Around the world by bike
(1 304km - 28days)
17 August - Bao Lao – Sepon - 50km
We crossed the border without any difficulty. We just had to fill in a form, pay $35, produce a photo and we were A for away. Laos immediately appeared more laidback, less motorbikes and less populated than Vietnam. There appears to be very few ATM’s around so Ernest had to turn back to go draw money on the Vietnam side of the border and then change it to Laos Kip with the local ladies. Changing money at the border is always a tricky situation and seldom a win-win situation.
The ride was extremely scenic but very hilly with loads of kids shouting “hello” (sapadii) along the way.
18 August - Sepong - Donghen - 133km
We cycled up and down many hills, past dense forests, valleys, river and waterfalls. Along the way were hundreds of friendly children shouting “Sapadii Falang” translating to Hello tourist.
Most houses are built on stilts and water buffalo, goats, chickens, and black pigs wander freely. Along the way were many small villages and Buddhist temples surrounded by rice paddies. The air was fresh with the smell of herbs and smoke from cow dung and charcoal fires, it so reminded me of Africa.
19 August - Donghen- Savanakket - 73km
Another scenic day on the road, it made me happy to be on the bike. What little breeze there was, was just enough to prevent us from totally burning up. We once again sweated buckets. We still arrived in Savanakket early enough to look around for a room at a leisurely pace, do some shopping as well as some internet. Before unpacking Ernest went off to look for spares for his worn-out bike, but to no avail.
With the majority of the population being Buddhist, it is now also easier to find vegetarian food. I made good use of this luxury and found myself a decent plate of food for the total sum of R5,00. Sticky rice appears to be the main staple here and is eaten with every meal. Rice boiled in a banana leaf is also available absolutely everywhere.
Once again I got a sim card for my phone, but as was the case in Vietnam, I seem to be able to send an sms but can’t receive any.
20-21 August - Savanakket
Savanakket is a maze of old crumbling French colonial buildings as well as old Buddhist temples. Old men sit and play board games in the alleys and children roam the streets. The smell of incence fills the air mixed with the aroma from food being fried. After sunset everyone sits outside on the pavements chatting and nibbling on street food. Thousands of food stalls line the river frontage and locals sit on kindergarten chairs chatting and watching the sun set over the Mekong River.
It was the start of the Buddhist “Lent” and from early morning bells were ringing and monks were chanting in the temple across the road. What a peaceful way to start the day. The streets were lined with food stalls (mostly vegetarian) and it was a feast walking down the road and sampling all the strange and wonderful dishes.
Ernest worked on his bike most of the day, using old parts which came off my bike (don’t know it that will help much).
22 August - Savanakket – Tha Khaek - 131km
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 - Tha Khaek
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 - Thakhek - 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 - Vieng Kham
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.
26 August - 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.
27 August - Pakxan – Pak Ngum - 90km
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 - Pak Ngum – Vientiane - 70 km
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
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 travellers 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!
5 September 2009 - Vientiane – Hin Hoeup - 102km
With my bike serviced and our Chinese visas in our passports, it was time to leave Vientiane, which by then, started to feel like home. We headed North and once again found the road as scenic as anyone can hope for. We also had a little taste of the hills to come.
Along the road we witnessed a real life cock fight, something they quite big on in this part of the world. Kept in special woven cages some looked a bit worse for wear.
6 September 2009 - Hin Hoeup - Vang Vieng - 65km
A short but rather hot and hilly day, fortunately it was a short ride to Vang Vieng. The scenery was, however, jaw dropping beautiful. Vang Vieng also known as “Chill Out Town” has the most scenic location any village can hope for. Situated on the banks of the Song River and surrounded by stunning limestone cliffs, it’s no wonder it’s so popular with backpackers.
7-8 September 2009 - Vang Vien – Kasi - 60km
The road climbed up over the mountains and past numerous hill tribe villages. The stunning scenery continued and by around 14h00 we reached Kasi where we decided to stay for the night. Our early stop gave us plenty time to sort out the bikes (hopefully for once and for all) and go to the market. Ernest got himself a decent size buffalo steak for a remarkably cheap price, while I stuck to my rather boring noodles, but found some tofu to eat with my noodles.
We also found some rather large grapefruits, which proofed to be a bit disappointing. It was hard as a rock and very, very dry. As with most of the fruit in this region they eat it before it’s fully ripe and sprinkle it with a combination of salt and chilly.
9 September 2009 - Phou Khoun - Xiang Ngeun - 106km
What a day it was, a slow, hard slog up many mountains. The hills are rather steep and long. We had at least 2 long hills, one of 20km and one of 15km which took forever on a loaded bike. 5km an hour was about the average speed up the hills, but at least where there’s an up there must be a down!
By the time we reached Xiang Ngeum, I could not face cycling up yet another hill. Although Luang Prabang was just 25km away, I could not be moved and we found a room for the night. The room was small, hot and windowless, but we took it anyhow as there were no other options
10 September 2009 - Xiang Ngeun - Luang Prabang - 25km
We woke at 5.30 with the sounds of chickens and the morning market being in full swing right on our door step.
At last we reached Luang Prabang after a short 25km cycle with just one hill. It looked a real nice place but Ernest was concerned about reaching the border in time and did not want to spend another day.
11 September 2009 - Luang Prabang – Pak Mong - 115km
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
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
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.