My Bicycling Adventure

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Laos

Getting There

Even as we got into the taxi, it was obvious that the flight to Vientiane would be delayed as it was so foggy. The airport at Vinh has two tiny terminal buildings, domestic and international with four early morning flights scheduled. They were all delayed so the place was chaotic, with passengers and luggage occupying every inch of the waiting area. 

Finding that the flight was delayed by four hours we expected to get free refreshment. The small cafeteria was overwhelmed with local passengers so, as the only western passengers in the airport, we were allowed to use the 'First Class Lounge'. It was upstairs, air side, in the domestic terminal so we had to go through security screening. First Class was a very loose description. Yes, it did have some cheap armchairs but everywhere was filthy. The only' food' available was pot noodles or rice crackers and the only drink was beer.

Vientiane - Days off


Presidential Palace
Arriving in Vientiane was a little like waking up from a bad dream to find yourself in heaven. The sky was blue, the temperature in the 30's, the hotel had comfy beds with clean white sheets, and in close walking distance was every nationality of food and drink we could desire.






Bench of legs
One of the first places we visited was COPE, which provides orthotic and prosthetic aids for the many bomb injury victims in Laos.







Bomb parts sculpture
Holding the unenviable record for the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in World history, unexploded ordinance is still a major problem here and continues to cause many injuries.













Prosthetic legs
There are displays of old artificial legs, including many homemade ones,  sculptures constructed of old bomb parts, and harrowing accounts of some of the young UXO victims.








There are several impressive temples, but much of the city's ancient history has been destroyed and stolen over the centuries by invading armies and bombing.















 There is still an impressive display of  religious objects at the various Wat sites.








Wat Si Saket











Bomb damaged Buddhas


These are just a few of the Buddha images damaged by USA bombing.









Couple in traditional costume

Haw Pha Kaeo



















Haw Pha Kaeo













Wat Pha That Luang

Wat That Pha Luang










Putuxa











Vientiane has its own 'Arc de Triumph', called Patuxa, which stands on the main road. Its nickname is 'The Vertical Runway' because it was supposedly built with cement that had been donated to build a new runway.







The day before we were due to set off Steve got another D and V problem, so we had to stay another day.


Vientiane to Thalat - 94km

Planning a ride in Laos is pretty straightforward as there are few surfaced roads. Route 13, the longest continuous road in Laos, which runs from the Chinese border in the north to the Cambodian border in the south, is the one most cyclists use. There are several long unsurfaced roads through the mountains but even the motorcyclists confirm that they are 'very challenging'.

Temple flowers
Steve had not fully recovered but heroically got up and set off at 7.00am. Getting away from Vientiane was the worst part, there are so many traffic lights on the main road. The cool misty early morning soon gave way to more intense heat, with no breeze.






Pom-pom decorations on our handlebars from the COPE shop
This was the only part of the whole trip where there was a choice of road, either follow 13 north or go slightly further east and  on route 10 to the south end of the huge reservoir formed by the Nam Ngun Dam. Thinking the 10 would be a quieter road we went that way.







Unbeknown to us, today was a public holiday in Laos and it seemed that everyone was heading for a day at the reservoir. Trucks, cars and buses packed with passengers streamed past the whole day.

Barbecue Pork
Workmen were installing a new sewer at the roadside and the road was being widened. Consequently the road surface was rough, potholed and dusty as well as noisy.







Fish anyone ?

Roadside stalls produced clouds of quite nauseating smoke as they cooked fish, chicken and pork, but the end results looked good. Not quite enough to tempt Steve's appetite though.







At lunchtime we neither of us could find the appetite to eat the  baguette sandwiches that we had brought and just drank some pop. After more than 70km of flat, there was a 200m steep climb just as the afternoon heat hit its zenith. Steve could only manage short sections at a time with plenty of water and rests in the shade.

Thalat was not as big a town as we expected. There were several guesthouses which were all busy with weekend guests. We couldn't work out where all those guests went to eat as there appeared to be only one, scruffy place open for food and just us and one other family eating.

Thalat to Tha Heua  - 77km

Dusty red road, only fit for cattle
There was nowhere serving breakfast as we left the guesthouse so we rode the 15km along route 4 to the junction with route 13. This section of road was also being widened and having sewer work.







In a lot of places it was just a wide, red earth road with passing vehicles throwing up clouds of thick dust.
Large water tankers were spraying the road surface where it passed through the small towns to make life more bearable for the residents.

Phoun Hong, the town at the road junction, had a popular roadside eating place with rice, roast pork and fried egg to set us up for the day's riding. So now we were onto route 13, and just as we had read, although it is Laos main highway, there is little traffic.

The reservoir
The surface here was in very good condition and we made fast progress over the rolling hills of bamboo and low trees.







We had planned to have a short day and overnight at a guesthouse in Hin Hoeup, but we were there by 11.00am, so carried on, hoping to find accommodation at the north end of the reservoir.

Nirvana resort
At Tha Heua there was a signpost to 'Nirvana Eco Resort'. It was a steep climb up a dirt road and an equally steep descent on the other side to a small group of basic rooms around an open restaurant area, overlooking the top of the reservoir.





Rescued young wildcat
We were the only guests that night and were introduced to the five monkeys, the kittens, a wild cat and the injured birds, all rescued and cared for by the owner.








Tha Heua to Vang Vieng - 24km

Rescued  baby monkey
A short easy day today to take us to Vang Vieng, the 'Chill Out' capital of Laos. It was very misty today, a constant feature over the next couple of weeks, so the views of the towering karst mountains were always in soft focus.














Footbridge over the Nam Song
With a late start we arrived just before lunchtime. Along the riverside is the main backpacker haunt, lined with guesthouses, street stalls and cafes. Few of them have chairs, just low tables and floor cushions. Most of the younger customers were just having breakfast as we tucked into our Thai curry lunch. Most of them looked likely to stay there all afternoon, with the TV tuned into repeats of 'Friends'.












Kayaks on the river
We booked into a guest house right on the riverside and were given a ground floor room, right next to the stairs, with a balcony overlooking the river and also the next-door bar. We had fears of being kept awake all night with loud music and revelry.





But over the last two years Vang Vieng has cleaned up its act. It has transformed from a rave destination fuelled by drink and drugs to an adventure tourism centre and the nights are pretty peaceful.

Well earned beer
In the afternoon we walked down to the riverside beach bar, rented a little cabana with hammocks and cushions and drank beer watching the more energetic tubers, canoeists and swimmers in the Nam Song river.







Japanese photographers wait for sunset
As the sun set a hot air balloon floated over the distant hills. A group of Japanese tourists arrived with big fancy cameras and we featured in many of their best pictures.






 
Hot air balloon at dusk



Vang Vieng to Nam Ken - 78km

Dawn hot air balloon
Today began with a ride up the Nam Song valley with its green rice fields and karst rocks just visible through the morning haze.








Nam Song Valley
Fifteen kilo meters of flat riding warmed us up and we had a quick can of cola before starting to climb into the hills.









View back towards Vang Vieng
It rose in a series of steps, with some short, steep sections separated by long easy inclines. We met three other cyclists today, and swapped notes with them about accommodation and roads.







Water buffalo cooling off
The villages in the mountains are noticeably poorer than those further south. Mostly the people live outside, sitting in the shade, the adults chatting and children playing.








Sibling care
The most important part of the village is the well, with an equal quantity of clothes washers, body washers and people collecting water in plastic containers. As we ride past there is a constant barrage of 'sabaidee's' and children queueing for 'high fives'. Older siblings care for their younger brothers and sisters, often carrying them around on their backs















Road to Kasi
A long slow descent brought us into Kasi for lunch. The plan was to stay here overnight but one of the Swiss riders we had met earlier had recommended continuing a further 20km to a small hot spring with a restaurant and cabins.







Mountain views above Kasi
The town here was also receiving the 'new sewer' treatment and the whole length of road through the centre was rough and dusty. After a quick lunch we set off in the afternoon heat. It was quite a climb with no shade, but at least there was a following wind to help.




Grass broom making is a big business in the mountains. Grass is collected from the hillsides and laid out to dry in the sun on the edges of the road. Before it can be used for the broom, it has to threshed to remove all the seeds. This is also done on the roadside, an exhausting, hot and laborious process. Bunches of grass are repeatedly  beaten on the road, then each head is rolled with the hands on the road to remove all the remaining seeds. Deep drifts of the tiny,pale yellow seeds line the roadside. The job seems to be allocated to  aged adults or teenage girls

Typical thatched mountain house
Halfway up we were resting in the shade when a western couple went by on a motorbike and waved. At the summit they had stopped to take photos so we chatted. They were Canadian and had brought the old motorbike in Vientiane to tour Laos.





They admitted they had already had a 'few problems' with it but planned to go to Phonsovan and Luang Prabang. About five kilometres further we passed them again, pushing the bike because the gear cable had broken.

Hot spring pool and cabins
The hot spring was a bit of a muddy pool at the side of the road. The locals all came by for a bath. Warm water helped sooth our sore muscles, and the lady owner was a good cook so we ate very well.







Nam Ken to Phou Khoun - 27km

Distant mountains
Except for the first 2km, the whole of the day's ride was uphill, climbing 850m to Phou Khoun. We got an early start, the sun hardly showing through the thick morning mist.





Onions growing in raised beds

The steep mountain sides here have had most of their trees removed although there is little organised agriculture. Sections of hillside were being cleared by burning, ready for planting wet season crops such as corn and pineapple.

Fancy one of these for tea?






This area is still more aligned to 'hunter gatherer' with men setting off into the hills with wicker traps, knives and cloth bags to collect animals, birds and plants.. A group of men sat at the roadside waiting to sell their captured wild animals.







Ingredients drying at the roadside

Further along the road was a range of products, set out on racks to dry which we couldn't recognise.








Villagers selling hand embroidered products
Hardly any traffic passed us as we gradually climbed up the valley side. In one small village we pulled up outside a small shop and were immediately swamped by villagers, all desperate to sell their 'homemade' tourist trinkets.







Such small ladies
There was a young child, a pregnant mum and two elderly ladies. We ended up buying something from all of them.





Views from the restaurant





Just a little further was a restaurant with views back down the valley where all the tourist buses stopped. Haze and smoke from the burning spoilt the views again.








Then it was only a few kilometres further to Phou Khoun. This mountain top town, almost 1400m above sea level, doesn't win any awards for beauty. Just a scruffy crossroads with a handful of eating places, a couple of guesthouses, some dusty shops and a tiny market.

Phou Khoun to Nong Tang - 88km

Local lady, Phou Khoun
Phou Khoun lies at the junction of two roads. Route 13 continues north towards Luang Prabang and route 7 heads east to Phonsovan and the Vietnam border.










Before the sudden change of plan because of Karen's knee problem, we had planned to enter Laos on route 7 and visit the famous 'Plain of Jars' on the way. As we had been unable to do that we decided to turn east now and head to Phonsovan.


Novel village arch
We were woken very early by other guests leaving the guesthouse, but it was pointless getting up until it was starting to get light.





Long walk to school



As we set off down the hill out of town crowds of children were walking and riding bicycles down the road to school. The younger ones were the luckiest, as their school was just down the hill. The older children had a much longer journey and a steep hill to climb.





Hand Cart
Although there are plenty of buffalo here they are not used to pull carts. Families have big, heavy, wooden hand carts and these are used to transport anything heavy; water bottles, sacks of rice, young children, disabled relatives and the elderly and infirm, often all at at the same time.












View back to Phou Khoun
Today's ride was probably the most scenic of our rides in Laos, but pretty tough with a lot of undulating climbing and a 700m deep valley to cross. There was even less traffic on this road but also fewer services as the villages were so poor there were no shops or food stalls.




Views on the descent
The highlight of the day was the descent to Nam Chat, 700m of snaking, smooth road with some hillsides of virgin rain forest still surviving and hazy views down into the deep valleys below. The children here were all half naked and filthy, but so beautiful and so happy and we were hoarse from shouting 'sabaidee'.





At Nam Chat we had lunch at the only cafe for 88km. As we ate, another huge swathe of forested hillside was being devoured by massive flames, throwing more thick black smoke into the sky and raining large flakes of burnt bamboo leaves over the town. Once lunch was over it was up and up back to 1400m on a super, easy gradient following  the river valley, followed by  hairpins to the summit. Now we began descending onto the Phonsovan plain and immediately it was obvious that this is a much more prosperous area.


Cattle grazing on the rice fields
The houses were still predominately thatched and bamboo but the villages were very neat and tidy with bamboo fences along the roadside and terraced rice fields in the valleys.




Our cosy cabin

Nong Tang was just a tiny village, the 'guesthouse' was three little wood cabins on the shore of a small lake and a little restaurant. The 'bathroom' had a squat toilet and a big bucket of water. Flush the toilet with it or ladle it over your head for a wash.





The view over the lake
The bed had a mattress which felt as though it was constructed from concrete. There were two quilts so one of them went on top of the mattress to add a little softness. The pillows were like bricks and needless to say there was no air con or fan. It was going to be a long night.






Nong Tang to Phonsovan - 50km

Road to Phonsovan
This area may be called the 'Phonsovan Plain' but it is certainly not flat. The road crosses five steep sided valleys and our legs ached from yesterday's exertions.






Along the road we passed this truck having a small problem with a shifting load of chairs. Rather than spend time re-stacking them, they were trying to stop them falling off with ropes.








Phonsovan is not the most attractive town in Laos, mainly a long street lined with unattractive concrete buildings but it does have some good hotels and a couple of international restaurants.

Phonsovan - Day Off


Site one jars
In the area around Phonsovan are the remains of several thousand stone jars, of various sizes,whose makers and purpose remain a bit of a mystery.








The area was one of the most intensively bombed during the 1970's and has only recently become safe enough for tourists to visit without official guides.


Site two
There are many jar site, identified by numbers, but sites 1-3 are the most visited. To do the trip on the bicycles meant a 65km ride, mostly on unsurfaced roads, as well as a lot of walking around the sites.






Site two
So we hired a motorbike for the day. We had a detailed map of how to get to each site, and an American tourist had warned us that there were no English language signposts.








Walking to site three
Neither the speedometer or the distance clock on the motorbike were working, making our carefully measured map directions useless, but the good news was that all the sites were well signposted and it was no problem finding them.








 
Site three


Phonsovan to Kiukachan - 188km (bus 138km, bike 50km)

Loading the bikes
We needed to return to Phou Khoun to continue our journey to Luang Prabang, as there was no alternative route. The idea of repeating the hills was not so bad, but having to stay at the cabin at Nong Tang again was inconceivable. So we booked a ticket on one of the many mini-buses that carry locals and back-packers between the main city hubs.





An agency near the hotel sold us the tickets and we had to pay almost as much for the bikes as for ourselves.The mini-bus station was shambolic, the buses had no form of identification, passengers, drivers and staff were milling around and the 08.45 departure time was just an optimistic  guess.

After a long wait the bikes and panniers were lifted onto the roof rack of one bus and tied very securely in place, together with various other pieces of luggage. Then realisation dawned that there were 13 passengers to get on the 11 seat bus. So we all had to wait while another bus was arranged and luggage re-arranged.

The journey back to Phou Khoun was just as scenic in reverse, but travelling along the winding roads in the tightly packed minibus was not as enjoyable as on the bikes. By the time we arrived it was 13.00 and we needed to have lunch before starting the ride to Kiukachan.

Climbing up to Kiukachan
By 2pm, with full stomachs we were ready for off, but the pressure was on to reach Kiukachan before dark. The first 27km was mostly downhill on smooth roads as we lost 500m of altitude.








Now we had to climb back up to 1400m and as the sun started to dip below the peaks, our slow progress uphill made the kilometres seem double the length. Just before dusk we reached the village and booked into a very basic, but cheap and clean guesthouse. 


Kiukachan to Luang Prabang - 80km

Orchids in the mountains
There was a chill in the air at 6.30am, 1400m up in the mountains. Noodle soup warmed us ready for an incredible 1000m descent to start the morning. On the higher slopes  there are still many mature trees, but further down most vegetation had been removed and  the hillsides were blackened from burning. The road was smooth, just a scattering of pot holes, all easily avoidable.












Nam Ming River
Reaching the bottom of the valley we crossed the Nam Ming river, with simple thatched bamboo homes on its banks.








Embroidered panels
We stopped at a roadside shop for cans of coke and watched the young lady owner laboriously stitching gold thread onto a decorative panel.










High Fives

It was time for some real work now as the road started yet another 600m climb, with an easy and enjoyable gradient.










Up and up
With hardly any need to change gear and little traffic we cycled side by side and chatted all the way to the top.



Landslip





The only nervous bit was having to traverse a section where there had been a landslip. A JCB was working high above in the loose red clay soil and large lumps of clay were rolling down onto the track ahead of us.






Just as we started the next descent we passed the Canadian couple on their motorbike yet again. Actually only he was on the bike, slowly riding up the steep hill carrying the baggage. His partner was walking up as the bike was not  capable of getting two people and their luggage up the gradient. None of us cared to stop,  just shouted greetings and we flew off down the hill, overtaking a large heavily loaded lorry on the way down.

Roadside baskets
Traffic increased considerably on the next 25km into Luang Prabang and there was an unexpected  small first gear climb in the afternoon heat to make us swear.











Luang Prabang - Days off

Luang Prabang is like no other place in Asia. It has all the charms of the east, with saffron clad monks....










.....
....ornate gilded temples.....











....and even a royal palace....









Old Luang Prabang
.....but set in an almost western standard town.










Haw Pha Bang
There is daily rubbish collection, wide, clean pavements, unobstructed by parked cars and motorbikes, minimal traffic, and lovely street cafes and gift shops in the renovated shop houses.








The Mekong, Luang Prabang
It lies at the confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers and although one of the top destinations in Laos it never feels crowded or busy.





Tak Bat
We had three days off. The first to rest and catch up with e-mail. The next day we got up at 6.00am to experience Tak Bat, where the monks collect offerings of rice from the townspeople.







Collecting rice
Traditionally women kneel on the floor and men stand and put a small ball of sticky rice in the monk's begging bowls as the long lines of monks walk barefoot down the street.








Alms giver
Unfortunately this spectacle has become a tourist magnet and many large groups come by hotel transport to take part and take photographs, somewhat spoiling what should be a respectful, silent ceremony.

Cat after baby owls on the market







The rest of the day was spent touring the temples, royal palace and wandering round the busy market.






Colourful produce













Honey seller














Tat Kuang Si Waterfall
On the third day we hired a motorbike to go to the Tat Kuang Si waterfall. This is certainly one of the most beautiful waterfalls we have visited, and even at the end of the dry season still had lots of water.







Swimming in the river
Because of its high mineral content the water has a lovely blue tinge and most of the pools are suitable for swimming, with picnic tables and a restaurant. Surrounding it all is tall original rain forest.







Rescued bear
There is also a small bear sanctuary, housing bears that have been rescued from cruelty and captivity.











Luang Prabang to Pak Mong - 113km

Hazy sunrise
We were up at 6.00am.knowing it would be a long day. Breakfast was a croissant and coffee in a bakery on the opposite side of the road to the Tak Bat ceremony so we were able to watch it again. As we left town we brought filled baguettes and fruit, anticipating few eating places on this route.






Nam Ou river
The road runs at first along the banks of the Mekong and then turns north along the Nam Ou valley. With cloudy skies and the constant thick smoke haze it was quite cool. It was a long and tiring ride, because as usual the road was never flat so although the actual height gain over the day was only 100m we actually climbed about 800m.





For the first 50km there were fairly frequent services and a couple of hotels, but after that there was absolutely nowhere, not even a shop in the infrequent small villages.We were glad we had brought lunch before setting off.

We booked into a new looking guesthouse on the outskirts of Pak Mong. At dusk we wandered up the road to look for something to eat. There was a small, empty 'restaurant' near the bus station. The family were in the back sitting round a table loaded with empty beer bottles. They all looked and sounded drunk but managed to cook us up a plate of fried rice. Unfortunately there was no beer as they had drunk it all!

Pak Mong to Oudomxay - 84km

Collecting alms in the rain
Overnight there was a heavy thunderstorm. This could be either a blessing or a problem as it meant the dust clouds on the unsurfaced roads would not choke us but instead the sticky mud would be more tiring to ride on. Another benefit was that it cleared a lot of the haze.









As we came out of the guesthouse to get the bikes, we met another cycling couple heading south. They admitted that, having heard how awful the road  was, they had travelled by bus from Oudomxay. This didn't inspire us with much confidence but we were determined to ride it.

Start of the climb
Noodle soup at a place on the market was our breakfast, and where we brought a few snacks then set off up route 13. The road was just as bad as we had been warned with only about 50% tarmac and then sections of rocky, muddy surface. There was a 900m climb to start the day and we had estimated it should take about three-four hours.





Getting steeper
But the appalling surface slowed us down so much, with the climbs up the rocky sections needing first gear and draining the energy from our legs. The other shock was the amount of heavy traffic and 4WDs using this part of the road.








The lorries at least moved slowly, also in first gear, but the 4WDs just sped over all the bumps going though the little villages with no regard for the safety of the children, animals and cyclists.


Lifesaving kebabs
Most of the hillsides here have been cleared of  trees, although a few patches of virgin forest still remain in the valleys and on the hill summits. Villages along the roadside are poor and the inhabitants much less friendly.



Market at the top of the hill


 After five hours of toil we got to the summit at 1,250m, where there was a small market, the only place where we could get food all day.









After devouring a whole barbecue chicken, a couple of sausages and some energy drink we continued down the first descent which, mercifully, was better surfaced. Then there was another 350m climb before beginning the descent into Oudomxay,  yet another town in the middle of road widening and sewer installation so the main street was a mess.

Oudomxay to Muang Houm - 95km

Upper Beng valley
There was another heavy thunderstorm overnight so we set off out of town through big muddy puddles. Breakfast was a bowl of noodle soup for a change! We had to backtrack about 4km to the turn off for Pak Beng on route 2W. After so many long kilometres on route 13 it was like leaving a good friend.



Roadside village
2W runs south west following the Beng river valley which eventually joins the Mekong at Pak Beng. This area is more populated, with small villages at regular intervals along the road and has much more agriculture. Bananas, watermelons, maize and tobacco are the main crops.





Overturned lorry
The road was in good condition and the traffic light. After a few kilometres we passed an overturned lorry, the third one in three days. The road didn't follow the river valley much, climbing up and down the low hillsides and the surface gradually got worse.






Some of the villages were friendly places with everyone waving and greeting, while in others we were ignored. Lunchtime found us at a small market stall eating yet another bowl of noodle soup and longing for pie and chips. Except for one small guesthouse in a village with no apparent place to eat, there was no option but to continue to Muang Houn. Here we tried a guesthouse and a hotel but both were fully booked. So we had to settle for the only other guesthouse and eat fried noodles for tea.


Muang Houm to Pak Beng - 53km

Our last day of cycling in Laos and noodle soup for breakfast, perfect. This one was truly delicious but the meat was suspiciously dog like. For the first 30km the road was very hilly and had several long unsurfaced stretches. With uninspiring scenery  and low cloud following another overnight thunderstorm it seemed pretty dull.


Beautiful Beng gorge
But then we started to descend into a deep forested gorge, the sun came out and the birds started singing. Towering cliffs on the left and thick virgin rain forest below,  with the previously slow moving Beng river tumbling over rocks. It was beautiful.








Except, just around the corner was a large billboard advertising the construction of a new hydroelectric project, JCB's and teams of construction workers on the river bed drilling  tunnels and constructing a barrage. It appeared the whole gorge would be flooded, what a shame.

Children having fun in the river
The last 20km was an enjoyable downhill all the way to the Mekong river valley and the town of Pak Beng.









This geographically isolated town currently lies at the end of the 2w road with most visitors arriving here by boat from Luang Prabang or Huay Xia, staying for just one night and then continuing their boat journey.  But the nearly completed bridge over the Mekong River here will change that, creating a new road link into Thailand.

View on the Mekong from our room
We booked a room at the 'Riverside lodge', which had a balcony overlooking the river wharf. There was no need for any other entertainment. Just sitting watching the constant activity below was better than any TV.










Unloading cement
Large barges loaded with construction materials arrived from up-river to be unloaded slowly and laboriously by hand. A new tractor arrived in parts on the back of a van and was loaded into two small canoes to be taken across the river.







Passenger boat arrival
Passenger boats arrived about 5pm and the wharf would be crowded with porters, tuk-tuk drivers, hotel transport and backpackers.







From 6.30 am the process was repeated as everyone continued their two day journey between Luang Prabang and Huay Xia.

Tree climbing
In between these times the local children took over the riverside, swimming, playing on the sandy banks, fishing, balancing along the gang planks and boat edges and climbing the trees under the balcony, both to eat the fruit and to spy on us.














Elephant bath time
In the late afternoon the elephants from the small sanctuary on the other bank came down to bathe in the river.







We planned to have one day rest and then get the boat to Huay Xia. Overnight Karen got ill with a fever and a desire to stay close to a toilet so once again we had to stay another day.

Pak Beng to Huay Xia - boat 

Mekong river boat
We had read all sorts of stories about the horrors of going by boat up the Mekong, overcrowded boats, uncomfortable hard benches to sit on, motorboats crashing into submerged rocks and horrific toilets.





Luxurious accommodation
But our boat was very civilised. The seats were upholstered, and only about 50% of them were occupied, there was a small stall selling drinks and the toilet was spotless. It left on time at 8.30am and we arrived 9 hours later.








Mekong Bathers














Mekong rock formations














Up the Mekong












Arriving at Hua Xia most of the mooring points along the jetty were taken. Our boat squeezed in a the end, which meant that we had to manhandle our bikes and bags up a muddy path climbing about 20 meters up the bank onto the slipway.  We found the Phonevichith Guesthouse at the top of the slipway and checked in.  It was a little way out of the town, but we just wanted a bed and food so it did the job.

(Note that the slow boats down the river to Pak Beng and Luang Prabang all go from this jetty, shown on Google maps as the "Barge Dock".  The guesthouse that we stayed at is convenient for these boats, some of which leave early in the morning).

Tomorrow would be our last bit of riding in Laos as we headed to the border with Thailand, but that is another story...

1 comment:

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