It’s been awhile since I last posted from my SE Asia Cycling trip, so you can catch up to speed by reading prior entries here
February 7: Kang Vieng
“Just shove a tampon up your nose and let’s go.”
We woke at the time planned to meet our ride to Tasi. The guesthouse owner served us some 3 in 1: a powdered mix of instant coffee, creamer, and sugar.
It sounds disgusting, but after several days with no caffeine it was glorious. We then walked around the village and sabaideed to all the kids heading to school. I absolutely fell in love with Kang Vieng.
Views of the village
How they fuel up the village’s backhoe
Some curious village residents who came to see what we were up to. Yes, the woman is holding a chicken.
Even though we were told they couldn’t remember the last time a Westerner came through, everyone was so nice to us. The guesthouse owner served us a Laos breakfast: Pork stirfry, intestines, and sticky rice. Thinking we were about to catch a ride to Tasi we got our things ready, but then our ride explained that plans had changed and he was very sorry but he wasn’t going to Tasi. He said he would drive us there for $60, but we thought that was beyond our budget and we were in a good mood and ready to ride.
Robert bought me a birthday sausage from the market
Getting the bike ready before our day’s journey
We decided to start riding and hitch if we needed to. It turns out hitching wasn’t an option–we only saw one truck going our way once an hour and each one was full. This wasn’t an issue, however, because the ride was gorgeous! The hilly, windy road cut right through primary rain forests.
It was all loose dirt, so we appreciated our mountain bike tires, but the quality was amazing compared to the roads we encountered the previous day. We hiked-a-bike on the super steep sections but it felt like a large majority was downhill. After 4 hours we finally finished and pulled into Tasi–we were sweaty, exhausted, completely encased in red dirt, but smiling from ear to ear.
The only map we had to guide us on our journey
We grabbed a quick bite of sticky rice and headed back to glorious pavement. The smoothness of the roads was appreciated, but the temps were soaring and we were fading. After about 30 km we encountered a huge hill. Right then a truck appeared. We hitched as far as he was going (6 km), then roads the flats for a bit. Robert got a nosebleed, but refused my offer to shove a tampon up his nose. Right as we got to the second series of climbs, another truck pulled up. They were going to Lak Xao, which was 140 km away (about 2 days worth of riding). Since Robert’s Laos visa was about to expire, we decided to go ahead and hitch the ride, giving us an extra day of “play” in Laos before we had to cross to Cambodia. As we zoomed along the roads we watched the sun set from the back of the pickup–another gorgeous day in Laos.
We arrived in Lak Xao around 7, found our cheapest guestroom yet (30,000 kip, about 3.75 US), grabbed a dinner from a street vendor, and toasted to another fabulous day of adventure. A day which just so happened to be my birthday–and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it.
February 8: Lak Xao
“If it will make you stop talking about it, do what you want with the friggin ramen.”
Knowing we had a lot of distance to cover, we woke early and grabbed a quick breakfast of sticky rice and pork laab from a street vendor before hitting the road. The first half of our day was mentally and physically challenging: more horrible, rutted dirt roads with lots of chunks. There was also a lot of traffic so we wore our bandanas over our nose and mouths. I felt like it didn’t help, however, because I developed a scratchy throat and stuffy, sneezy nose which I’m sure was related to the amount of dust, smoke and diesel fumes I was inhaling.
After 4 hours of tough riding, we came to the reservoir. This was created when they dammed one of the rivers and created a swamplike wasteland over a large area. The river situation in Laos is actually quite sad–the Chinese are coming in to dam the rivers for hydroelectric power and as such are destroying the fragile ecosystem of the country. The locals think it’s good because the villages get relocated (since they’re flooded out by the dams) and the Chinese get them nicer, newer houses. Several major dams along several pristine rivers are currently under construction–Laos in 5 years will certainly look different than Laos today.
We grabbed lunch from a street vendor of steamed pork/egg buns, grilled sweet potato and roasted bananas, then headed off. We hitchiked a 20km stretch of road that was particularly brutal, then enjoyed a long stretch of flat road that was lined with limestone cliffs. It was positively breathtaking.
By now it was midafternoon and scorchingly hot. We had traveled about 90 km. We decided to stop at a roadside stand/market for a cold drink where insects were being sold in large buckets. We giggled as some children peered at us as we sat in our bike gear. We then hitchiked a few more km to cool off and then rode the last 30k to Thakhek. We realized we could still make the overnight bus to the border so we uses a hose outside a guesthouse to shower off our filth. By now we were both dehydrated, exhausted, and bonking after nearly 10 hours of straight riding. We had a fabulously stupid fight over the ramen that was fueled by our sheer hunger, then laughed over the stupidity of our fight once our blood sugar levels stabilized.
After dinner we headed back to the bus station, handed our bikes to the drives (who strapped them to the top of the bus!), and settled into our seats for an overnight 7 hour trip.
Yes, those are our bikes being strapped to the top of the overnight bus
February 9: Somewhere near the Cambodian border
“You go over there and pee. I’ll stay here and bathe myself in chamois cream”
We knew we were in the right town but apparently the wrong bus station. It took us about 30 minutes and the assistance of several joggers (yes, we finally found people who exercised!) but we eventually found the right bus station. We found the bus we wanted, but it was unfortunately extremely expensive since it as chock full of tourists.
We settled in for a rather hot and miserable ride along with some very loud and rowdy 20-somethings. After about 3 hours those of us going to Cambodia piled into a smaller van and headed for the border. We navigated the frustrating border crossing (frustrating because a German ahead of us held up the whole line as he complained about the $5 exit fee from Laos and $25 entry fee to Cambodia). By the time our passports were finally stamped it was almost 2 and we were sweltering. Since none of our buses, even the overnight bus, had a toilet, I had stopped drinking water and as a result was pretty dehydrated. On top of that my cold was raging and I felt miserable.
We made it to Cambodia!
We stopped at a roadside stand to change back into our cycling clothes and pound fluids, then we were off–cycling in Cambodia! We were happy to be in Cambodia, but I was feeling awful: headache, dizzy, snot everywhere. The first 15k of roads were all being burned, so we also had to deal with the smoke and ask from the fire. Eventually we decided the heat was just unbearable and we stopped to try to find a homestay. Since we had relatively bad luck in Laos we weren’t sure it would work, but on our second try they invited us in!
The family that graciously took us in
We washed out back with a bucket and then headed in for an amazing dinner of rice, chicken, and some unidentifiable vegetable. They arranged our bed (another simple straw mat with a mosquito net overhead) and we settled our hot and weary bodies in for a long night of rest.