Meanwhile back in Laos…
March 14, 2013
Distance: 35.2 miles
Our original plan was to be up and out the door at 4am, but that didn’t come close to happening. It was more like lounge in bed until 645am, then slowly make our way to the restaurant. Order our usual double omelet breakfast while chatting with Tony and Kat. We finally hit the road at 830am.
The road started out on a steep downhill which was a little demoralizing as we knew we had a day of climbing to do. We had looked pretty extensively at some plots of the route topography, so we knew what was coming, but we soon realized it is much better to be blissfully ignorant in some cases. We would spend the next 3 hours climbing uphill for 20km straight to reach a total elevation gain of 700m. This would be our biggest single hill to date.
Luckily, the grade was mellow enough, we were able to get into a solid rhythm and just grind away at it. The scenery was absolutely beautiful, the road was in good condition except for a few unavoidable rough patches and it wasn’t too hot. There were also a few very brutal moments, for me at least. At one point, I thought we had reached the top when we came to a bus stop overlook, only to find that around the bend there was still a lot more uphill to go.
At the top of the pass we hit the outskirts of the village of Phou Khoun village a handfull of guesthouse, so we had a decision to make. I wanted to stay because I was tired, hot and just wanted to start over early the next morning. Chandler wanted to continue because we had only gone 20km or so and if we stopped we wouldn’t be able to get to Laung Prabang the next day. With days on our visa running low, he wanted to keep us close to our schedule. A heated debate ensued and Chandler won. It helped that Phou Khoun wasn’t exactly a destination resort.
The remainder of the day was spent climbing short rolling hills through Hmong villages. It was interesting how different each village was from the next. In one village, everyone would say hello or wave, while the next village couldn’t care less if we were there.
The highlight of the afternoon was when we hit 1000 meters of climbing on the day, which was the most we’ve done so far. Chan’s mom had sponsored a bag of Cheetos we found way back in Vientiane, to be eaten only once we hit this milestone. They were much enjoyed, although we must have looked a bit suspicious with our hands covered in neon orange “cheese” when a couple of French cyclists rode up for a chat after our victory snack…
The sun was setting and we only had 20km left until we would reach Kiewkacham where we knew there was a guesthouse popular with cyclists. Unfortunately we were only a third of the way up another 300 meter climb and there was no way we would make it before it got dark. The road wasn’t heavily trafficked but there were bursts of big Chinese trucks hauling electric substation components flying along and we didn’t want to be on the road with them at night. Chandler caught sight of a small structure on top of a hill overlooking the road and proposed we sleep there. I wasn’t so sure, but he went up anyways to take a look. He came back down, told me it was perfect and offered to carry everything up the hill. I was sold.
The structure he found are all over Laos. They are little huts with a thatched roof and a raised bamboo platform inside for woodcutters and other workers to rest in, off the ground, in the heat of the day. We pitched the inside of our tent without the rain fly on the platform which kept us away from the ants, snakes and who knows what else.
After our last camping experience in Vietnam, we were both a little worried about having “friends” see us and come up for a visit. We went into super stealth mode. We made dinner before the sun went down so nobody could see the light from the stove. After the sun went down, we only turned on our headlamps when there were no vehicles on the road below us. We also whispered the entire time, because the motorbikers will usually turn off their engines when coasting downhill and had potential to hear us.
It worked out really well in the end. We both fell asleep by 8pm because we didn’t want our lights to attract anyone, so we got excellent rest.