Cycling from Vientiane to the Konglor Caves: part two
Sunday 24th January
This morning the alarm didn’t go off (might have been my fault) and we woke up at 7, though after some rushing around we ended up still leaving at 7.30, which is pretty normal for us. Breakfast was sacrificed in the rush: half a banana each and we were off.
Standing in the hotel courtyard we were surprised by the cold, sharp wind. Eric persuaded me to put on one of his spare T-shirts. I’m really glad he did.
After 20 miles we stopped for snacks. At the convenience shack were three middle-aged men who regarded me as I approached.
“Sadeebai,” said one.
That’s not “hello” I thought, and is that a twinkle in his eye?
“Sabaidee,” I replied, and his two friends burst out laughing in a tone that clearly said: BUSTED.
He had been trying to trick me into replying “Sadeebai” – which would be like saying “Good ingmorn”. He really picked the wrong word… I have said “Sabaidee” about 100 times a day while we’re on the road! He should have tried one of the however many thousands of Laos words I don’t know.
By 10 we had completed our first 30 miles, which were pretty flat and uneventful.
We cycled by a mountain range with a cloud slowly plunging over it.
I thought it was really beautiful, and then I kind of ruined it for myself when I realised that it reminded me of Donald Trump’s wig.
Before we turned off onto Route 8, Eric suggested stopping for some pho. In retrospect, another great idea from Eric. His decision-making today was top notch.
Bowl of noodles eaten, we made our turning. The wind quickly picked up and the clouds started to loom as we headed for the mountains.
I took this photo just before the rain really got going.
The rainstorm hit us. The headwind hit us. It was awful. It was bloody cold. Like really, unexpectedly cold. We were each wearing two T-shirts and a pair of shorts, and were shivering in no time.
The wind was very strong, and we cycled past two large trees which had fallen into the road. We would later cycle past three more. I know the likelihood of a tree falling on you while you cycle by is exceptionally low, but it still freaked me out. After seeing them I couldn’t stop looking at all the roadside trees swinging in the gale.
As the rain picked up to a full-on pour we were back in karst country, and cycled by a stunning skyline of jagged, black karst mountains, seen through sheets and sheets of falling rain. It was very beautiful, but I didn’t dare get the camera out in case the water damaged it.
We descended into a little valley with a village, and thank goodness, we were sheltered from the wind and the rain slowed to a drizzle. I looked at my watch and was amazed to see that from the time the rain really started to the time we reached the valley had only been 45 minutes. If you’d asked me, I would have told you it was 2 hours.
We began climbing again, and while the rain died away, the wind picked up.
After this first climb we descended into another valley surrounded by black karst mountains. Wow, was this an experience. The strong, cold wind seemed to funnel through the valley, roaring and howling. Already soaked and cold, each blast of the wind hurt us, and we shook like mad as we descended. Eric had to fight to control the bike with numb, aching hands.
The landscape was beautiful and felt so hostile. We coped with a mixture of loud, frequent complaining and hysterical laughing.
After the valley was our last climb of roughly 4 miles, and mercifully we were once again sheltered from the wind until we reached the top, where there was a viewpoint. While Eric waited, huddled against the wind, I ran up, conducted a very brief view appreciation, snapped it with the camera and ran back down again.
I did a comedy “run against the wind” back to the bike, and said in my most chipper voice: “Let’s get the fuck out of here!” We laughed like loons and got going.
Then one last descent back into the wind, and the next valley. Really so cold by this point. Can’t think much anymore. Just want to arrive.
Na Hin looked like a frontier ghost town. The wind rattled through pieces of half broken sheet metal, all the shutters were down and the main street looked empty. We passed guesthouses until we found one with its gate open and its owner in a shop, wrapped in a blanket.
We got into our room and into bed. I didn’t move for a couple of hours. Later, we left for a very cold restaurant. I wrapped my towel around myself for warmth (tip courtesy of Douglas Adams). The restaurant owner had also wrapped himself in a blanket, so I wasn’t without company.
Shivering, we drank a hot ovaltine and ate chicken with sticky rice. We then bought a huge bag of biscuits from a nearby shop, got into bed and started eating back our energy.
This day would not have felt so dramatic if we’d had the right clothes to protect us. Our biggest problem had been exposure. (If the weather had been nice this would have been a lovely route.)
Later on we learned that South East Asia has been experiencing an unseasonal cold snap, with the worst affected areas being Taiwan and China. According to Google it was 11 degrees here today, though with the added windchill I think the temperature must have been a lot lower.
Anyway, we’d made it, and I felt most pathetically grateful for the roof over our heads!