Cycling from Luang Prabang to Vientiane: part two
Thursday 14th January
As we left we bumped into another cycle tourist who was also one part of a tandem team, and was going in the opposite direction to us. We did the usual comparing of notes, and were happy to hear that today should be mostly downhill.
We’d heard this “downhill from here” story from TWO separate cycle tourists who were coming from the opposite direction. Look, no offence to them, but… lies! All lies! We spent the first 35 miles going up and down, with at least 4 ascents of 5+ kilometres each. We had basically been expecting to just sit in our saddles and roll, so the reality of the situation left us quite grumpy. “Where’s our big downhill?” we kept saying.
But the views were awesome.
And the road was so empty that it was like riding along a cycle path. An awesomely beautiful cycle path.
We passed through plenty more Hmong villages today. It’s really interesting to cycle by these places. The Hmong are an ethnic group who live in the north of Laos and have historically been victims of persecution.
It feels a bit like they don’t have all that much to do for work. We’ve seen quite a few people making brooms from grass, but not all that much else. These tiny villages line the one road, and are made up of a mixture of bamboo weave huts and concrete houses. Many of the families are sitting by the side of the road together. Just sitting, having a chat, doing nothing much.
Almost all of the young women have a baby, and there are little children everywhere. They are very sweet, yelling “Sabaidee!” and waving as we pass, or putting their hands out for a high five. We’ve learnt that the only “farangs” around here are cycle tourists and the odd motorbike tourist, so I think that we are a familiar sight, but still unusual enough to be exciting for the kids.
We’ve seen the children doing things that most children we have seen would never be allowed to do. We saw toddlers chopping things with billhooks and axes (not exaggerating!) and kids who looked as young as eight driving around on motorbikes.
As might be expected, there are domesticated animals everywhere. Chickens, roosters and cute, long-snouted black pigs are what’s most commonly seen, though there are goats, cows, dogs and cats too.
The people in the villages are very friendly, and quite often we go through a whole village saying “Sabaidee, sabaidee, sabaidee, sabaidee…” as we pass each house and are greeted by almost every single person (though in one case it wasn’t “Sabaidee” but “Hello! I love you football! I love you football!”). It’s great, and so different from England, where you are politely ignored.
However, while the older people seem to look quite content sitting outside of their houses, I have noticed an expression of bitterness on the faces of younger people, especially the women, as they sit together by the side of the road. They look bored, which wouldn’t be surprising. What opportunities are there for them here? It feels as if these people have been left alone and forgotten.
So it’s with some mixed feelings that I cycle through these little villages.
We reached a town called Phou Khoun in the middle of a cloud.
Then finally we started going downhill properly. Yippee!
A few of the young Hmong boys like to high five Eric as hard as they can. Today one boy who looked about five hit Eric’s hand so hard that he knocked himself over. We turned, alarmed, to see him roaring with laughter along with his two friends.
“I just clotheslined a child,” said Eric.
In the afternoon the mountains started making some strange shapes, and the views grew even more stunning.
Both of us were still not really recovered from the food poisoning, and so throughout the day we only ate three small bananas each. We were knackered.
We stopped at a guesthouse by a hot spring 21 kilometres out of a town called Kasi, and the hot spring was the perfect spot to bathe. After a day on the bike it felt amazing to be surrounded by warm water. I dunked my head, not knowing that I would still be combing the mud from my hair in a couple of days’ time!
At dinner that evening I still had no appetite, but, thinking with some dread of tomorrow’s cycle, I forced down a few spoonfuls of plain rice feeling rather queasy. Eric’s appetite had returned, and he finished both his dinner and mine… “So he can do a bit more of the pedalling tomorrow,” I thought.
The viewpoint by our guesthouse.