - day 894

We followed the river the whole morning and although there were little steep ups and downs there were no monster hills like our previous days. The scenery stayed inspiring and we cycled again past many tribal villages, weaving and spinning yard which they wash and dry by the road side.

We reached Pak Mong in good time and found a room.

12 September - Pak Mong – Oudom Xai - 85km - day 895

It was an exhausting day on the road. Not only did we encounter more monster hills, but it also rained the entire day. The roads were muddy with huge potholes. It was not only just us battling along, trucks got stuck in the mud and motorbikes were slipping and sliding along.

I was extremely happy to reach Oudom Xai and have a warm shower and a bite to eat. It seems all I do is cycle and eat. At least on top of every hill was what Ernest called the “Welcome committee” hordes of children shouting “Saibai Dee Falang” with great enthusiasm.

13 September 2009 - Oudom Xai – day 896

Another hard day on the road, hills, rain, road works, potholes and mud. It was a slow slog but still very scenic past rural villages and more friendly kids.

We found a guesthouse opposite the market where Ernest found some dried buffalo meat, the closest thing to biltong he was going to find in this part of the world. There were also two other cycles staying in the same guesthouse. They were heading south and onto Laos and Cambodia after spending two months in China. They were not feeling well and were planning in taking the bus to Laung Prabang. Now that sounds a lot more sensible than just pushing on while not feeling well.

CYCLING LAO - Vientiane to Luang Prabang

26 August 2009
Vieng Kham – Pakxan
92km


I was as happy as the proverbial pig!! My bike ran like a dream, now it’s just Ernest still struggling along with limited gears. If we can just make it to Vientiane (the capital) which is only 150km away, we can have everything fixed there, or at least so we are lead to believe.

The scenery was again absolutely sublime! No wonder it’s such a popular travelling area. We also spotted some motorbikes out on the road, moving a bit faster than us. This is part of the very famous "Golden Triangle Route”. So for al those keen bikers out there look up www.GT-riders.com. Pack your bags and head for the hills. On this day we also cycled along the Kading river (a large tributary of the Mekong), and crossed it at the confluence of the two rivers.

CYCLING LAO - Vieng Kham to Vientiane

26 August 2009 - Vieng Kham – Pakxan - 92km - day 881

I was as happy as the proverbial pig!! My bike ran like a dream, now it’s just Ernest still struggling along with limited gears. If we can just make it to Vientiane (the capital) which is only 150km away, we can have everything fixed there, or at least so we are lead to believe.

The scenery was again absolutely sublime! No wonder it’s such a popular travelling area. We also spotted some motorbikes out on the road, moving a bit faster than us. This is part of the very famous "Golden Triangle Route”. So for al those keen bikers out there look up www.GT-riders.com. Pack your bags and head for the hills. On this day we also cycled along the Kading river (a large tributary of the Mekong), and crossed it at the confluence of the two rivers.

27 August 2009 - Pakxan – Pak Ngum - 90km - day 882

A real lazy day on the road, we did not have to go far, so we just ambled along, enjoying the scenery and the flat road. Scores of “sapadee falang” came from the children along the road. There were small villages and Buddhist temples jutting out of the forest around every corner.

At times the road ran next to the Mekong River where villagers sell smoked fish along the way. Ernest did some shopping and got himself some dried/smoked catfish and some or other kind of meat delicacy wrapped in a banana leaf, which he thoroughly enjoyed once we were settled in for the night.

28-31 August 2009 - Pak Ngum – Vientiane - 70 km - day 883

It didn’t take long to reach the capital city of Laos, and first thing we went straight to the bike shop to enquire about the all important spare parts - only to find the shop all locked up. The neighbours told us that the owner was away in Thailand, and that he would only be back in a few days time after the weekend. After that we shopped around for a cheap room, but Vientiane has typical capital city syndrome, ie. you pay more for most things.

First thing Monday morning we were at the doorstep of the shop again, but still we found it all locked up. This time the neighbours told us that the owner would only be back the next day.

It was, however, a pleasure walking the streets of Vientiane, no rip-offs or touts, just a Buddhist temple and fruit sellers on every corner. The river frontage comes alive after sunset while thousands of food stalls line the street, and the aroma of barbequed meat filled the air.

There were also quite a few touristy shops, selling the most beautiful handmade jewelry and silk items, o, if I could only buy some of these things I would fill my bags.

1 - 4 September 2009 - Vientiane - day 887

We did find the bike shop open on Tuesday, and I bought a new hub which Ernest again fitted. The chain ring which Ernest needed for his bike would, however, need to be ordered from Thailand – which would take a few days (later we discovered that the order would take too long, but they gave a second-hand chain ring which seems to be working). I also handed my bike in for a service.

Ernest still had his sights set on China, so we went to the consulate where we both applied for visa’s. It all seemed far too easy as we only had to fill in a simple little application form, and were told to come back in 3 days to pick up the visas (and pay). Amazingly we now have visas for China, but I feel a bit like a dog with a bone – not quite sure what to do with it.

In the mean time we were able to look around for a cheaper room, as it appeared that we would still have to hang around for a few days. While wandering around the city I found this great place the “Blue Banana”, pub/restaurant, with air-con and Wi-Fi. Here one can sit all day drink a cold beer (over ice, the strange things people do!) and watch the world go by.

Vientiane must be the worlds most laidback capital. In fact its so laidback that there seems to be quite a few Western bums around the place. Looking like old time hippies, stuck in time and out of luck, bumming from travelers with sad stories of money stolen from their room and late pension payments. Spot the bum, obviously not the one with the shirt and watch!

CYCLING LAO - Savanakket to Vieng Kham

22 August 2009 - Savanakket – Tha Khaek - 131km - day 877

After another day in Savanakket, we finally left, heading north. The road was hilly but at least we had some cloud cover for most of the day. Along the way we stopped for some refreshments and if that was not a frog soup with noodles, then I don’t know at it was!!

Everyone who runs or cycles knows the feeling of gasping up a hill and those little flying bugs gets sucked it right when you least need it. This time it was a crispy one and before I could say “Laidback Laos”, it was down the gullet. No matter how I spat it was gone, well what can one do? Just swallow some water and carry on!! I thought I could feel it crawling around my stomach all day, or maybe it was just the frog.

23 August 2009 - Tha Khaek - day 878

We spent a day of leisure in Tha Khaek; it is such a peaceful town. We got a take-away pizza and had a beer overlooking the Mekong River with Thailand just across on the opposite bank.

I went local and invested in an umbrella. Ernest like a true South African finds it real hard to walk past anything that looks like a braai, but to his surprise found not chops and wors, but pig intestines and a bowl of crickets. Of course, here in Laos there’s usually also some rather scrawny chicken portions on the coals.23 August 2009 - Tha Khaek - day 878

We spent a day of leisure in Tha Khaek; it is such a peaceful town. We got a take-away pizza and had a beer overlooking the Mekong River with Thailand just across on the opposite bank.

I went local and invested in an umbrella. Ernest like a true South African finds it real hard to walk past anything that looks like a braai, but to his surprise found not chops and wors, but pig intestines and a bowl of crickets. Of course, here in Laos there’s usually also some rather scrawny chicken portions on the coals.23 August 2009 - Tha Khaek - day 878

We spent a day of leisure in Tha Khaek; it is such a peaceful town. We got a take-away pizza and had a beer overlooking the Mekong River with Thailand just across on the opposite bank.

I went local and invested in an umbrella. Ernest like a true South African finds it real hard to walk past anything that looks like a braai, but to his surprise found not chops and wors, but pig intestines and a bowl of crickets. Of course, here in Laos there’s usually also some rather scrawny chicken portions on the coals.


24 August 2009
Tha Khaek - Vieng Kham
107km

Ernest and I, once again, decided to part ways. So I set off on the road, with an immense sense of freedom. The first few km followed the “great wall” and I felt good after a day of rest but the euphoria didn’t last long. Shortly after I left my front wheel started wobbling like an eggbeater. It was like cycling with the brake on and hard to go in a straight line. After a 107km and 7 hours of cycling (that’s cycling time, not including stopping!!) I finally reached Vieng Kham totally exhausted.

Lo and behold, would I not meet Ernest at one of the three guesthouses in this tiny village. Probably not as strange as that was about the only place to stay within a stretch of 200km. I could tell that he was not all that impressed with my arrival, but I was too exhausted to care.

Nevertheless it was a scenic day, hilly and hard but still very scenic. Never a dull moment on this trip!!

25 August 2009 - Vieng Kham - day 880

First thing in the morning we went looking around for a new front hub for my bike, and found an old rusty second hand one, probably from the 1800’s. Ernest spent most of the day working on my bike, and what a good job he did too, considering what he had to work with.

He even had time to go to the market (testing out my “new” front hub) - for some salad stuff and petrol for his MSR stove. At a little roadside stall they did not want to sell him the petrol (which is sold in empty drink bottles), and the reason? - they thought the stupid “Falang” wanted to drink it!!. After a long animated explanation they eventually decided that it was safe to sell him the petrol.