Monday, 7 March 2011

Week 18 Kukucham to Kunming 78 kms cycled

Highlights: Massive downhills!  LuangPrabang – a great place to laze around
Low blows: Another flat tyre, disc brake pads worn out- no replacements available
Music of the week: Marian – Nouvelle Vague

Kukucham to LuangPrabang  78kms
Woke up feeling tired and drowsy. Had breakfast then set off.  20km downhill to start the day, superb! Gourgeous blossoming trees with pink white flowers. Eventually bottomed out in a village with river running through it, along a bit then a steady climb. Hot day. Stopped off at top of hill in a village. Scared a young kid who was crossing road from behind a truck and didn’t look, he got a fright when I said beep beep and ran back to his mom crying. Sat and chatted with locals, one bloke transported bananas in his truck from here all the way to VT. He told me rest of way was ok, and it was.
Road followed beneath a huge sandstone cliff, trees and vegetation beneath, and went along, up a bit and then massive downhill. Started to drizzle a bit so zoomed on past the cloud, passed a truck transporting an earth mover that’d passed me earlier and stopped off for lunch at bottom of hill. Hot outside. Pretty much flat with a bit of a hump to get up before the final downhill stretch into LP. Eventually found a decent priced room 70k with fan. Bumped into a bloke who’d been on two of my tours previously. Chatted with him, then showered and rehydrated. Headache from stiff neck and too much effort I think! Had a chicken baguette, and later a disappointing pizza – not enough cheese!
Bottom of the valley after a 25km downhill

LuangPrabang  STALL!
Picked up some bananas in market and went for a coffee at one of the last remaining original places in LuangPrabang. Drank this strong black stuff and watched tuk tuks, cyclists, villagers arriving from the other bank of river go by. Amusing to see several tourist photographing the building opposite. Although it looks beautiful it is a 5yr old copy of the colonial style. Chatted with an English couple, they told me about a German family travelling with bikes, trailers and a ridgeback dog! Apparantly they camped out and the dog guarded the stuff at night. Great idea. They also had a small naughty dog that had adopted them in India which kept catching ducks/chickens etc and they had to pay out compensation to the owners of the dead fowl. Left and discovered Id got a flat while drinking coffee.
Found a bike shop and bought some new tyres ($42) and discovered a chunk of brown M150 glass in the flat. Id been lucky cos when Id changed the innertube in mtns Id taken glass out but, not this piece. I checked the holes on both innertubes and hole in same place so easy to find the glass. Had a look at my rear brakepads which have been scraping and found out they are work all way down to metal!  
Hot afternoon. Went on a wifi wild goose chase at night, eventually went to a bar that said it did have wifi, but wouldn’t let my computer log onto it. Had 2 beers and a shot of lao lao and chatted with people in there. Shame I didn’t get bike checked out and have new supplies before I came here – but then at the time I was gonna go back into Thailand! Spotting a bit at night, but didn’t rain.

Growing veggies on the river bank

One of the few original buildings left unrenovated

A new 'old' building

Wobbly old entrance to a temple
People taking the sign too literally perhaps

Alley way scene - sticky rice cakes drying in the sun 
Increasing pressure from traffic. Minivans park where part of the morning market used to be 

Superfresh veggies
A dry looking Mekong river
Stairwell guardian to Wat Xieng Thong

Fishermen cast their nets as the day fades away

A posh eatery
Non-posh option, fried rice with egg on top, the cheapest food available in LP

Rained in night. Bought some bananas for breakfast from the market. Loads of fresh colourful veggies for sale, fresh honey, odd chopped up creatures, lots of tasty looking fruit, fresh fish, and a fly covered meat section, stall holders wafting sticks with plastic bags attached to the end in a bid to transfer the flies elsewhere. Had that fresh meat smell to it too as I passed quickly by to the coffee stall for 2 rocket strength cups of the good stuff then had a look at a few gh’s. Found a new room, a bit more expensive but I had my own courtyard and natural light etc – far more livable. Did some laundry, cycled around the town, had massage, drank some beer. LP really is a lovely place, shame that its such a draw card that the inevitable transformation happens with the locals just viewing you as a resource. Met some lovely stallholders etc but also some foul one’s who were so mercenary. Bought a ticket on 24hr bus to Kunming only $52.
The Saynamkhan river round the back of LuangPrabang

LuangPrabang to Kunming by bus
Up at 5. Fried eggs baguette and coffee for breakie. Chatted with a cyclist at stall then up to coach stop by 6:30. Many women sitting on mats waiting to give alms to a line of monks coming down street. At bus stop, lots of Chinese hanging around and 2 other westerners turned up, one Id met the other night. Line of oranged robed monks coming along here too, chanting to those who’d made merit. Bus arrived. Chinese drivers don’t help anyone load luggage so a bit of a mess as people just piled their stuff in. I hung around to make sure nobody plonked stuff on the bike (which several tried to do) as the last thing I need is a buckled wheel.
Got on board, despite everyone having a numbered seat a lot of fussing and talking going on as some people didn’t want to have the seat they’d booked. The bus was a bed bus with bunk beds down either side and a row in the middle, the back section was crowded with 2 rows of four beds altogether and then the same above it – this was the bit no one wanted to be in, which wasn’t surprising. Sounded funny listening to all the animated talking. Set off on time. 30 mins into journey into windy bouncy road through the hills and 30% of Chinese start pewking into little plastic bags – lovely. Felt weird lying down at first, but turned out to be very comfortable. Driver stopped off every so often and had long breaks for lunch and dinner. One woman was travel sick in a really bad way so I got her some fresh ginger from the lunchtime resto which she chewed on. She was on the top bunk so a lot more movement up there. Glad I picked my seat!
Crossed border at 5ish. Big Chinese village sprung up on Laos side. Immigration on Laos side a crappy old building, but a new fancy one based on That Luang Stupa in the process of being built. Took ages for everyone to go through, a queue would’ve helped instead of the scrum that ensued. Boarded bus and up to Chinese checkpoint, a modern metal affair. All bags had to be placed in a line and opened for soldiers to have a look then into the airport lounge style building. Very fancy and even had a machine that printed your arrival card for you, just type in the visa number, press enter and the card popped out – superb! The immigration guy also spoke English, Italian, Russian too. Most impressive.
Changing of the guard outside as we boarded bus, then waited in bus station for a while. Had my first experience of a Chinese public toilet, basically a tiled trench with dividers every few meters. Realised Id gone in the womens side cos sanitary towels in the trench so went round to blokes side and it was exactly same.
Set off, civilisation – a brand new road. Had lunch at 7pm with Michael an Italian bloke on the bus. He was studying Chinese and had been in China a year already, so made it easy ordering food. Big plates of spicy chicken, veg, and rice served on a large round table- lazy Susan accompanying us.
Slept intermittently in night. Drivers mate smoking a lot and stinking out the bus, luckily could open window for a blast of cool mountain air every so often. Ears popping as we went up and down the mountains. They took on a few passengers along the way too and I saw one guy with a box plonk it in the cabin with my bike in, Id fended off all attacks since this morning and now too late to do anything. Hoped bike would be ok.

Keeping up with the Jones'. The fancy new Laos border post

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