Friday Feb 15 35km ride , 3hr 45 ride time. 30ks hitch on a ute to Phoukoun.
A very fitful nights sleep as we were only metres from the road and the trucks rumbled past all night, if their brakes had failed we would be dead. Our “host” had very rowdy visitors and TV til 1.30pm, then the ‘man of the house” was a lumberjack snorer…..oh dear, even earplugs fail sometimes. However we were glad we stopped where we did as no room at the top of the hill. After about 3 ks of up and down and Nickie falling off her bike, (when trying to get back on her bike on a steep uphill,) we began the exhilarating 14ks downhill to the river village, our max speed reaching 45ks!! We “refuelled” here on bananas and our special “iced coffee cocktail” -- mix milk powder with 3 in 1 coffee sachet in tepid water, don’t add ice, and shake in a water bottle…..now hope for the sugar and caffeine to kick in for the next 20k hill climb. The next few hours were cycling hell in heat and humidity, but amazing scenery, and we could see the road zig- zagging far up above and below us. What a lovely surprise to come upon a mountain stream, where we wet our shirts and found a shady spot to rest and to force down some food. This heat kills the appetite. Here there were empty roadside stalls, but for one which had some veges displayed and what looked to be purple kumara. Along the way we would come across one or 2 women squatting at the roadside, thrashing linseed flax on the road, and it being laid out for the cars to drive over. Others were up in the roadside bush gathering bunches of it with their machetes. I guess the flax goes to some mill for processing to make linen. At about 5 ks from the top, the heat became dangerous. Nickie was feeling lightheaded with high pulse rate and she could only manage 1 k ( about 15mins) then have to lie in the shade for 15 mins…..at that pace we were not going to get to the village before dark. Pete flagged down a minibus but we couldn’t get bikes into it, then further on a truck filling 40 Gallon drums with mountain stream water tank couldn’t take us. Then 2 civil engineers in their company ute agreed to take us well beyond the top village and another 30ks to the crossroads at Phuokhoun. Pete rode on the back holding down the bikes and here is some irony: Nickie nearly froze in the cab, as the AC was set to 26C !! Nickie enjoyed speaking some English with these guys, one of whom was on the project to build this very road back in 1995. She congratulated him on the gradient, 6-8 degrees and OK in riding with 1:1 gearing , but why didn’t he make it shorter ? At least we didn’t have to deal with scary dark tunnels.
Our guesthouse was comfortable, for 60,000 kip ($10) Nickie shivered in the cold shower, waiting for the hot water to come, and then had to get out of the shower for the host and Pete to dismantle and repair the heater system….Nickie was praying Pete wouldn’t be electrocuted! What a day!!
Saturday 16 89k 5hr 56 ride time to Phatang, 20k short of Vang Vieng.
We were the village entertainment as we set up the bikes this morning. A boy of about 8 yrs hovered about, turning the bike pedals, patting the seats, checking out the gears, putting our bottles in the holders. A group of Chinese tourists stood very close and with their limited English seemed to understand we were cycling to Phnom Phen, that got them excited! After a very gentle 5 minute hill out of town we had 20 ks of downhill….probably the best riding we have done . Couldn’t be more opposite to yesterdays effort……ah cycling ….it can have a bipolar effect on your mood. Kids of all ages along the way were singing out “Sabaidee,” (hello)and the babies waved. This made us feel great. The boys slapped our outstretched hands as we rode by, and some of them thought it was really funny to slap hard and make Nickie yell “ouch” . Nickie just didn’t feel right about stopping to take photos of the people going about their activities or of the village……it felt intrusive…..she wouldn’t like people to do that to her…..so.. many photos are without people unless she asked permission. We know that tourism brings $ to the people, but that doesn’t make it OK to intrude upon their lives. See the photos for the amazing mountains that we rode around. Climbing up a small hill in the midday heat, we came upon a shelter to stop for lunch and to lay out the wet tent to dry. Pete waved to a passing scooter,
the driver stopped and then asked” Ice cream??” Surreal moment…we are miles from nowhere and this guy has icecream on the back of his scooter. Think it was made from coconut milk, quite refreshing fruit salad flavour. The heat really intensifies around 3pm, so at 38C we had a lie down under trees at a petrol station and scoffed a bag of chips to replace our salt loss. The next few hours ticked by, slight ups and downs and a cool gentle headwind as we rode alongside a river. Nickies back started to twinge just as we approached another seemingly steep hill…… it must be a big one, we could hear the trucks, bouncing and rumbling, squealing brakes and revving engines . Ok, ..this better be the last damn hill… she took 2 ibuprofen and did some lie- down back stretches on the side of the road, guzzled another 500mls of water ..and we zoomed up!! And it was the last hill for the day…yeah!. Exasperation to euphoria in 10 minutes! The rose gold twilight on the cliffs was so beautiful, we feel very blessed to be here, enjoying this experience. We got a great little hut for the night just on dusk….a blissful day.
Sunday Feb 17 20 ks to Vang Vieng
Pete did his pre-flight check and found his back wheel buckled, with one broken spoke that can’t be fixed now. Nickie has had trouble with water bottles falling out of the cages, as she zooms down hill over bumps, it could hurt to hit a water bottle at 45ks speed…so she made use of a piece of elastic found in the first aid kit to tighten them. How clever…don’t leave home without elastic! We didn’t bring waterbottles with us thinking we could surely buy Power Ade bottles that fit , but all bottles are too small or large. We have been carrying about 5 litres of water each through the mountains with refills as we ride. 4ks we stop at the first restaurant for breakfast,
there is no menu so we wait in anticipation for noodle soup. We think our host has understood “no Chilli” . The first mouthfuls are incredibly salty, but deliciously onion, with maybe chicken stock?, white rice noodles and pork balls, quite tasty. It seems crazy to be drinking soup for breakfast in 28C heat. Surprisingly we felt quite full for hours. As we ate, dozens of tuk tuks and buses with kayak and tubes loaded on top, whizzed by. Of course the tourists will be floating back down river to Vang Vieng. Big buses, loaded to bursting point with luggage and people and with scooters on the roofs, ( how do they load a scooter up there?) blowing black exhaust , wheezed and coughed past us. You just have to hold your breath while they pass. So a very easy ride to Laos’ adventure/party town. We were advised to cross the toll bridge and stay on the quiet side of the river, away from the bars. Our ensuite bedroom, with fan, and fully insect screened for 80, 000 kip ,about $12NZ at Maelyn Guesthouse is luxury. Pete went to get his wheel fixed $10 NZ, for a new spoke and to buy a spoke key, while Nickie did handwashing . After a relaxed lunch and beer, we phoned home to marge and Ray and Blair, about $1 per 2 mins. In our 28 yrs together we have never ridden a scooter together, so with Nickie feeling a little nervous we hired a scooter for $10 and bumped along the 6ks dirt boulder road to The Blue Lagoon and caves. Thank goodness we didn’t try to bike, way too rough. After an hour getting lost in the cave we took a quick dip, the sun was on its way down and the water was cool. We were amused by the ” jumpers” , from the swing and diveboard in the tree. The crowds of teens and 20 somethings, suddenly were leaving in large groups on tuk tuks. Magical pink light on the cliffs as we scootered home was awesome. Mama Sababa restaurant served tasty, fried rice with egg, vege, chicken, tofu. The Lebanese salad was very salty, but so nice to have fresh salad and the bread, crusty and light. All up $11 with a beer.