Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Week 10 Luangnamtha to Ban Na Song 135kms cycled.

Highlights: Good coffee, pleasant riverside roads
Low blows: Getting colder, dust
Music of the week: All that you are – Cinematic Orchestra

Played pass the hilltribe vendor with a French bloke in resto at bf. She was trying to sell bunches of radish things. Disappointing baguette with my fried eggs. Must be getting this hot dog type bread from China – no substance to it at all. Went to morning market and had a browse. Very orderly and clean! Munched some bananas. Lots of herbs and greens laid out in neat little piles. One lady had made a pretty display of pickled cabbage artistically heaped in small bowls. Lots of different types of rice for sale, and tons of clothes. All Chinese. Cycled up to bus station to check times for tomorrow and then took a circuitous route back to gh, sun finally coming out at 11. Had a beer to use free wifi in afternoon then back to room. Had a tasty laap moo at night, shame Ive only just found this resto (Ban Na) cos its really good and cheap too.

Perfectly presented pickled cabbage. Very tasty too

There's more to rice than just brown or white

Luangnamtha to UdomXai by bus
Cool mist actually felt like it was trying to drizzle as I went for bf in same place as last night. Real baguettes! Had omlette and coffee and got a chicken sarnie to take on bus.
Packed up and went bus station early as yesterdays 12 bus left at 10:45. Not many people about, got ticket and bagsied seat then just wandered about to keep warm. Found a baby sparrow shivering in the dirt. Picked it up and gave it to some Laos shop holders who were delighted to have it, they said it was cold, although it looked diseased to me. Waited till everyone had put luggage on roof and then got my bike up there. Took a bit of organizing the lad so he didn’t attatch ropes to owt that might buckle or break.
Left at 11:30, mist only just starting to clear. Driver going pretty fast to start but calmed down eventually. Older women on bus, particulary one in front of me getting travel sick almost immediately, Later on in trip a woman lobbed a bag of retchings out the window and it came back in my open widow and got stuck on frame behind my head. Nice! Luckily the bag only had a bit in it and I only got the slightest bit of spray on me before I batted it back out of the window. Stopped off at a roadside mkt and I bought some pine nuts. Glad I decided to take the bus as about half of the way 50kms is undergoing renovation and just gravel so a lot of dust kicking up. Looks like the Chinese influence is well under way, a lot of the small towns along the way are having a boom period at the moment.
Arrived UdomXai 3 hours later. Found new gh for 60000kip, although took a while to find anyone around (got a hairdresser across the road to show me a room). Wandered around market, the usual stuff except for an interesting stall selling things to burn when someone dies. They had the usual gold paper and money, but a modern twist added a fake shirt and tie with gold watch, mobile phone, credit card, and bar of gold. The guy in the shop showed me they also had a passport and plane tickets to heaven or hell, and a credit card.

Essential items for the journey to the other side.....where's the ipod and xbox?

Passport, tickets, money. Passport, tickets, money. Passport, tickets, money

Around Udomxai 40km

Was getting set for off but got talking with gh owner and he said the place I planned to ride to tonight was just a 3 room place at a junction. As it was a bit late to be doing a 100km stint and the room was pretty comfy I didn’t need much persuading to stay another day. Went down the road to PakBeng for 20km then came back. Very pretty wooded hillsides, rice paddies, and villages stocking up with firewood in neat racks either under their houses or at edge of road along the way. Most people saying hello. Small roadside mkt going on, nothing unusual there although a lot of stalls selling dead rats. Reakon itd be a nice ride to PakBeng. Had a nosy at loads of trucks laden with huge tree roots. Driver said they were going to China for furniture. Across from weigh station a Chinese company setting up some agricultural project. Its all Chinese here! Went for a massage at red cross place at 4:30. Not very good. Checked temps for China on internet cos when I watched Chinese news on telly it looked extremely cold but they must have been giving temps in farenheight as they are on par with last years avgs.

 Big treestumps bound for China

UdomXai to Muang Khoua 98km
Omelet and coffeed up for bf then off by 8:30, bit later than Id hoped but not to worry as easy cycling all day. Up and down all the way with latter half mainly down. Bit of a hill to start, but after 25kms road followed flow of river all the way. What appeared to be a romantic, misty haze 8km out of Udomxai turned out to be ‘Udomxai garbage field’ as proclaimed by a sign, heaps of smouldering plastic everywhere. Felt sorry for a farmhouse nearby. Also passed a sign saying I speak Spanish and then another declaring ‘El Horno del Muerto’ the oven of death, and further along cementario. Said buenas dias to bloke who was sat on his porch. Scenery got better the nearer I got to MuangKhoua. Some lovely villages along the way and one picture perfect, across river at a bend on a big mound of a hill, lots of wooden houses. (Didn’t take a pic cos overcast). Some bamboo floating bridges across river giving access to some villages.
Stopped off for tea (no charge) and later had lunch at where Id planned to cycle to yesterday – good decision not to stay the night here as it’s just a bus station/ patch of dust with 3 rooms in a concrete bunker at end. A few places selling bbq meat. I ended up with chicken livers, deer meat, sticky rice and fanta- best choice of some other unhygienic looking stuff. Watched people fishing in river while I chewed away. All rubbish from these restos just chucked down banking so there were papaya trees with cig packets in the leaves and bushes adorned with different coloured plastic bags.
My stomach found it hard to digest the meat and it didn’t give me much energy so felt tired from 1:30pm onwards, stopped off to lay down and stretch my back on large concrete blocks at edge of bridge in shade and I think I nodded off for a bit. Lucky it was an easy ride or I would’ve struggled for last bit. Passed a strange, deserted line of houses at one point. Wonder where the people went to? Along the way, people busy making things in villages, men making fishing nets with nylon string, people weaving baskets, freshly woven sheets of bamboo used for the sides of houses drying in the sun, 2 lads in underpants with snorkel masks walking down the street with a catch of several small fish.
Got to MuangKhoua by 3:30, found a place to stay – not much good accom , food or owt here. Found a cheap resto up near mkt, ate then showered and relaxed a bit. Went for a walk later, the cast iron suspension bridge is in a state of disrepair and has huge holes and loose panels in it, but they are building a brand new concrete road bridge a bit further down river and there’ll be one over Mekong too. Might perk the town up a bit. Not much else has changed in 2 years since I last came,  one good resto on riverside now shut and 2 new ones opened (overpriced), also the bus station is now 3kms out of town. Theres not much to love in this town although the hotch potch of houses and tiny dusty back lanes are interesting to wander about.

Yet another use for a tok tok

The second nicest thing in the bathroom

The bridge of death falling apart while you walk, locals didnt seemed fazed at all

Muang Khoua
Overcast and cold day. Ate bf up near mkt and watched life go by. A Chinese man and his son had driven a tok tok truck all the way from Mengla to sell satsumas here 5000kip/kilo, seemed to be doing a roaring trade too. I bought satsumas and bananas in mkt. Was invited by owner of resto to go to a house blessing but as Id no trousers (polite clothes) I couldn’t go, she said it was ok, but I knew it wasn’t the done thing.  Changed gh to one a few doors down, far better room for 60000kip and a bit of a view of the Nam Ou aswell. Spent  most of afternoon, drinking hot Phongsali tea and munching a packet of biscuits (which had taken an entire circuit of the town to locate)- people don’t seem to snack here, probably can’t afford all the same things Thais like to munch on, the only shop with the small cake things I like wanted to sell me the whole carton. Had a wander about later on to inspect the new bridge construction and chance it again on the knackered iron bridge back into town.

Muang Khoua to Ban Na Song 37km
People in this town really are in slow motion. Despite getting up early by the time I’d been fed and coffee’d it was 8am. I compared these people to the Thai, who once you’ve ordered usually have the food in front of you in 5 minutes or less, takes the Laos that long to think about what you ordered. The Chinese mans satuma monopoly had also ended as a Laos lady had parked her truck, fully laden with satsumas right next to his - let batttle commence. Got down to rivers edge by 8:30 and across on the car ferry, which is working today after welding parts of the ramp back together all day yesterday. No one to charge me either –a freebie!
Set off along old dusty road and soon came to where a new bridge is being built over Nam Ou. Road from here onwards under construction, wide, dusty, some lovely smooth clay in parts, and carving its way through the winding hillside. Chatted with Italian cyclist coming the other way, asked him if he’d noticed a gh in town along way and he said he hadn’t so a bit worried if there’ll be anywhere to stay or not! Followed river for about 6kms then went inland and uphill for next 15kms, lots of floury powder and gravel- thankfully hardly any traffic as the vehicles that did go past kicked up a right plume. Climbing, climbing, climbing, feel tired and knees aching, aching, aching, maybe feeling tired cos too much lounging about?, but I don’t have a choice because the date of entry into Vietnam is fixed.
Earth movers carving tiers into hillside and rocks/earth cascading down a pile onto road – best to go quick past here. Blokes breaking up slate type rock and cementing it to the rain gullies at the roadside, further on blokes installing drains. Some shoddy work in parts as cement already cracked. Several workers encampments in large green tents along the way. Slow going, eventually hit the top and rather cool so jumper on for the downhill, this section more bumpy than the up. Seems they are constructing it from where I started onwards. Easy to take a photos as all the screen vegetation at side of road buried under tons of earth and rubble. Kids in all villages shout “falang’ when they see you and then all kids in village waving like mad, bye bye, sabaidee and the occasional good morning, which made the going more fun.
By 1:30ish arrived at village I planned to stay at, going over a rickety foot suspension bridge  rather than fjord the river, with loose boards that gave way as you crossed and only the cable underneath stopped me going through. There are now 3 ghs in town! Stopped at one down by the river which had a new 50k room, no hot shower but a hot flask is available from reception to mix in a bucket. Ate a massive plate of veg and buffalo meat with rice – even surprised myself I ate it all, showered and had a wander up village, achy knees. 3 dogs laying in a row looking cute in front of butchers stall. All shops goods and houses on main street covered in a layer of orange dust, some of these houses will be demolished to make way for new road, one wooden home further down road surrounded on 3 sides by huge piles of earth that’d been dug out of banking opposite. A lot of people down by the river, washing clothes, taking a bath, brushing teeth, shaving hair off a dead pig, cleaning guts from fish, washing motorbikes/trucks -its all going on down here!
Car ferry across the Nam Ou river looking back to Muang Khoua

Satsuma break at top of first big hill

A scarred mountain ridge reveals the new road and long downhill section

Oh go on...

Ban Na Song
Ate foe in Vietnamese place up road. No one does coffee here, only 3 in 1 sachets. Lots of Thai Dam people around the market, their hair tied up in a bun skewered with a hair pin with an old French coin on the end. Others wear a headscarf which flops over at the front and is decorated with coins. Saw one woman who’d perched a motorbike helmet on top of all this too!  Bit of action in the mkt when a duck stole of big piece of meat perched on top of a womans upturned box and was shaking it viciously when she noticed and gave chase. The duck dropped the meat and ran, she picked up the meat from the dirt and plonked it back on box. I expect she washed it later.
Cycled up the valley along a bumpy road passing through several Thai Dam villages -most people friendly and curious, some wary. Crossed over a rickety wooden suspension bridge in one village. A wood yard loading thick heavy oblong blocks of teak into a Vietnamese truck. Not much to do in afternoon but would rather be here than in Muang Khua, read up on route and had a Beer Hanoi in a Vietnamese place up the road. Bought some snacks for tomorrow and drank some ovaltine observing the locals washing in the river – they must be freezing as Im sat in a fleece jumper and my jacket drinking hot drinks. Seemed funny packing my thick, knee length woolly socks, woolly hat, 2 jumpers and a jacket and sleeping bag back in Thung Song, where if it got cool you put on a t-shirt, but I’m very happy to have them with me now! 

Rush hour in the village

Tops of reeds drying in the sun, used to stuff pillows and blankets etc

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