Monday, March 17, 2008

Bike Parade

Days 169-172
Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng
Time: 18:36:00
Distance: 217.0 km
Avg Speed: 12.47 kph
Terrain: Mountains
Location: Northern Laos

After four days of hard riding and spectacular scenery, we arrived in Vang Vieng. We are now six people instead of two. We are a bike parade.

Day 1 was the longest and hottest day yet on the bicycle. Two big climbs and 90+ degree heat made it difficult. Luckily we ran into our first new friend, the Aussie cycle tourist, at the bottom of the second climb. We more or less all rode together, rested together and shared food. It was really awesome.
That night at the guesthouse, two more bike people rolled in. They had taken a siesta along the way and had to use their headlights for the last few kilometers. We chatted the evening away. Now we had Swedish-American and Irish to add to the group. They were headed in the same direction and we all decided to make a go of it together.

Day 2 had us starting high in the village of Kiewkacham. Thatched huts and cement buildings lined the road. Life is simple yet hard in this part of the world. For me, the reality is a bit overwhelming at times. I feel humbled by the good attitudes of the people of Laos. They work hard for what they have and it shows in their pride.
The riding was up and down for most of the day. Chris felt every bit of the ride. He began to feel sick last evening – we figured it was the heat. At the end of Day 2 he realized that he probably had some bad food or water. The guesthouse in Phu Kuhn was a very welcome sight.
After another cold bucket shower we rested and traded stories with a group of Germans. They were on a three month motorcycle tour and had traveled throughout Southeast Asia. They’re next adventure is to buy tuk-tuk in Thailand and drive it back to Europe through Asia.

Day 3 is best told by Chris. It started out perfectly normal and ended with a mad dash from a brothel. Here is the recap:

Got on the road about 10 this morning. The rest of the group went to the caves while I stayed behind to rest and re-hydrate a little more. The riding was generally all down hill punctuated with a few little climbs to give the brakes a chance to cool. We only had one little mishap while riding. Leslie didn’t close up her top bag after a bathroom stop and burned a roll of toilet paper in her back tire and brakes. She couldn’t figure out why the riding was so hard until she looked. TP is like gold here, so we will salvage what we can. The group rolled in towards Kasi about 2 this afternoon. We only rode for two and a half hours, but we took a lot of breaks. Leslie spotted a place on the side of the road before Kasi called Sandy Beach Resort. There was no beach, but there were several nice bungalows over looking a murky pond. Our group Thai speaker got the price whittled down to 30,000 kip for the night so we were jazzed to get settled and have a couple of beers. Across the pond from the bungalows were little covered decks on stilts that had couches and chairs in them. We settled into one and proceeded to have a nice fish lunch, some water and beerlao. We got started on a card game when one of the gals who was working at the place came over to watch. She left after the first hand and headed over to the pond for a float on an inner tube. Still oblivious to what lie ahead we dealt a few more hands and watched as more and more girls came out of the woodwork to bathe, and put on makeup. It was at this point that we realized that this ‘resort’ wasn’t really a ‘resort’, but rather a house of ill repute. We joked about it a little bit longer and then realized that some foreigners getting caught at a place like this could be bad. The town of Kasi was only another 3 kilometers down the road so we settled our beer and food bill, got our things packed back up and rode in the dark for a couple of minutes to the real guesthouse. They were nice and didn’t charge us for the rooms that we had occupied during the afternoon. Looking back on it we should have seen a couple of signs to tip us off. The first was it was a beer bar only. A beer bar in Laos, as we later read, is a venue for entertainment. The second was that there was an afternoon charge and night charge for the rooms. We thought the guys was just being difficult, but it turns out he was trying to figure out if we wanted the rooms for an afternoon or the night. The third was our single Australian friend was told he was handsome by one of the ladies when he had gone to the bar earlier for a beer. The fourth, and this one gives me shivers, is me having a conversation with the ‘organizer’. He was talking to me about my height and replied that he liked tall people and that he really liked my body. I took this as a language discrepancy, but looking back I am not sure it was. I felt dirty. The fifth was the nice little lounges that corresponded to the numbers on the bungalows. We thought they were just organized but we realized that the lounges were for meeting and the rooms were for entertainment. We did make to Kasi, we did check into the Somchit Guesthouse and we did have a nice dinner. We shall see what Laos throws at us tomorrow. BTW, I am feeling much better. I think I had a touch of food poisoning along with some high heat (95+) and dehydration. Yipee.

Day 4 saw our group grow to six. After the mad dash from the “beer bar” brothel we met a Swiss cycle tourist at the Somchit Guesthouse. Chris and I had met him earlier in Luang Prabang so I was really excited to see him. I tried to explain why we had arrived so late and finally got my point across when I said “they sell ladies…” Anyway, our new member was up and ready to roll with us at 7 am. He has been traveling for quite awhile and made his way to Laos via Southern China.
The riding was easy and it seemed like we floated down to Vang Vieng. The scenery just keeps getting better as we are traveling through a karst region. It’s hard to ride when you keep staring up at the monolith-like limestone cliffs. It’s quite a dramatic backdrop to the Nam Song River and the green rice patty landscape.
We are now tucked in our rustic, thatched bungalows overlooking the river. We picked the quiet side and are content to spend a few days resting, chatting and playing cards.


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