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Laos

 

(221km - 7days)

 

28/11 – 4/12 2009

 

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28 November - Jing Hong, China – Na Teuy, Laos (by bus)

Still not feeling well, and as I’d previously cycled the route on the way north, I set off for the regional bus station in search of a bus heading to the Laos border. Luckily, there was a bus which could take both me and the bike, and it became another long and tiring day on a bus.

 

As things go, border rules change all the time. On approaching the visa office, a new sign on the window listed all countries not being able to get visas at the border any longer (these were mostly African countries). With a sigh of relief, South Africa’s name wasn’t spotted amongst them. (What a time to tell you, as by now one had already been stamped out of China but would be unable to enter Laos). It reminded me of how important it was to always check border crossing details beforehand. Crossing into Lao was, however, straightforward, and, as before, only a case of filling in a form, presenting them with a mug shot, paying your money, and a few minutes later you had your visa.

 

It was good to be back in Laos - the difference was immediately visible. Chickens were sold in woven baskets next to the road. Stilted homes lined the streets, children, ducks and goats all wandered across roads freely. In general, things were a lot less organised than in China, which I liked. It was already after 5 p.m. and a good idea to find a room and to prepare myself for the long cycle south to Bangkok.

 

 

29 November - Na Teuy – Luang Nam Tha – 38 km

It was a cool, misty morning on cycling out of Na Teuy. Route 3 was a relatively new road and in good condition and, on top of that, it was mostly downhill to Luang Nam Tha and closer than expected - not something I ever complained about.

 

Typical to Laos, kids came running as soon as they spotted a foreigner, continually shouting “Sabaidee, falang” and waving – or they just stared in amazement.

 

Arrival in Luang Nam Tha was early where I found a room and booked myself on a one-day trek into the park for the following day. Luang Nam Tha was a real sleepy village with a handful of shops, loads of backpacker-type guesthouses and restaurants, a bank and a post office. The night market, as usual, sold cheap eats and was an excellent place to pick up a bite before going to bed.

 

 

30 November - Luang Nam Tha

 

The three-day hike would have been rather lovely, but it was somewhat pricy, and instead I settled for a one-day walk. It was a small group of four who set off in a tuk-tuk to the start of the hike.

 

It was marvellous to walk in the forest, past waterfalls and through thick indigenous forests. We were served a traditional lunch of sticky rice and vegetables. The hike ended in a small hilltop village where tea was served and where one could taste some of the famous Lao Whiskey (moonshine) - it genuinely took your breath away!

 

 

1 December - Luang Nam Tha – Vieng Phoukha – 60 km

On leaving, the morning mist was still lying thick in the valley. It was a short but scenic route with mountains covered in a lush, dense forest on both sides of the road. Most of the way was downhill, making for an enjoyable ride and on meeting another female cyclist on a two-month cycling holiday in South East Asia, I was happy for cycling south and not north.

 

A roadside cave was begging to be explored and even had a keeper who collected a fee for guiding one through the cave. Good thing as well, as it was black as night in there and at least the keeper had a torch (albeit a weak one).

 

It was a short day of cycling and arrival in Vieng Phoukha was around lunchtime where there was an excellent guest house right on the river with wooden bungalows on stilts overlooking the river. It was peaceful and the landlady very accommodating, making for an excellent overnight stop.

 

The vegetable soup from her humble kitchen made for a tasty meal and by evening more food was served, this time vegetables (mostly water spinach fried in a wok with soybean sauce, garlic and chillies) and sticky rice. Sticky rice was the main stable in Lao and eaten with virtually anything. It was so sticky one had to tear it apart, roll it in a ball and then dip it in your food. It was served in a woven basket or wrapped in a banana leaf - very filling and very chewy.

 

2 December - Vieng Phouka to Houei Xai – 122 km

I knew it was going to be a long, slow day and got going fairly early, at least by my standards, but not before being given breakfast by the friendly landlady. After the early morning mist burnt off, it became a most pleasant day. There were a few nasty hills along the way, and the path deteriorated, becoming gravel in parts, making for a somewhat dusty ride. Keen to reach the border town of Houei Xai, I pushed on regardless.

 

I met three more cyclists heading north and we chatted for a while and then, after wishing each other Godspeed, continued cycling. The route was again scenic (like all of Lao), and it was a pleasure to be out on the bike. The route south led past numerous villages, rivers and valleys. Rivers were the central bathing spot in communities, and in the early afternoon it was a noisy affair with kids laughing and squealing as the whole community was there to take their daily bath.

 

It was a good day of cycling and I arrived in Houei Xai at around 17h00, all sweaty and dusty and booked into the first available guesthouse.

 

 

3 December - Houei Xai

Houei Xai was a rather small one-lane village on the banks of the Mekong River, lined with guesthouses and street food stalls. I handed in my laundry and spent the day strolling along the river. That evening, Ernest also arrived and, as was the case with me, he looked hot, dusty and sweaty.

 

4 December - Houei Xai

Another day was spent in little Houei Xai, and there wasn’t much more to do but watch the sunset over the Mekong River.

 

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