We left our funny little £5 a night guest house while the mist was still hugging the road. Although the bed was rock hard I found that if I put my camping mat on top, I was perfectly comfortable. We passed numerous school children walking to school with a few cycling and a privileged few on motorbikes. We knew we had a big climb ahead so were slightly concerned to have enough food. We stopped at a shop and brought eggs and, rather than risk them breaking, we sat outside the shop, lit our stove and hardboiled them. This caused great amusement but was by far the most practicable way to deal with things.
By the time we had finished the hard boiling (David tried to insist on a full 10 minutes but we compromised at 8 on the basis the eggs would continue to cook in their shells), the sun had risen and some of the mist had burned off. Within a few kms we started our first climb of the day which we knew from Kamoot was about 400m of climbing. We were feeling surprisingly good after yesterday’s long day and soon we were into the familiar territory of bottom gear and plodding slowly up, meters climbed being much more important than distance covered. Most of the climb was 8/9% so tough but not excruciating. We felt our fitness now coming to the fore and could keep going without too many rest stops. The scenery was lovely and the road was quiet – a vehicle every 5 minutes or so at that time of the morning. On the lower part of the climb a lot of the hillsides were cleared for agriculture. They seemed impossibly steep to grow anything and were bare at this time of year, but no doubt spring into life when the rains come. As we got higher, the jungle took over again and views back down the valley appeared.
The first summit was at about 960m, our highest point on the trip to date. The road then took us along a beautiful ridge with views into the valley on both sides. We needed to ‘refuel’ and found a perfect stop for ‘second breakfast’, looking out over the mountains as we brewed coffee and ate boiled eggs and biscuits. A man on a motorbike stopped, quizzed us in Lao about our journey and we confessed we could not understand. However, “can I have a selfie with you” is a universal language and, of course, we obliged.
There were a few undulations then a longer downhill before the next 250m climb, which took us up to over 1000m. Although shorter and no steeper, the climb felt somewhat harder. The tiredness in our legs began to tell, but we just went slower and took our time. This is much easier to do on the trikes compared to a bike there is a critical point of slowness on two wheels when you just fall off! That is not a problem on 3 wheels!
There was a sizeable village at the top of the second climb, with wooden houses strung along the road. This was the mountain top and there was a ‘scenic view point’, but (in our view) the outlook was less scenic than many of the views we had seen over the past couple of hours! It was nearly midday by now and we had only done 25km but had climbed over 800m.
Then we got our reward – a glorious descent. We were really getting to grips with handling the trikes, leaning hard into the bends so braking less (although brakes and breaks were still needed) and weaving round bend after bend. Great fun.
The road then followed a river and the valley opened out into an agricultural landscape with fields of vegetables and lettuces, no doubt irrigated by the river. This valley had a very different feel. Much more prosperous, larger villages/small towns with houses of mainly concrete construction, more restaurants and shops, smarter cars and even some mobile phones in evidence.
There was only 15km to go to our proposed stopping point for the day, the village of Vieng Phou Kha (or possibly spelt Vieng Phouka). There is no consistency as to how Loatian names are spelt using European lettering, and huge differences between the anglacised names of the same place on different maps and on signs. All adds to fun and confusion. We had mainly chosen Vieng Phou Kha as an end point for the day because it had several guest houses and we figured we might be tired by then after all the steep climbing. We were not wrong!
We pressed on as we wanted to get to the village but that was a mistake. The concept of “running on empty” is very well known to cyclists, and we should have rested and eaten. The road was quite undulating; nothing large but our legs got more and more tired as yet another 50m climb presented itself. How can 5% be so tough when we did 11% with some ease a few hours before? Eventually we rolled into town and booked into the first guesthouse we saw – which happened to have large cool airy rooms, good showers and was still less than £10 a night.
We showered and finally went out to eat properly with a noodle soup that comes high up the rankings. When we were in Vietnam a few years ago we came to worship a good Pho – and this was from the same stable. Loads of fresh herbs and it came with a huge bowl of crisp fresh lettuce, no doubt from the valley we passed through. Our limbs were exhausted though and we could finally rest back at the guest house and spent some time planning out the next couple of weeks. We already seem to be running out of time!
In the evening we ventured out again to a chinese restaurant. There was no menu and even with google translate we had some difficulty but David ended up pointing at someone else’s dishes and we ended up with a simple but delicious meal of stir fried pork rice and vegetables.
This place had a feel of China about it. There was a family celebration going on, multiple dishes and beer was drunk, and there was a Chinese action movie on the large screen (which my sister Kate would not like as people seemed to be shot in every scene). While we were there, several lorries arrived and parked up outside. All the lorries we have seen have been Chinese (we are near the Chinese border here) so it seems this is a favorite stopping point. The lorry drivers seemed to know each other so they probably ply this route regularly and on into Thailand. We have tuned our ears into the sound of the Lao language and this was not Lao, so it must have been Chinese.
1 thought on “Day 27. 31st January. Baan Donchai to Vieng Phou Kha. 50km. 1000m climbing”
I am so loving our armchair travel but unfortunately I’m not getting into shape as you two are. Bravo.