Category Archives: Laos

Luang Prabang to Chong Mek 27 January – 16 February 2014

Farewell Laos. It’s been wonderful. We’ve shared rooms with large spiders, guessed at the origin or purpose of the various items being sun-dried beside the road, admired loads of lovely looking old VW Beetles in Vientiane, watched the sun rise over the Mekong, toured a coffee plantation, seen the French colonial influence in fiercely contested petanque games and experienced the full volume of the last day of a Buddhist festival.  And normally paid between £3 & £8 for a room for a night (often with wi-fi but more often without, and sometimes without running water as well).

Our experiences haven’t all been positive though. Like the rest of Southeast Asia, Laos has an obsession with plastic bags, and it’s starting to get to us. At stalls and shops you practically have to wrestle your purchases away from the vendor, gesticulating frantically at your rucksack or the re-used plastic bag already open in your hand. Even when buying a couple of ice-creams, clearly for immediate consumption, shop assistants insist on putting them in a brand new plastic bag for the journey from till to street. It’s infuriating. And of course, despite the fact that Laos has a, well, let’s just call it a ‘developing’ waste disposal system, which you’d think would mean that people would be used to taking responsibility for their own rubbish as they can’t rely on the local government to do so, people gaily drop their used bags into the rivers and fields without a care in the world. Do they actually enjoy living in squalor? We’re sick to death of cycling past trees festooned with plastic bags and grass verges buried under discarded bags and bottles. And it’s not like there aren’t that many bins –village streets are lined with them (cleverly made from re-cycled tyres) so why don’t more people use them? We’ve been told that when food was traditionally wrapped in banana leaves it was never a problem to simply discard the biodegradable wrapper in the street, and plastic bags are still a sufficiently new phenomenon that disposal habits have not yet caught up. But it’s hard to believe that. It feels like plastic bags have been ingrained in the culture here for much longer. There’s little we can do though but to continue our two person war against plastic by refusing and re-using as we go along, and trying to avert our eyes from the flapping roadside horrors.

The Asian obsession with plastic bags runs amok.

The Asian obsession with dropping litter.

Thankfully, there’s been plenty to distract the eye. While in Luang Prabang we pedalled out on a day trip out to admire the turquoise waters of the Kouang Xi Falls (where there is also a sanctuary for rescued Asiatic bears).

Kuang Xi Falls, near Luang Prabang

Kuang Xi Falls, near Luang Prabang

One of the residents at the bear rescue sanctuary.

One of the residents at the bear rescue sanctuary.

Then the route south from Luang Prabang to Vientiane took us through some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve seen. The hills are a bit of a slog, but the views make every pedal stroke worth it. We really pity the poor backpackers who take the overnight bus and miss it all. The hill villages are stretched out affairs, with houses perched on the thin strip between the edge of the road and the steep escarpment, and because most of the houses don’t have chimneys, fires are lit outside and daily chores are conducted out in the street – we got to see it all as we cycled through it. It must have been the middle of broom-making-season as all around us grasses were drying in the sun. Men, women and children would then roll the grass stems and then thrash them against the ground to remove the seeds before bundling them up into brooms.

Drying grass

Drying grass

Threshing grass

Threshing grass

Other activities include spinning, weaving, basket-making, childcare (we saw men looking after toddlers as often as women), food preparation, laundry and ablutions (under the single village tap).

Misty mountains

Misty mountains between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng.

At Vang Vieng, which we’d expected to hate due to its reputation as a party town, we were so enchanted by the soaring karsts that we stayed an extra night to take in the sunset one more time. Our stay was made all the more pleasant by finding an excellent economical guesthouse in the quieter southern end of town. Our friends Sue and Justin had ended up in the party area and wished they’d brought ear plugs. Vang Vieng was where we said our goodbyes to Sue and Justin as they carried on down to Vientiane and then sped on through Thailand and into Cambodia to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.

Sunset in Vang Vieng.

Sunset in Vang Vieng

We made our way more sedately to Vientiane and spent a few days getting our Thai visa and also having some more ‘Threewheeling’ business cards printed. The Thai visa process here is not one we’d recommend. They open for business at 8:30 but apparently the queues start at 6am. We arrived around 9am and queued for ages just to get a form and a number. We completed the form then sat down to wait, and wait, and wait. There were around 200 people in front of us (and at least 150 more behind us) and it took well over 2 hours before our numbers were called. After we handed our forms over we were told to go to another building to pay. Whereupon we had to wait a further 30-40 minutes before we were allowed to pay, despite there being no queue at the counter and indeed little discernible activity behind the counter. All in all, having arrived at 9am, it was most definitely lunchtime before we managed to escape. The only redeeming point in the Vientiane process was the next-day turnaround (unlike the four days in Phnom Penh). So far Kota Bharu seems the best: next-day turnaround, cheaper than both Vientiane and Phnom Penh, and no big queues.

Vientiane's very own 'Arc de Triumph'

Vientiane’s very own ‘Arc de Triumph’

One of the many lovely old beetles we saw around town.

One of the many lovely old beetles we saw around town.

We toyed with the idea of getting a bus from Vientiane to Savannakhet as we’d heard the road was flat and boring, but Sue and Justin reported that the buses require your bike to be boxed (Really? Even when we’ve seen motorbikes on the roofs of the bus?), so we decided to pedal. It was, as expected, flat and boring, and the hot headwind didn’t really help matters, but you can’t have it breathtaking and gorgeous all the time, and we’ve done plenty of flat and boring before so a little bit more didn’t hurt, and it’s always more satisfying to have pedalled somewhere yourself, watching the daily lives of people unfurl around you.

Dried fish stalls alongside the Mekong between Vientiane and Savannakhet.

Dried fish stalls alongside the Mekong between Vientiane and Savannakhet.

And in any case we had the Dinosaur Museum in Savannakhet to look forward to.

Keith clutching a fossilized T. Rex elbow.

Keith clutching a fossilized T. Rex elbow.

It’s not a very large museum, just two rooms, and the exhibits are all labelled in Lao and French, but the curator is a very enthusiastic chap who speaks some English and gave us a guided tour. He opened up drawers and gave us all sorts of exciting things to fondle. I felt a bit bad and just trusted that he knew what he was doing. These artefacts are millions of years old. Shouldn’t we have been wearing gloves at least? Anyhow, it was pretty cool – how many of you have held a Tyrannosaurus Rex elbow in your sweaty mitt?

From Savannakhet we continued south along route 13 to Khongxedon where we’d intended to turn east on route 16 to Salavan, but it turned out that despite route 16 being marked as the main road on our map it didn’t exist, so we had to back track a few kilometres and take route 15 instead. Unfortunately route 15 is only sealed for around 30 of its 75 kilometres, the remaining 45km are on red dirt. On dry sections great clouds of dust enveloped us as other vehicles passed, but the alternative, we discovered, was getting stuck behind the water van that wets the road in an attempt to prevent the dust clouds. Sliding around on the slick surface, and then having to stop every kilometre to scrape mud out from beneath the mud guards was even worse than the dust clouds.

Salavan marked the start of our ascent up onto the Bolaven Plateau, Laos’ primary coffee growing area. We’d been really looking forwards to this. The climb was not too steep and we trundled along through acre upon acre of small coffee farms. It’s the end of the Arabica picking season and every front yard was spread with red and green coffee cherries drying in the sun.

Coffee beans being spread out to dry in the early morning.

Coffee beans being spread out to dry in the early morning.

We’d heard about a coffee tour run by a Dutch guy in Paksong so made our way there, however, the first coffee shop we came across was not the original one run by Cornelius (aka Koffie) but a new place run by a guy from Seattle. We had a cup of his coffee and listened to him pontificate about how his coffee roasting process is far superior to Koffie’s and how his coffee is made using 9g of beans per cup with water at 97C (Oh yeah? And how did you achieve that at 1300m altitude?), which drips through the grounds for between two and two & three quarter minutes; and how he is not running tours at the moment as it is the end of the picking season so there’s nothing to see but no doubt Koffie will take your money and just take you round his back yard. Basically he was so far up his own ass we couldn’t wait to get away, and the coffee he served left just as bad a taste in our mouths as his company had.

Just down the road we found Koffie’s coffee shop (we’ve suggested he updates his sign with his name to distinguish it from the place up the road as we were not the only ones to initially go to the wrong place) and booked onto his tour for the following afternoon. He also recommended the waterfall tour run by the Tad Fane Resort (where his own tour starts) so that was our day planned.

Posing on the waterfall tour.

Posing on the waterfall tour.

We were up bright and early, rolled 12km down the hill to the Tad Fane resort and spent the morning strolling through coffee plantations and then dense forest to see some waterfalls, and in the afternoon we were joined by an Aussie couple and, in his own inimitable and highly amusing style, Koffie told us all about how coffee is grown, how to tell the difference between Arabica and Robusta, how the soil affects the flavour, the different methods of growing, picking and processing and the impact that has on the final product, and finally, a really nice idea for a treat: go to a super coffee retailer and select some single estate beans that have been shade-grown, hand-picked, washed and sun-dried. 1kg will cost around 50-70 euro (ouch!). However, for a nice treat, you only need 100g. That’ll give you 10 cups of ridiculously good coffee and at just 5-7 euro is much cheaper than 10 cups of Starbucks. What a great idea!

Ripe coffee 'cherries'.

Ripe coffee ‘cherries’.

Hand-picking coffee cherries.

Hand-picking coffee cherries.

A lot of work!

A lot of work!

We finally left Tad Fane at 5pm and hurtled down the hill in a desperate attempt to reach Pakse, 40km away, before darkness fell at 6. We almost made it. But then it took us an hour to find accommodation – everywhere was full! The next day we discovered that there was a sports tournament on in Pakse, and just down the road in Champasak (our next destination) there was a 3 day religious festival taking place at Wat Phu. The information officer in the tourist office assured us there’d be no accommodation at all in Champasak. So we went there anyway.

And how glad we were that we did! Yes, it was a bit stressful finding a room, but we held our nerve and found the fantastic Vong Paseud guesthouse. Run by an avuncular, somewhat portly chap with a gap-toothed smile as wide as his waistband, the rooms were only 50,000 kip (about £3.70), and his restaurant, overlooking the Mekong, served cyclist-sized portions of delicious rice or noodles at cyclist-budget sized prices. Heaven!

We’d arrived in Champasak on the last day of the Wat Phu festival. The flyers suggested we’d see “candlelight processions, illuminations, traditional musics and comedies, music groups.” The reality was kilometre after kilometre of tat stalls with the nasal caterwaul of competing Asian pop songs blaring at ear-drum excoriating levels. The Wat did look quite pretty, illuminated for the most part by hundreds of tiny oil lamps, but the effect was spoilt a bit by the ankle-deep debris and retina-searing fluorescent strip-lights that I suppose were there to help illuminate the steps, but actually imprinted themselves on your retina so violently it was difficult to see anything at all. We stuck it for about an hour and then decided to come back the next day.

Wat Phu, as it was intended to be used.

Wat Phu.

We knew the site managers would have a big clean-up job on their hands so waited until the afternoon before returning, but they’d barely scratched the surface of the sea of plastic bags. It was pretty disappointing. This is a Unesco World Heritage site and apparently a place of huge religious importance to Buddhists and Hindus. We thought that a) people might have taken a bit more care not to mess the place up in the first instance, and b) that a bit more effort might have been put into the clean-up efforts. Plenty of monks get up at the crack of dawn to go out on the scrounge (sorry, Keith gets cross with me for that phrase, what I mean is receiving alms), so why can’t they, for one day, get up at the crack of dawn to go and help clean up their sacred site? It’s not like they seem to have much else on their agenda; maybe a bit of navel-gazing followed by sticky rice for lunch?

What a wat!

What a wat!

If you scrunch your eyes up to ignore the landfill-look, then Wat Phu is an impressive sight. The remains of two ornately decorated temples stand either side of a central aisle, which leads to a vertiginously steep staircase, enclosed by ancient, gnarled frangipani trees. The view from the top terrace is stunning, looking out over vast plains and the Mekong river, and it’s easy to imagine how awe-inspiring the site would have been in its 11th and 12th century heyday. Perhaps it was just our bad luck to visit it at festival time.

Gnarly old frangipani trees framing gnarly old steps.

Gnarly old frangipani trees framing gnarly old steps.

The view from Wat Phu's upper terrace.

The view from Wat Phu’s upper terrace.

The morning after - burnt offerings.

The morning after – burnt offerings.

And so we came to the end of our Laos visa and the familiar final-day dash for a border. The Pakse/Ubon Ratchatani crossing is a nice easy one. Get stamped out of Laos, pay an ‘overtime fee’ of 1 US dollar, fill in an entry/departure card for Thailand, get stamped in and off you go. So, goodbye Laos; for the most part, we’ve loved you!

Stupa dupa!  Pha That Luang in Vientiane.

Stupa dupa! Pha That Luang in Vientiane.

Keith can't resist a nice orange.

Keith can’t resist a nice orange.

Anyone for petanque?

Anyone for petanque?

Dear Las bridge builders, laying your planks lengthways down the bridge is not conducive to carefree cycling.  Please put them crossways like everyone else.  Thanks v much.  T&K.

Dear Laos bridge builders, laying your planks lengthways down the bridge is not conducive to carefree cycling. Please put them crossways like everyone else. Thanks v much, the Threewheelers.

A praying mantis tried to hitch a lift with meerkat.

This praying mantis tried to hitch a lift with meerkat.

Recycling!  A used water bottle being re-filled with ‘laolao’ (Laos whisky).

Recycling! A used water bottle being re-filled with ‘laolao’ (Laos whisky).

Sharing the en-suite with this spider wouldn't have been so bad except the walls didn't reach the ceiling so later in the evening Mr Spider came prancing boldly into the bedroom.

Sharing the en-suite with this spider wouldn’t have been so bad except the walls didn’t reach the ceiling so later in the evening Mr Spider came prancing boldly into the bedroom.

Our guide on the waterfall tour spotted this above the path.

Our guide on the waterfall tour spotted this above the path.

Mekong sunrise.

Mekong sunrise.

 

Koh Tao to Luang Prabang 5 -26 January 2014

 

“Hello! Very Good!  Very Good!”  The enthusiastic greetings and thumbs ups from the Thai populace tell us the diving holiday is well and truly over.   No longer just another couple of farang divers amongst the faceless many, we’re back in our familiar role of travelling circus and centre of attention whether we want it or not. After almost three months it was really emotional leaving Koh Tao: the final dive, the final journey on the Sea Cutter, the final walk away from Alvaro dive school, and, most wrenching of all, finally sneaking away from the faithful Doggetty Dog (we pedalled away whilst she was sidetracked in the restaurant of our resort after we dropped our room key off).

Before we began pedalling again in earnest though we had to get from Koh Tao to Chiang Mai, some 1100km further north, in time to meet up with our friends Sue and Justin, and so began three nights of minimal sleep that reminded us (as if we needed it) of why we love cycling.  To start with there were no berths left on the ferry from Koh Tao to the mainland, so we passed a chilly night out on the deck, curled on some grass mats kindly provided by the captain.  We arrived in Chumphon early enough to get on the 05:45 visa-run bus to Ranong where we hopped on a boat to Myanmar, got stamped in and out, and then back on the boat to Ranong where we were stamped back into Thailand with a free 30 day entry stamp (which we needed to give us more time in Chiang Mai).  The bus got us back to Chumphon in the early afternoon and we hung around until the late evening when the station master finally let us and the Pino get on a train to Bangkok (9 hours overnight on a cramped, minimally padded seat), and then after hanging around Bangkok station for a while we had a further 17 hours overnight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai on a similarly uncomfortable, cramped and minimally padded seat.

The Chiang Mai train an hour before departure - it was jam packed by the time it left.

The Chiang Mai train an hour before departure – it was jam packed by the time it left.

L-R: Tamar, Andrew, Justin and Sue (for some reason being photographed next to the most boring wall in Chiang Mai!)

L-R: Tamar, Andrew, Justin and Sue (for some reason being photographed next to the most boring wall in Chiang Mai!)

Our friend Andrew, who we last saw in Bangkok last July, has now relocated to Chiang Mai.

Visiting him were our friends Sue and Justin, about to start a two month cycling adventure in Thailand and Laos. We decided to invite ourselves along for the ride (I felt fairly confident that as my oldest and best friend Sue wouldn’t mind).

After seven happy days hanging out at Andrew’s and doing some day-rides together, we eventually bid Andrew goodbye and pedalled off with Sue and Justin towards Chiang Rai.  In a bid to keep pace with the super-fit and super-minimalist pair we ditched our tent, kitchen, sleeping bags and a few other bits and bobs (and all of our scuba kit) leaving them with our trailer at Andrew’s (to Keith’s consternation).  I think the trailer is the travelling equivalent of his garage back in our old sedentary lives: a place for keeping all the things that might come in handy at some unspecified point in the future, and a source of spare parts and tools for myriad random bike fettling sessions.  However, much as I’d worked to part Keith from his bits and bobs, it soon became clear we hadn’t left nearly enough stuff behind as on the first gentle incline racing-snakes Sue and Justin became a pair of bobbing figures in the far distance and we settled down into our steady touring rhythm, trusting they’d wait for us at some point later in the day.

Cabbages and Condoms Resort on the way to Chiang Rai - offering sexual health advice along with your dinner in locations as far apart as Bangkok and Bicester! http://www.cabbagesandcondoms.net/restaurant.htm

Cabbages and Condoms Resort on the way to Chiang Rai: a chain of restaurants offering sexual health advice along with your dinner in locations as far apart as Bangkok and Bicester!

The Pino with some, err, large cocks, just outside Chiang Rai.

The Pino with some, err, large cocks, just outside Chiang Rai.

Let sleeping dogs lie...on an ancient car in Chiang Rai.

Let sleeping dogs lie…on an ancient car in Chiang Rai.

Jaw dropping weirdness at the White Temple.

Jaw dropping weirdness at the White Temple.

In Chiang Rai we hit upon the cunning plan to send Sue & Justin on the long, hilly route to Oudomxai via Luang Nam Tha, whilst we took a day in Chiang Rai to visit the jaw-droppingly weird White Temple and then rode to Chiang Khong, took a boat trip along the Mekong and then a less arduous route to Oudomxai where we met up with the speedmeisters again (hoping by that point to have taken some of the keenness out of their legs).

The utterly exquisite and deeply weird White Temple near Chiang Rai.

The utterly exquisite and deeply weird White Temple near Chiang Rai.

Three litres of beer served at your table with a column of ice up the middle.  An excellent idea.

Three litres of beer with a column of ice up the middle, elegantly served on a folding chair in Chiang Rai night market food hall.

Staying that extra day in Chiang Rai turned out to be a great decision for us as it gave rise to a couple of sociable nights out.  At the White Temple we got chatting to Emily & Mark, an English couple, who we later bumped into and had dinner with on our first night in Laos.  We also caught up with Jules and Li, two cyclists we’d met the day before who are riding from England to Australia on bamboo bikes that they built themselves.  They joined us for a most excellent night of beer, bugs (deep fried) and bike banter.

More White Temple weirdness.

More White Temple weirdness.

Li trying out the Pino.

Li trying out the Pino.

The ride from Chiang Rai to the Thai/Lao border was gentle and enjoyable, but our entry into Laos wasn’t the welcome we’d expected from the small but friendly country we’d enjoyed so much last year.  Until a few weeks ago, you had to cross from the Thai to the Lao side of the Mekong by boat, from Chiang Khong to Houay Xai, but a bridge was opened (by the king himself a proud local man told us) just a few weeks ago and we were led to believe that we should use the bridge crossing and that boats were no longer taking bicycles.  We rode down to the bridge, were stamped out of Thailand, but then told that we weren’t allowed to ride over the bridge, we’d have to take a bus across.  The standard bus wouldn’t take the Pino but we were told to wait as there was a special big bus that could take motorbikes (motorbikes are also not allowed to ride the bridge).  We waited, and waited.  Over an hour and at least four standard buses later we asked again when the big bus would arrive, to be told that there was no big bus so we’d have to ride the five or so kilometres back to Chiang Khong and take the boat, and then ride the 10km from Houay Xai back to the bridge to get stamped into Laos.  We didn’t like the idea of this at all as we have very few pages left in our passports (they’d already stamped us out of Thailand and we didn’t want to be stamped in and out again), and to be frank we weren’t entirely convinced that we weren’t being sent on a wild goose chase.

In the end we split the Pino into two and stripped it down until it would fit in the baggage hold of the next standard bus to make the 2km crossing.  It seemed utterly ridiculous that we couldn’t just ride across, but the Thais assured us it was all the fault of the Lao authorities.  Oh well….whatever!

Dismantling the Pino to fit it onto the stupid bus to go over an otherwise perfectly ride-able bridge.

Dismantling the Pino to fit it onto the stupid bus to go over an otherwise perfectly ride-able bridge.

The next day we took a very cold boat ride along the Mekong to Pak Beng and had our second disappointment.  Upon leaving the boat I took responsibility for gathering our four bags together from their various storage points, and Keith lowered the Pino from where it had been lashed to boat’s roof.  A local man went to help Keith, then snatched the Pino away from his grasp and made off through the crowd with the Pino slung carelessly over his shoulder, compressing the stoker chain between the frame and his shoulder.  There was nothing either of us could do and by the time Keith scrambled down from the boat and caught up with him the tension in the chain was totally messed up and on top of that the man was demanding payment for a) helping us and b) recompense for the greasy chain marks all over his jumper.  We were in no mood to oblige.  We didn’t like the feel of Pak Beng at all and were relieved to find a room where we could bring the Pino inside – a decision that later proved to be entirely the correct one when we were returning from a post-prandial stroll and had to skirt around some boys playing a noisy game of ‘kick-the-box’, which they soon gave up in favour of the far more entertaining game of ‘launch yourself onto Keith’s back’.  We dread to think what games they’d have invented if they’d discovered the Pino unattended.

Enjoying the easy option of the boat along the Mekong, thinking of Sue and Justin slogging up the hills, as yet unaware of the irritations that awaited in Pak Beng.

Enjoying the easy option of the boat along the Mekong, thinking of Sue and Justin slogging up the hills, as yet unaware of the irritations that awaited us in Pak Beng.

We went to bed more than a little disgruntled, but the next day, rolling through quiet villages, our annoyance and disappointment ebbed away with each friendly wave, sing-song ‘Sabaidee’ of greeting, and high-five from the eagerly proffered and only slightly grubby small hands that were thrust in our direction.

Keith being taught some Lao words by an English teacher who was moonlighting in his wife’s cafe during the school holidays.

Keith being taught some Lao words by an English teacher who was moonlighting in his wife’s cafe during the school holidays.

By the time we got to Oudomxai we were in love with Laos again and excited about meeting up with the speedy S&J and hearing how they’d got on in Luang Nam Tha – hot and hilly during the day, bloody cold at night, was their verdict.

From Oudomxai, there are two possible routes south to Pak Mong.  The direct road is very hilly and in appalling condition (something confirmed to us when we met one cyclist who said he’d ridden smoother single-track) so we followed the route we took last April heading initially northeast to Muang Khoa, then taking a scenic river-boat south to Nong Khiew, then riding west again to Pak Mong.  Our route choice adds one day to the journey, but it’s such a much nicer experience, it’s well worth it.

Two bikes and a Pino on top of the boat that took us down the Nam Ou.

Two bikes and a Pino on top of the little boat that took us down the Nam Ou.

Breathtaking karst scenery.

Breathtaking karst scenery along the Nam Ou.

The surrounding karsts were as beautiful as we remembered and the road was gently rolling with a generally downwards trend, allowing the four of us to stick together for a change.

On the road with Sue and Justin.

On the road with Sue and Justin.

It was lucky that we were together as shortly after leaving Oudomxai Sue picked up a puncture.  Keith and I were about to carry on in the knowledge that the feather-weight-panniered speedmeisters would soon catch up, but at the last minute we changed our minds and waited to make sure they had everything they needed.  And oh how our change of heart paid off.  Although we’ve tried hard to trim our kit, we’re still carrying way more than them, but only that morning Sue said she honestly couldn’t think what else that they could have packed.  To our delight that other something turned out to be tyre levers – of which we have two sets so have been able to lend them a set.  In fairness, we suspect their tyre levers were left in Chiang Mai by mistake, but it gave us a moment of childish amusement to see them hunting in vain and having to ask for ours.

I thought you packed the tyre levers...

I thought you packed the tyre levers…

In Nong Khiew we treated ourselves to a night in a pretty wooden cabin overlooking the Nam Ou River and spent a morning off the bikes hiking up to a viewpoint, and then visiting a small cave that was allegedly used by villagers to shelter from the American bombs.  A young local man struck up conversation with us and when Keith asked him he announced he was our tour guide. Unfortunately the fact that he was only 20 years old but assured Keith that his mother and sister had both been killed by an American bomb in 1964 didn’t really go very far to convince us of the veracity of his information.

Nong Khiew from the viewpoint.

Nong Khiew from the viewpoint.

In the late afternoon we rolled the easy 25km to Nambak, where last year Keith and I taught English at the local school for an evening.  Unfortunately it is now the school holidays, and on top of that, Phew, the English teacher, was away for a few days so we didn’t get to see him again which we’d hoped to do.  But the guesthouse owner remembered us and we were really impressed with the extension he’d made to his little guesthouse, adding a further seven or eight rooms to the six that had been there last year.  Hopefully this means business is going well for him.

Rice being transplanted from nursery paddies near Nambak.

Rice being transplanted from nursery paddies near Nambak.

 

Sue’s innovative use of a fruit protector to try to keep her toes warm

Sue’s innovative use of a fruit protector to try to keep her toes warm

We’re now back in the ever-delightful Luang Prabang.  The weather remains surprisingly chilly but is thankfully much warmer than it’s been in the hillier north where we’ve been sleeping in our clothes and wearing two pairs of trousers in the evening to stay warm. 

Luang Prabang is a city of surprise meetings for us: last April we met an Aussie couple who know Keith’s aunt and uncle and this year, at almost exactly the same spot, we bumped into the son of some good friends back home.  Small world!  Even more so as we discovered this morning that Jake is staying in our hotel!

We’ll spend a couple of days in Luang Prabang and then head south towards Vang Vieng.  The first  day and a half of riding  will be on roads we covered last April (big hills – eww) and then we’ll be off into new territory.  Sue and Justin will no doubt go ahead to recce the route for us.  :-)

A contemplative moment at one of Luang Prabang's many Wats.

A contemplative moment at one of Luang Prabang’s many Wats.