After having a really good day yesterday riding the bikes we had hired, we decided to do the same today but this time to go off in a different direction. We had planned out a route and today would be a bit of a bigger ride as the route looked to be about 17km, if we managed to complete it that is!
The route would first take us out of the town then along the main road before peeling off and then going uphill into the countryside in one big loop before coming back round to the main roadway again, completing the journey. Here, the distance would not be the killer, nor did we think that the hills would be too bad as after all we could always get off the bikes and walk them, no our main worry today was going to be the heat. This morning it already seemed to be very humid and we had to admit that although our bikes had been excellent on the flat, on the hills these would be two very heavy bikes to be riding on such a sweaty old day.
The route out of town looked easy enough on the map but it would take us over the runway that we had seen on the way into town. Any landing here, if they still happened, would be an act of utter madness. This is how airfields must have looked before flight took off, so very poorly maintained! The runway had so many giant potholes that it was with some difficulty that we manoeuvred the bikes round them. Anyhow we finally reached the main road and rode out and away from Vang Vieng. It was a really nice picturesque ride and although generally speaking the Laos roads are not great, this one was not too bad and the lack of traffic meant that anyone on the road could give us a wide berth. Just before we left the main road at the bridge to follow the river we saw a buddhist compound but although colourful it seemed devoid of life. After parting from the highway we followed the river valley uphill and once again the scenery was lovely all green jungles, rice paddy fields and tall grey limestone mountains and the like.
Along the way we stopped for a dip near a small bridge at what we thought or hoped would be the halfway mark of our trip. It turned out not to be halfway but the dip soon cooled us down somewhat and some of the local lads had had the same idea too and were enjoying a bit of a splash in the fast flowing river.
As we rode along we noticed that Laos was not quite like many of the other countries that we have visited in SE Asia in that you have to work a lot harder to get some communication back from the locals, this means that ‘Hello’ days are much harder to come by and our ride today was no exception. As they say on the stage, you have to work a lot harder because the crowds here are that much tougher! It could be that the first place we went bike riding was a city, Vientiane, and here in Vang Vieng it is such a party place that maybe the locals do not feel inclined to talk to any Westerners because many are actually quite disrespectful? To be fair, from what I had seen so far I am not sure I could really blame them! Perhaps it is neither of these as English is not so widely taught in Laos, maybe they just did not understand what us grinning like buffoons and wafting our hands about actually meant … lol.
As we continued the red gravel tracks got tougher and more undulating, so much so that every now and again we had to dismount just to get us over some of the rises or round some of the bigger potholes. The tracks were not even ‘dirt’ as there were that many rocks you had to avoid that staying on took a great deal of skill (aka luck!)! The ride was taking its toll though and at one crossroads, with a sign indicating a waterfall we just carried on past – there was no indication of the distance to it and our collective bums were starting to feel mighty sore!
The decision not to take the turn off to see the waterfall proved to be quite a fortuitous one though as when we finally reached the main road and civilisation again we were starving and hunted out a little noodle bar by the side of the road which was full of locals so we knew it would be good and cheap to boot! We ordered our noodle soup which was hot in both senses of the word and absolutely delicious and as we sat there scoffing, outside the heavens simply opened a river of water poured down from the clouds, it was all very surreal. As well as the rain, the winds too were making their presence felt and starting to blow quite heavily and as our cafe was 90% tent we kept wondering if or when our shelter would be blown away. The winds were definitely strong enough as ‘things’ were being blown past the ‘window’ – papers, branches, even small dogs (lol). for some reason – possibly due to me being dropped on my head as a baby – the entire scene reminded me of ‘Carry On Up The Kyhber’ where the Afghans are firing and shelling the headquarters whilst the toffs are holding a civilised meal. Me and Liz were there holding civilised conversation whilst the winds blew and the torrents fell! OR it was all a bit ‘Wizard of Oz’ too as every now and again the tent would shake and a water buffalo or a scarecrow would fly past. It was all a bit ‘Gone with the Wind’ too …. no that will do methinks!
Thankfully though the rains in SE Asia can stop as soon as they start and this storm did just that, so somewhat sodden we rode back. Crossing the airstrip one more I nearly lost my wife, she just seemed to disappear into this large puddle such was its depth, all I saw was a periscope … oh how we laughed!!!
At night time we went to one of the food places frequented by younger people and had a nice curry type of dish, not too hot but really tasty and after we chilled out on these lounge-like settees and watched Friends before home and bed. Tomorrow the next leg of the Laos tour – Luang Prabang. I do love the names of the places so far, they sound like dropping cutlery or something – Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane etc, no idea what they would make of the name of our old town, Grimsby!!!!