March 15 – 16, 2013
Distance: 58.8 miles
We woke up with our alarm feeling refreshed and in excellent moods. We made a quick breakfast of oatmeal and instant coffee before lugging everything back down the hill. We noticed some Hmong ladies bathing in a creek near our campsite the night before and headed there to filter some water and wash dishes. When we had finished up and were all ready to go, a solo female bike tourist rode up to us for a chat. She had stayed at the same hotel as Tony the night before and knew who we were. We talked for 20 minutes for so about the route before saying good luck and starting on our way.
As we made it to the top of the first big hill we saw a guy sitting in the ditch on the side of the road with an AK-47. He wasn’t a soldier, just a guy in normal clothes with an assault rifle. We’d seen several people in villages with hunting rifles, homemade looking long arms that looked like they were .22 caliber or smaller, but this was a lot different. This was a little scary, but we didn’t seem faze him, so we just kept on moving. A short while later we are stopped in the road in the middle of a village by some sort of parade. At first glance, I thought it was a funeral and Chandler thought it was a protest. Then we noticed men playing instruments, people dancing and young women at the front of the line holding large picture frames, which looked like they held certificates. We decided the parade must be a part of some sort of graduation ceremony. As we exited the other side of town there was another armed citizen, this time he had what looked like an SKS. We weren’t sure why a graduation ceremony needed to be protected by the local militia but weren’t interested in finding out. Sorry no pictures of the security!!
We only had 20km to get to the next town with guesthouses and restaurants, but they were all up hill and took us over an hour. Even though we had just eaten, we decided to get a second breakfast of omelets and sticky rice. Properly fueled, we were ready for another big climb. But first, we had a 20km descent, losing all the elevation we had gained the day before. While I much prefer going downhill, I also dread it. The big semi trucks go slower than us down the hills, so that means we catch up to them and either pass them, which is scary, or inhale their exhaust for several miles.
I now assume that all down hills lead to big up hills. We had about 1km of flat at the bottom of the valley before we had to start climbing a 15km long pass gaining another 600m. And on top of that, guess what time it was? 130pm, hottest part of the day. Sometimes I think we subconsciously try to sabotage ourselves. We got lucky though. There was shade most of the way and Chandler stopped by a creek at 215pm so we could dunk our heads and cool off. The climb wasn’t too bad, but I was tired of forever climbing and just wanted an easy day, so it seemed much worse than it really was.
At 400pm, we reached a town we can’t remember the name of which was our goal for the day and a place with a guesthouse. As we rolled through town, we saw that the guesthouse on the main road looked like a dump, plus there was a wedding in full swing which can continue late into the night with music blasting. Laung Prabang was only 25km away. The sun would be setting at about 6pm and we knew the last 10km were all downhill. We decided to go ahead and continue on.
Chandler and I got a second wind and the kilometers flew by. There was one tiny little pass to climb and we ended up catching up to some other bike tourists from France that had passed us the day before. We all sailed in Laung Prabang together as the sun was setting, but split back up when the guesthouse search began.
We found a decent little place next to the Mekong River, near all the action. After the past couple days being especially challenging, we were taking a day off. We didn’t do too much on our rest day. Laundry, bike cleaning and errands took up most of our time. We walked through town, looking at the beautiful temples and everything for sale in the market. Chandler was brave and ordered the local specialty, river moss. It was basically river seaweed dried, fried, topped with sesame seeds and served with a tomato dipping sauce. It was tasty but not very filling.
We also made an important routing decision which was to take a boat up the Mekong to Pakbeng, in order to avoid the pass to the east of Oudomxay. We had read and been warned that the road over the pass was steep, unpaved for major sections, heavily damaged by traffic and flooding and loaded with trucks. Going upriver to Pakbeng wasn’t going to make our route any shorter, but it did promise good asphalt and no major climbs. It was kind of a no-brainer to take the boat, but it takes extra planning for the bikes when using alternative modes of transportation. We found out that it was significantly cheaper to buy tickets for the 8 hour boat ride right at the boat landing (110,000 kip or $14) than to enlist the “help” of one of the travel agents (170,000 kip or $22). We settled back into our guesthouse, downloaded some shows and drank some Beer Lao.