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              Laos (Janice & Chris)

 

(486km - 11days)

 

02/03 – 12/03/2018

 

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Day 20 - 2 March - Nong Khai, Thailand – Vientiane, Laos – 33 km

Ten kilometres from Nong Khai was the immigration office as well as the Friendship Bridge via which one could cycle crossed the Mekong River into Laos. Once at the Laos immigration office, border officials pointed out that neither Chris nor Janice was given an exit stamp. Their departure cards weren’t filled in, and the officer requested them to complete it, which they did, and left! Fortunately, it was a short cycle back across the river, where they were given their exit stamps, and soon it was back at the Laos immigration for the Laos visas.

 

It was a short ride into laidback Vientiane and onto our hotel. Then it was time to explore, find new SIM cards, an ATM and food. Supper was at one of the many restaurants along the riverfront. Even at 9 p.m., it was still hot and the weather forecast for the following few days didn’t look suitable for cycling, varying between 36˚C and 38˚C, but up to then both Janice and Chris managed the heat like pros, and I didn’t think it a huge problem as long as the days were kept short.

 

Day 21 - 3 March - Vientiane – Dokphet Guesthouse, Hai – 73 km

It was another scorcher and, therefore, an early departure, first stopping at the Patuxay monument, Vientiane’s Arc de Triomphe, or Victory Monument. I love the story behind it and that it was built with cement donated by the USA intended for the construction of a new airport; hence it’s now referred to as the “vertical runway”. Our second stop was at Pha That Luang, a 16th-century Buddhist stupa believed to have been built on the remains of a 13th-century Khmer temple, which in turn was built on a 3rd-century temple. The reclining Buddha represents the historical Buddha during his last illness, about to enter the parinirvana.

 

The planned third stop was at the Buddha Park, but the route was in such poor condition, it was no pleasure cycling and best to give it a miss and follow the main road. Chris did exceptionally well and cycled to our destination without having lunch or a nap. Lunch was outside our guesthouse where a rudimentary restaurant served noodle soup. In the process, very generous locals from Vientiane kept buying beer, and we soon had to thank them unless we later wanted to crawl back to our abode.

 

Day 22 - 4 March - Dokphet Guesthouse – Saunmaiket Hongxaikham Guesthouse - 65 km

With the weather forecast again indicating temperatures between 36˚C and 38˚C, it was up and away even earlier than usual. Our first stop was around 15 kilometres, and about four kilometres later, Janice discovered she left her reading glasses behind. As it was a short distance back to our previous stop (approximately four kilometres), Chris and I continued while Janice cycled back to look for her spectacles.

 

After cycling another 15 kilometres, there was still no sign of Janice and after contacting her, learned she couldn’t locate the rest stop, and in the process, cycled all the way back to the morning’s start! Chris and I continued slowly, hoping she would catch up. As agreed, we only cycled until 13h00 and then found a guesthouse and waited for Janice to arrive. It was a rather long day for her – 100 kilometres all in all! Well done, Janice, on your first 100 kilometres and first solo ride! Your rock, girl!

 

Day 23 - 5 March - Saunmaiket Hongxaikham Guesthouse – Pakkading Buddhist temple – 60 km

It was surprisingly cold in the early morning, and I stopped to buy a long-sleeved sweater. Many of the roadside restaurants had a rail with clothing outside, but I was unsure if it was for sale or if it was their laundry. With only cycling half days, arrival at the temples was usually early and slightly awkward to camp at such an early hour.

 

The monk at the Pakkading Buddhist temple pointed us to a room we first scrubbed clean. Although the building appeared very new, the bathroom needed a good scrubbing. No sooner had we sat down and the head monk arrived, indicating to us to move to the basement. The basement area was a large, tiled room which also needed cleaning. It appeared a place where the down-and-out overnighted or otherwise one of the monks had a drug problem.

 

Day 24 - 6 March - Pakkading Buddhist temple - Somejainuek Guesthouse – 62 km

Not even the monks were up when we left our sparkling clean room shortly after 6h00. Outside town, the Pakkading Bridge crossed the Nam Kading River, one of the main tributaries of the Mekong River. The bridge is a Russian-built bridge where truck drivers often stop to light a cigarette before crossing the bridge and then throw the lit cigarette in the Nam Kading river. The reason being to appease the water serpent believed to live in the river mouth.

 

At first, the weather was mild with a good tailwind. The favourable condition did, however, not last and soon it was another scorcher, this time with a headwind thrown in. Around 13h00, a roadside guesthouse appeared with a very convenient restaurant which made a perfect overnight stop.

 

Day 25 - 7 March - Somejainuek Guesthouse – Roadside Guesthouse – 64 km

Packing up started at 5h00, making for departing at first light. The road was gently undulating, and it was easy cycling, past friendly kids shouting, “Sabaidi falang!” Some seemed to be on the cautious side and kept their distance. Roadside shops provided water and snacks and other sugarcane juice. A fascinating roadside market sold dung beetle balls with the larva inside, as well as grilled and raw rats and squirrel. Besides the usual crabs, eels and other fishy things, live lizards by the bag-full and other exotic (or illegal) animals were also sold.

 

Day 26 & 27 - 8-9 March – Roadside Guesthouse – Thakhek – 27 km

Even though it was a short day, it was still an early departure to make the best of the cooler weather. The Great Wall of Laos, or Kamphaeng Nyak wall, made for an interesting detour. Although a geological phenomenon, its physical resemblance to a man-made structure has given rise to many Laos myths, some claiming it was built as a defence system and others arguing it was made to stem the floodwaters of the Mekong.

 

Close to Thakhek, a path turned off onto a smaller road and led past small communities right on the Mekong. The Laos baguette, or Khao Jee, is one of the most famous street foods in Laos, stuffed with salad, paté, chilli paste and cold meats. The baguette is usually warmed on coals, making for a crispy and delightful snack. There was no better place to eat it than right there, on the pavement.

 

It was an early arrival in Thakhek where the Souksomboun Hotel, situated right on the Mekong River, provided perfect accommodation. With outside motel-style rooms, it was perfect for cyclists, as one could wheel the bikes right into the room.

 

The following day was a rest day, and a tuk-tuk ride took us to the nearby caves. It was a relaxing morning, and we were home by 14h00.

 

I know I have written about the Secret War in Laos on many occasions, but still seeing people missing limbs, the reality of this war becomes real. I quote from Legaciesofwar.org:

 

“From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions—equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years – making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. Up to a third of the bombs dropped didn’t explode, leaving Laos contaminated with vast quantities of unexploded ordnance (UXO).”

 

Day 28 - 10 March – Thakhek – Savannakhet – 102 km

From Thakhek it was an early start, with intentions to do our usual 60/65 kilometres. The river trail turned out very interesting and led past a multitude of small fishing settlements located right on the Mekong. On reaching our target distance, no one seemed interested in stopping, and by midday, I thought we’d done enough for the day, but both Janice and Chris were keen to push on. A short while further a sign pointed to a turn-off for a shortcut. Albeit bumpy and potholed, it was an exciting route, making for a very adventurous ride.

 

The last part of the day required pushing hard to reach Savannakhét before dark. Everyone did exceptionally well, and I was happy to reach our destination safely. After a shower, it was straight to the Night Market that, sadly, wasn’t there anymore. There was, however, a dim-sum stand, and we had more than our fair share. All in all, a lovely day on the road.

 

Day 29 & 30 – 11-12 March - Savannakhét

A well-deserved rest day was spent in Savannakhét, with its tree-lined streets and old, crumbling French colonial buildings. The intention was to cross the border back into Thailand via the Friendship Bridge on the outskirts of Savannakhét, but I first had to apply for a Thai visa. As it was a Sunday, I could only do so the following day.

 

The next morning, I was off to the consulate, handed in my application, and as I could only collect it the following day, I headed back to our guesthouse. It was Chris’s birthday, and we visited the small museum which had interesting artefacts all collected in the vicinity of Savannakhét. Afterwards, we rode out to a nearby lake and enjoyed a sunset meal on a wooden platform on stilts over the water. The meal was enjoyed while sitting on a woven mat, not the most comfortable arrangement for Europeans, but Chris never complained. Then it was back along the potholed road, making back to our digs shortly before dark.

 

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