Thursday, 3 March 2011

Week 17 Back into Laos NongKhai to Kukucham 185 km cycled

Highlights: Nice long rest with a friend, Awesome mountain scenery
Low blows: Bloody big hills (see above), flat tyre
Music of the week: Let the Good Times Roll - Ray Charles

NongKhai to Vientiane  35kms
Bought some pinapple from the market then sat on the pavilion steps overlooking the river, they could do with a good spray cleaning as covered in black sticky marks and stains. A few meters away a drunken old farang bloke sat, seemed like he’d not been to bed yet. A lot of messed up westeners in this town. Had a coffee back at mkt, then read book for a bit in shady courtyard of gh for a while. Picked up some bread from German bakers shop and headed over border into Laos. Easy enough to get across as hardly anyone crossing, loads of trucks going across from Thai side including car transporters full of dinky little smart type cars but a different brand. Felt liberating to be in Laos. Into Vt soon enough. Headed to Swedish bakehouse and had cheeseburger and chips and a beer until time to meet my pal Margaret at her 5th floor appt - super central and quiet too! Went to the Taj at night had a curry, garlic nan and wine too – yummy!!!!

A few days in Vientiane
Taj arse in the morning. Mooched about, promenade along river almost finished but needs more trees and shade and not sure about the big road down the front – maybe they will close the road immediately in front of shops and have a pedestrianised area leading into the park – I doubt that! Have been in two minds should I go to China or stay in Thailand. Think the rest and a chat has helped me also flipped some coins 3x best of 3. China won. So its off to China I will go.
Ate a lovely pizza at Swedish bakehouse and took my own wine along too in the bike bottle. Another  evening went for Korean food, really nice and didn’t know what to expect as 1st time Id ever tried it. Pick up a lettuce leaf then plop the meat, raw garlic, onions, sauce, etc wrap it and eat it. Also had small bowls of courgettes, pickled cabbage-kimchi, a soup, fried egg, and a bowl of fried rice with veg and egg mixed in. Very tasty and filling.
Chucked it down during one night at 4am, woke me up and I got up to watch out of the window. Needed to use mozz net as getting nibbled a bit, one night one got in net with me somehow so had to chase it out. One night also had an earth tremor which wobbled us for a second or 2. Next day learned there’d been a 4.7 quake 150kms NW of VT. Rather insignificant compared to the NZ debacle. As a send off, got treated to some super expensive Belgian beers in a Belgian beer bar packed with Belgian blokes, down on the river front. Wonder if they shipped them in with the beer?
@Swedish Bakehouse. Probably the best pizza in SE Asia

Fags and baguettes - the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast

Over the rooftops to the Black Stupa

Laos only mosque - although not allowed to make the call to prayer through loudspeakers

Computer says no - the worlds friendliest bank?

Along the newly made banks of a rather dry Mekong

Tasty French heritage

Off the back of a lorry - Tat for sale at That Luang Stupa

Delicious iced fruit

Patuxai monument, built with cement donated by the US, but actually intended to build a runway
Vientiane to Vang Vieng by bus
Got to bus station 5 mins before departure at 9:30. Haggled for bike price (ended up paying 2 fares 80k altogether) and then bike was put in a locker underneath with a big sack full of cut meat. Found a seat and off on time. After about an hour the driver told everyone to open the windows and turned off the ac as they said the breeze was good, but it was hot outside so pretty sweaty back against chair inside- he just wanted to save on fuel. Busy roads for 1st hour and then eased off, passed 2 groups of cyclists but glad Id skipped it as hot and not so much to see, rice paddies mainly.
Bus arrived VV by 1:30. Retrieved bags and bike from back, juice had been oozing everywhere from the sack of meat and had soaked up into the left hand grip so now seeping out onto my hand- nice. My waterbottle had also come off during the bouncy ride and had been rolling around in the stuff. Gave it a bit of a wash using some water in a bowl, which got some of the stink off. Went into town – VV has mushroomed from being a village into a fully fledged town, amazing really as all purely for tourists. Looked at several gh’s all 80k, one wasted bloke being ‘cared’ for by the gh staff. Grip still weaping gunk onto my left hand. Eventually found a gh away from the main area, very quiet and a bit of a view too. Gave everything contaminated a good wash and dried it in the hot sun.
Ordered food over road and sat chatting to an English bloke for about an hour untll the girl eventually made our fried rice (I think she was taking care of the stall so unsure of herself). Bloke didn’t eat meat so I got all his pork too! Nice guy. I asked which his favourite country had been out of all the 3 he’d been to and he said Vietnam, which amused me greatly. Read book on balcony for a bit, then went into town but all food overpriced a bit so ate foe in end. This place is just a circus. Even  hard to see much of a view anymore, and that was the whole point, cos the whole front has been built on – esp by huge hotels.

Almost the only way to get a decent view over the construction - balloon flights at dusk
Vang Vieng to Kasi  58kms
Rained heavily in the night, slept well although woken by the temple across the road at 4:30 dong dong dong and later at 6ish. Woke again around 7:30. Overcast and raining a bit. Had big omelet sarnie and coffee for bf. Chatted with young lass there who was brought up in US but had been sent here 2 years ago, she hadn’t finished school but I got impression she mustve been having problems to have been sent off to grandparents out here! Was gonna stay but weather looked as if settling so decided to make a move at 10am. 5kms up road it started to piss it down so sheltered under a resto’s thatched cabana as their kids played petanque. The other petanque courts soon filled up with water as it pissed it down.
Waited about 40mins before it finally slowed to a drizzle and stopped. Some impressive scenery along way – limestone mtns peaking out through the low cloud/mist, river coming into view every now and again, rice paddies and buffalos. Road started uphill after a while, not too steep and wound its way into hills. Road pretty good but patches of mud every so often so soon covered in orange sludge kicked up from wheels. Washed off later in a stream/irrigation channel. Had an ovaltine and biscuits at break. Nice downhill to bring me into Ban Kasi. Ate first then found a gh 60k with hot shower. Cleaned crap off bike and bags with a pan of water before going in room. Feeling drained so just chilled in room, napped a bit, ate and that’s about it.

Moody morning sky

A village scene

Provincial marketing - Laos style

Kasi to KuKuCham  92kms
Set off 8:30, looked easy on the map - first 20km flat, then uphill 15km, then down then up to destination. Turned out to be a killer of a day. Ok to start, flat, bit of an up and then downhill in a lovely valley, massive peaks to my right. Passed a hot springs resort which would’ve been a better place to stop last night had I known about it. Very pretty scenery, people farming, small roadside villages.
Started to climb and had a stop off at a small village, just a cluster of houses on a bend in the road. Bought some water, chatted with people there and had a laff. Off again, road just went up and up, hot going and hard work, lots of shards of glass in the edge from M150 bottles that drivers just lob into bushes, so did my best to avoid it. Small waterfall at side of road just as I was in need of a rest so stopped and stood under its cold refreshing water. Continued on up the hill and eventually reached the top and a restaurant looking over the amazing view of the black peaks lining a valley into the distance. This was a tour groups stop and the young girl taking orders said I couldn’t have anything to eat cos Id not booked. Asked a Laos bloke outside and he sorted some food for me. Scoffed that and chatted briefly with an Oz bloke tour leading for a group and the coach drivers.
Set off along ridge for another 9 kms and got to junction that goes off to Phonsavan. Thought about stopping here as legs heavy but accommodation and town looked crap, just a transport hub, so decided to carry on. Stocked up on water and had a bottle of RedBull which gave me wings™.
Road up a bit and then lovely long down hill. Stopped and chatted to an Irish woman coming other way. Down to bottom then falt for a short while before starting gradual climb again. Met a Belgian couple coming other way too, so chatted briefly about route. Later on had a break and chatted with a bloke whose digger was shifting earth that had collapsed onto road in recent rains, a fair bit of it too. Set off downhill and back tyre squishy – a bloody flat! Changed it, removed shard of glass and pumped tyre which took about 600 pumps to get it roadworthy. Took half hour to sort it out and now 4:45. Still 30kms to go. After a while started to climb and just kept going up, up, up. Locals bashing reed heads to knock off the seeds all along sides of road, people humping firewood about, some scrambling up steep bankings cutting wood or undergrowth. Hot work. Lovely mtn scenery but Im feeling very tired and still along way to go, everyone saying hello helped spur me on. Got to dusk, still along way to go, all villagers having a wash around the pump, men in underpants, women in sarongs. Carried on.
One of annoying things about Laos roadsigns is that they only tell you about the places along way away eg Luangnamtha 350kms,but nothing to say what is nearby. Nightfell. Riding in the dark cos I know only a few kms to go, bit worried about traffic but ok, a few big holes to avoid too. All villagers inside their homes lights on inside, some shadows bathing at a pump, or sat talking in the dark. The Belgian bloke had reakoned the last 20kms was along a ridge, which was sort of correct but it was all uphill. Eventually passed a signpost telling me it’s only 3km. Hurrah!
Finally arrived at Kukucham. Small town. Got pointed to a gh and ate while the owner turned up. Was a hmong woman who was drunk cos been to a party. Room only with bathroom across the way, right enough.  - 50k a bit pricey mind. She heated me up some water in coffee maker and I taught her a bit of English till it was ready. Ha
Had  a wash then a wandered 100m around village. Somehow already 9pm. Totally knackered. Went to bed. Awoke an hour later to a whining puppy. Slept intermittently. Neighbours directly behind talking in shower at 4am, cockerels started up at 4:30 and so on as the soundtrack to village life played on.

Village pond at side of a huge valley

Limestone mountains down the valley

Time for a much need cool down at this mini road side waterfall

Its views like this that keep you going!

More top quality scenery

Halfway delirious and halfway along the last uphill section

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