It’s ’gurt lush’* in Laos!

20 June 2019

* gurt lush in the southwest of England means something is really really good!!

So, having picked up our passports from the Vietnamese embassy, including the all important 3-month visas, we were free to leave Vientiane. Other people have mentioned that there’s not much to do here and as tourist sites go this is true.  However we rather enjoyed just being here and watching the locals go about their business. Our last evening was quiet and we were in bed early as we had to set the alarm for the first time in quite a while.

Where Northern Laos and northern Vietnam border each other is very hilly and similar in terrain to that which we encountered in Mizoram, east India, but there’s much more of it here!  We hummed and haaed a lot about whether we should tackle these hills and have now finally decided to go for it, encouraged by some of the other cyclists have met recently.  There is the possibility that we will take a bus for some of the way if we get stuck and we’ve been told that there’s a nice boat trip we can take to miss a few of the bigger hills.

We may well be in for a tough few weeks, but in the meantime…

Saturday 15 June 19 – Vientiane to Hin Gnome – 87km

The main road north out of Vientiane was flat and rather featureless for the first part and was also reasonably busy for a Saturday morning…

As the ride continued there were a few hills to negotiate and the scenery got a bit more interesting, with lush tropical forests covering the hills, paddy fields and rivers…

The humidity levels were really high, making for VERY sweaty riding, and that hunidity turned into a downpour a bit later, which nicely washed the sweat into our eyes! We found a guesthouse at about the right distance and booked in.  We both commented that it was the most basic accommodation we’ve had recently, but then again we were spoiled by the standard of accommodation in Thailand. We were however, in the middle of nowhere, so we didn’t have much choice! After our all important snooze we ventured out to get some water. It quickly became apparent that Saturday afternoon/evening is the time the locals play VERY loud music (sometimes with accompanying karaoke vocals) and get drunk in these rural parts! A bit like Somerset!

Sunday 16 June 19 – Hin Gnome to Vang Vieng – 70km

The terrain got gradually hillier throughout the day, but nothing too difficult. And on a plus note, it mean the scenery also got more spectacular with massive craggy outcrops of rock looming all around us. About 10km from Vang Vieng we saw another long distance cyclist coming in the opposite direction! We’ve had a couple of occasions when we’ve seen other cyclists and thinking that they are all like us and want a natter we’ve stopped but they’ve just carried on.

Hannah, fortunately, is another cyclist that wants to chat!She is 25 and has been on the road for the last 2 months and is cycling from Vietnam to England over the next two years. We are always in awe of people who cycle solo, but doubly so when it’s a girl – in our book they are very brave. We spent a lovely 2 hours talking to Hannah …literally at the side of the road…

…and to be honest we could easily have talked more! Hannah is cycling for charity and is hoping to raise £50,000 for 4 different charities (Crisis, Friends of the Earth, Doctors Without Borders and Warchild UK), which we think is brilliant. We had loads to talk about as she’s just cycled much of the route we’re thinking of taking but in reverse.  Among her other talents she’s a writer, artist and fire performer! We wish Hannah safe travels and we are hoping to to meet up again in spring 2020 and ride part of the last leg into England with her!

After we’d said our goodbyes we rode the final 10km into Vang Vieng and were suddenly transported into a tourist resort! But thankfully our accommodation was on the quieter side of the river, over a Laos-style suspension bridge,

…that runs through the town.  Our room at the guesthouse overlooked a small stream which was lovely and very serene and we had a little balcony where we could sit and chill out.

It was a bit of a weird thing arriving in Vang Vieng and we didn’t really know what to make of it.  The place is geared up for backpackers wanting to go on zip-lines, scooters, buggies, etc. Basically it’s for young people…which we’re not!

Monday 17 June 19 – Vang Vieng – 15km

As we technically had a day off we decided to do a few cool (young?) things in the morning and then have our (old!) afternoon snooze. Firstly we’d decided to visit one of the many ‘Blue Lagoons’ in the local area. Basically there are numerous natural swimming holes (the Blue Lagoons) nearby and Joe, our guesthouse host, had said that Blue Lagoon 1 was worth a visit, not just for the swimming hole but mainly for the cave (Tham Poukhan), which is near it.

We cycled naked bikes the 7km to Blue Lagoon 1 and headed straight for the cave which was up some steps…

Well actually the entrance was up a very steep set of very slippery rocks (which became a theme for a big part of our day – more on that  in a moment) so it took us a while to reach the entrance…

But it was well worth the effort as the cave is pretty spectacular…

Joe had also mentioned that we should take a torch (bike light in our case) and make sure we get right to the back of the cave, which we did…

There were a couple of other people there when we got to the cave but within 10 minutes it was just us. Although it was very slippery and difficult to climb over the rocks it was definitely worth it and we really enjoyed it – thanks Joe!

Having scrambled back down to the bottom we then went for a dip in Blue Lagoon 1 to wash the sweat off us (it’s still very humid!). I think we’d expected a more natural setting but it was very geared up for tourists with lots of restaurants and market stalls around. But the water was nice and cooling and it gave us a chance to do a bit of people watching…of which there were loads of Chinese tourists! Note the fish to the right hand side of the picture…

Hannah had mentioned a viewpoint (called Nam Xay) worth visiting, which just happened to be a couple of kilometres away, so off we tootled. I said that the steps/rocks to the cave were steep and slippery, but they were nothing when compared to the wet, mud-covered, mozzie infested nastiness that we had to climb to get to the Nam Xay viewpoint. Half an hour of hauling ourselves up was, however, definitely worth it. There were four other people at the top when we got there, but like at the cave, they left soon after we arrived and so we had the whole spectacular place to ourselves…

Just fantastic views all around…

…and for some reason a motorbike…

We’d thought that we’d struggled to get up to the viewpoint, but going down was even harder!

 

The picture doesn’t really show how steep, muddy and slippery it actually was and I managed to slip over twice – cracking the same elbow each time in the process!

At the end of the day we had a planning meeting and it was at this point that we decided to tackle to northern Laos and Vietnam hills. Prior to this we’d been planning to go back south and then east to try to avoid the worse of the terrain. However, meeting Hannah yesterday and Tamu, the Spanish cyclist we met in the hostel in Phitsanulok, Thailand, has given us the confidence to give the hills a go.  It could be a tough few weeks…

Tuesday 18 June 19

It’s amazing that our legs were aching so much this morning – the muscles we use for cycling every day are obviously different to the ones needed to scramble up and down muddy hills! We both definitely felt a bit achy!

As we now know we have some tough days ahead of us we relaxed, drank coffee/tea, consumed an enormous amount of calories…

…and did very little else for the the rest of the day except contemplate our onward journey! We also had a planning meeting to update our plan for our remaining time in South East Asia and Australasia, which will be published soon.

A couple of recent observations…

Martina got quite excited when we learned that the owner of our guesthouse in Vang Vien was originally from, county Waterford, Ireland.  But Joe is a rather unusual character and we didn’t get much time to talk to him whilst we were there, which was a shame. It did make us comment though that it’s strange that we’ve not met any other Irish people on our travels so far especially as the Irish are so well traveled. But then again we haven’t been to any Irish bars yet…!

If we think that there are a lot of Chinese tourists in London – it’s actually nothing in comparison to the numbers that are here. There seem to be bus loads of them everywhere we go!

There are some incredibly young people riding scooters in Laos. Though it’s difficult for us to say exactly how old they we guess that some of them are only about 10 years old, which is slightly terrifying,

As we crossed Mizoram in India into Myanmar and then into Thailand there’s has been an increase in the number of butterflies we have seen. Laos has been a step up and there are literally thousands of them here,  Many of them are much bigger than the ones we are used to in the U.K. and a lot of them are very bright and in some cases iridescent. We are continually amazed by them and if they didn’t move so much we’d take some pictures! It’s rather like being in one of those tropical butterfly glass houses you get in the U.K.

4 comments

  1. Comment by Flo

    Flo Reply 25 June 2019 at 12:16 pm

    I. Hope your mother didn’t see you on that motorbike Nigel!

    • Comment by Nigel

      Nigel Reply 28 June 2019 at 1:53 pm

      She did but she didn’t see the 400 foot vertical drop behind it!

  2. Comment by Clare M

    Clare M Reply 21 June 2019 at 5:17 pm

    Getting your update is one of the highlights of my week. Perfectly timed for happy hour. So thankful you’re allowing us to live all this vicariously. Martina, I’ll have to get the CIM gang together to raise a glass to you and Nigel!

    • Comment by Martina

      Martina Reply 23 June 2019 at 9:34 am

      Great to hear from you Clare – and glad you are still enjoying our updates! Say hi to the gang when you meet up….and I look forward to catching up with you all when we return next year. Hope all is well with you and Ian. Xx

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