|Thursday Feb 21 24 ks into Vientiane
The traffic into the city was busy and smelly, lots of diesel trucks need mechanical work. We had to be very aware of traffic from all sides, Nickie did a a lot of traffic control by gesturing, pointing and inner dialogue “ yeah you just see what happens if you pull out in front of me!!”. The narrow 2 way road morphed into 4 lanes and lo and behold!! The first traffic lights we have seen in Laos. We joined the scooters and other bikes to squeeze along the right lane of traffic and get to the front. Nickie fortunately held herself back from running the Red …”shall we just go for ir Pete? Cos the traffic is only coming from our left side, we’ll be safe”. We obeyed the road rules and as we passed through the intersection we spied the policeman. Lucky! Garmin directed us to Willy, bike mechanic at Top Zone Cycles and within an hour 2 spokes were replaced on Petes bike, and we bought a cassette socket and water bottle to fit Nickies bike ..all for about $17 NZ. Willy directed us to a guesthouse but Nickie wasn’t impressed so we made in the direction of the touristic centre. An Australian girl recommended a quiet hostel to us, abit away from the backpacker scene, it was full so we chose the one next door. Room 403 at Lovan Guesthouse, up 60 steps, which was a pain ti lug up our gear. It was just a concrete bunker, but at least we didn’t have to put the roll mats out on the bed. Pete fixed the balcony window locks, so we could go out and not be robbed and Nickie arranged for a thorough clean of the handbasin and shower…..in its favour this place was very quiet, away from any bars, and great restaurants and the river were within a few minutes walk. We caught up with german cyclists Tom and Julie whom we had met in Luang Prabang and their friends , 2 guys who are motorbiking around the world. Pete was sick following lunch at a juice bar. So with us both feeling pretty tired we rested in our room, wrote the blog and ventured out at dinner time to a great meal at Alexis bar right in the hub of action. It was fascinating “people watching”. Night stalls of food and clothing were set up in the riverside park, but we avoided that action and walked along the embankment pathway and looked out over to the lights in Thailand. We took photos at some monument, but I can’t find any info about it. Groups of young guys played soccer on the road or did tricks on their fixed wheel bikes. We only spent 24 hrs here but really liked the vibe. Maybe one regret was not going to see COPE: which is an organisation supporting the victims of bombs and landmines. Rehabilitation Including Physio and OT are provided as well as provision of orthotics. We think we are able to go to another COPE centre in another town.
Friday Feb 22 70ks (halfway to Paksan)
Pete fortunately is feeling a bit better. Yesterday we bought a “copied” Lonely Planet guide and Nickie was keen to find the Scandinavian bakery recommended. It was difficult to find but worth the 30 min walk for a great breakfast, then onto the museum which opened at 8am. It’s a quaint little museum and many scripts haven’t been accurately translated into English, making for some guess work on meaning. The largest exhibit is of the years concerned with the revolution/uprising against the colonial French rule and the fight against the imperialist US Fascinating to see exhibits of Marx and Lenin, and the adoption of communism, with assistance from Russia and China. You got to feel for the Laos people, there has always been a struggle/war against some other nation. We both just wanted to get on the bikes again and out of the city. 4ks dodging and weaving on the busiest road lead us out past Patuxai, victory monument which apparently you can climb for great views over the city…we didn’t bother. We took an hour lazily looking about the Pha That Luang, the great golden stupa. Legend is that missionaries from India erected a stupa here to enclose a piece of Buddhas breastbone in the 3rd century. See the photos. At 12.30 we left under Garmins direction and 40mins of main-road multilane biking got us southeast of the city and back onto Route 13. It’s quite exhausting having to ride very defensively, trucks and tuk tuks stop anywhere without warning, scooters ride in our lane toward us, stones and dust are flicked up, we can taste diesel exhaust . At a roadside fruit-stall, the woman literally pulled the money out of Nickies wallet, yeah she didn’t have the patience to deal with some dumb falang woman who was wasting her time. …there were no other customers….. Aargh get us to the peaceful countryside. As soon as we got onto the 13, the traffic halved and the road was double carriage way, even with a bike/scooter lane, also shared by cows. This felt great, we could handle this for the next 1200ks to Cambodia… but it.only lasted about 10ks! For 20ks, the road was so narrow with washed out verges, it was difficult in parts for 2 cars to pass and going off the edge would have meant a nasty tumble. Finally, around 3.30 we took lunch outside of a monastery, on the wider road verge, there had been nowhere else safe to stop. The next 30 ks through countryside were magic, we bombed along about 20kph, taking turns to cut the wind, which most of the time was against us. See photo of the fields that have been burned, ?in readiness for planting?? 70 ks was our limit today and we are in a roadside restaurant/guesthouse. The beer was cold but the stir-fried vege too hot with chilli, Nickie forgot to say “no chilli” We filled up on fried rice/shrimp, tasty. Plan is to be in Paksan tomorrow, about 70ks.