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India and beyond
By Sydney Winer - (contact)

Laos: Sahbaideeeeeeeee

Tuesday April 13, 2010, 172 km (107 miles) - Total so far: 7,659 km (4,759 miles)

6/04/10
Vientiane, Laos

Flew into Vientiane and went through the most bureaucratic visa process of the trip in as much as you had to fill in an application form, supply a passport photo and pay a fee (US$30). I'd booked online for the very nice Vayakorn Guesthouse and arranged for an airport pickup. Everything went smoothly although it was a struggle to come to grips with the Lao currency - the Kip. I took 500,000 Kip out at the airport's ATM thinking that it sounded like a lot - but it's about $70 Australian dollars. My next withdrawal was a whopping 2,000,000 - the maximum allowed. As recently as three years ago there was only a single ATM in Laos that accepted foreign cards - they're now on almost every street corner.

Vientiane doesn't have a lot of appeal - it's a modern characterless place but it is very laid back and has squillions of restaurants and little supermarkets and a couple of good bike shops that sell western bikes and parts. I picked up a folding tire for a spare (front tire is beginning to look a bit thin and beaten up) but have decided that as I'm on sealed roads for the few weeks to stick it on the back wheel in place of the glacially slow Marathon XR and see how it goes.

One of the bike shops is run by a frenchman and has some touring gear (like front and rear racks) but is a bit chaotic and the other could be a bike shop in any western city with all sorts of accessories and spares (but I didn't notice any touring gear - I had eyes only for the tires).

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Well, the Mekong isn't exactly pretty in Vientiane but that doesn't stop all the diners from enjoying the heavy machinery views.

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Wiring is very photogenic.

10/04/2010
Vientiane to Phonhong 83km

An easy introduction to cycling in Laos today even though my 5.30 alarm didn't result in me getting away until almost 9.30 - and I could have sworn last night I was all packed and ready to go... Just one or two little things to sort out.

Anyway, once I was finally underway, complete with an arrow drawn on my right hand to remind me which side of the road I had to ride on, easy progress was made. Vientiane is tiny and easy to navigate. The route was flat, the road wide and the traffic both slow and well behaved and I had a tail wind. The scenery wasn't much to write home about - drought affected rice paddies and dusty villages strung out along the roadside. I took a break in the heat of the afternoon at some underwhelming rock-cut Buddhas at Vang Sang (aka Vang Xang) but they were beside a small river in a shady park so made for a relaxing break.

I probably should have made enquiries about staying in the cute little cottages at a resort in Vang Sang but pushed on an extra 8 or so km to Phonhong where I clocked up an extra 10km looking for a guesthouse but wound up at the first one I saw about 3km before town.

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Dusty road on the way out of Vientiane.

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Stone cut Buddhas.

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A lovely rural scene that I found in my Guest House search.

11/04/2010
Phonhong to Houaymor 65km

Hot and hilly day after a 7.00am start. And it was already baking hot at 7.00am. The hills started after about 10km with the first climb being steep and a couple of km long. After that they were mostly rolling and easy enough but for the heat. The hillsides have suffered from slash-and-burn clearing for new monoculture forestry projects so the air was hazy with smoke.

At about the 54km mark at the top of a climb I spotted a picnic table and covered bamboo sun shelter like the ones outside every Lao house. It was only about 10.30am but too hot to go on so I took the liberty of occupying the shelter for about 4 hours during which time I was joined by a small parade of passing locals who like me would kick off their shoes and simply flake out (or more usually spend their time texting) before moving on again.

Lots of waving, smiling children today, all yelling out their greeting of Sahbaideeeee and many of them lining up for a roadside hi-five.

It turned out the shelter was pretty much at the highest point of the day so I had quite a bit of downhill to Houaymor where an air conditioned Guest House tempted me to stop 20km short of Vang Vieng. Well, air conditioned between the blackouts anyway.

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Scorch the hill and put in a monoculture.

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Fishing boats on a lake near the end of the day's ride.

12/04/2010
Houaymor to Vang Vieng 24km

Three touring cyclists zoomed downhill past my guesthouse as I was loading my bike this morning, and when I arrived in Vang Vieng my guesthouse owner said she'd earlier had three leave. I met a few more around town and saw some other touring bikes tied up at various guesthouses. The ride this morning was easy but smokey - I'm pretty sure on a clear day the scenery would be spectacular but as you can see from the photos it was all obscured by smoke haze and the closer to Vang Vieng the hazier it became.

Vang Vieng is a take it or leave it backpacker destination. I'll have a day off the bike tomorrow but if the haze doesn't lift I'll take the leave it option.

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Hello Comrades!

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On a clear day this view would be dramatic.

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The view from Vang Vieng. Dusty, dusty, dusty.

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Rickety old bridge over the river.

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I'm staying in one of the cottages in the middle ground. Lovely and new but sways when you move suddenly. Yikes.

13/04/2010
Vang Vieng

Woohoo, Laos New Year is upon us which means excitable children armed with high powered water pistols are rampaging about town - this is great news for hot cyclists.

Got up at sunrise this morning planning on an early walk, stepped outside, gagged on the thick smoke, and went back to bed. It was just like standing three feet downwind from a smokey barbeque.Yuck.

It's all uphill from here so tomorrow I'll try to get above the smoke.

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Bomb casings make novel bridge decorations.

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Damn that smoke.

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A Wat in town.

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Panorama just over the river from Vang Vieng. A larger version of this picture is on the next page.


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"India and beyond" Copyright © 2009-2014 By Sydney Winer - (contact). All rights reserved.
Page was created on April 13, 2010 06:10 PDT, last updated on April 13, 2010 06:30 PDT
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