Day 29.  2nd February.  Luang Namtha to almost Nateuy 32km and then …..  

We had planned a shortish day with a leisurely start but we both work early after a really good sleep and were feeling good and up for a more strenuous day.  So we packed up and were on the road about 7.30am.  But of course, as this is cycle touring, anything can happen – and it did.

Again the morning was misty- clearly a feature of the early mornings in these mountains. As soon as we were out of the town, we were in rural countryside and after about 10km rejoined highway 3 again. The road followed a lush deepsided valley with a pretty river below.  It felt magical as the mist swirled around.  We passed through a series of villages and saw zip wires stretched across the river.  This was the original use of wires –  to transport across wood and other goods presumably.  No humans seen hurtling along them!

Sitting in teh morning sunshine – with no idea about what is about to happen

About 9.30 the sun burnt off the mist just as we started a 100m climb.  The road was in poor condition and we bumped and bounced along. Just as we were nearing the top there was a steep section with a long and particularly bumpy stony section.  I reached the top and saw that David had ground to a halt. I freewheeled back the short distance and found that he had a significant problem with his deraillier.

Pop up bike repair shop – before realising it was unable to be repaired

Parked up by the side of the road with vehicles and lorries chucking up dust from the gravelly section David set about repairing it.  He took the whole thing apart and put it back together again.  Initially it seemed to look more aligned but it still wasn’t working. He then realised a small bit of metal and a bolt had sheered off.  This wasn’t something mendable and he declared the deraillier well and truly f**c**d. 

We both felt devastated. Surely not another trip with bad luck.  We told ourselves of the travails of travel and that everything was solvable with time (and money). But I could see from David’s face how upset he was. The good side was that we were only 3km from the town of Nateuy and we had heard from other travellers that there was a train station there heading south towards the city of Luang Prabang where there was a (small) chance of getting a new derailleur. This Chinese funded high speed railway link runs from China across the border to Laos and all the way down to the Laos capital, Vientiane, which is on the Thailand border. Since opening just over a year ago it has transported over 2 million tons of goods.  The railway is planned to extend through into Thailand to Bankok, and once that leg is completed it will be a cultural highway extending China’s influence into South East Asia.  Luckily, David derailleur broke only 3km away from the railway – or so we thought.  We quickly decided that the only chance of getting a replacement deraillier was in a substantial city so decided to try and get the train to Luang Prabang. 

Efforts to flag down a pick up truck to take us the 3km were unsuccessful.  Only one person stopped but the back of the truck as already too full for all our stuff.  So we trudged the 3km in the heat of the day, freewheeling down the down hills and pushing the trikes as we trudged uphill. This included a googlemaps special that took us down a steep hill to the wrong side of the railway tracks for the passenger station and into a huge lorry unloading area.  This was solely for large crates being craned onto cargo trains but not passengers – but Google did not know that.  Back up the hill we trudged and took the long way round to the train passenger station.

We seemed to be in luck as there was a train in 50 minutes to Luang Prabang. We showed them our trikes and there was a lot of head scratching and calling of more people – each more senior than the last – to take a look.  We showed them how they fold up, tape measures were brought out, they thought it was still too wide. We could take the wheels off we explained but then the crunch point came – the trikes would have to be in a box or we could not take them on the train. This point became insurmoutable. The main guy who spoke reasonable English kept saying he wanted to help us (and I believe he did) but this was the rule – and being Chinese this was a rules based society.  We could send them cargo and they would turn up in 3 days time (if at all).

We cut our losses and said we would try the bus.  The same guy helped us with the taxi/bus man who confirmed there would be a bus at 4pm.  He could take us  in his minibus taxi to the place to buy bus tickets for what seemed an extortionate about in money but was only £2.50 and hey it was only 2 minutes but a) he knew where it was and we didn’t and b) David didn’t have to push his trike any more. 

We piled up our 2 trikes and 6 panniers into his small mini van, and he took us to the “bus station” where we bought the bus tickets.  No eyelids were batted at the mountain of our luggage – and no extra fee to take it with us.  It was very vague abou what sort of bus it was, how long the journey would take, where we would arrive in the town or at what time but by then we just went with the flow. It was now 3pm and we hadn’t eaten since our porridge at 6.30 that morning so we brewed up our own version of noodle soup with instant noodles, packet sauce, boiled eggs and tomatoes.  It was surprisingly tasty and again no eyelids were batted at 2 falang cooking their lunch in the forecourt of the bus station!

Lashing the trikes securely to the top of the bus

4pm arrived and pronto, the “bus” arrived.  It was a small yellow bus which already looked pretty ful and perhaps would be used for a short trip in the UK but here it was a form of travel across the country. Our bikes and panniers were hauled onto the roof and firmly tied down as we nervously looked on, but the driver looked as if he had done this hundreds of times before and brushed aside our vain efforts to help. Finally we clambered onto the bus.  That was a slight error – no proper seats were left but a row of padded stools were set out in the aisle between the seats and that’s where the rest of us were to sit. A fellow passenger confirmed that the journey time would be about 9 hours – so we would arrive at 2 or 3am.  We pushed to the back of our minds what we would do when we arrived and settled ourselves between the seats. We initially consoled ourselves that we would be able to get some seats at the next town when people got off.

We set off with our jolly driver and soon we were winding up the mountain passes, down again and up the next one.  He was a great driver and although the road was narrow and windy we felt very safe, even when overtaking lorries round the tight bends. There seemed to be a sort of dancing etiquette about how this was done, and unlike some other parts of the world, the roadside was not scattered with memorial crosses to those who met their end over the side on a blind bend.  Maybe in Laos they just don’t mark these events!  The scenery got more spectacular with a beautiful red setting sun over the mountains and we mourned that we were not cycling the route. 

By the time we were over the other side of this mountain range it was dark, my back was aching but we consoled ourselves with the thought that soon we would be at the next major town, but we bypassd that town and it became clear that the bus was not stopping.  Everyone was on for the duration including the irritating middle-aged (and overweight) Chinese man who was constantly on his phone or striking up conversations with all around him – the equivalent of the village bore in the pub stuck with us in a bus and irritating fellow passsengers.  As it turned out most of the passengers were on the bus for longer than us, as we were the lone 2 passengers dropped off in Luang Prabang at 3am. 

I did not know how I would survive 10 hours wedged between the seats with David perched in front and someone elses knees in my back? Somehow we just managed it, as one always does of course.   Like on a long plane journey, we entered a sort of zombie state and the hours ticked by.  I managed to dose on and off and for the last couple of hours I did have a seat, although David was perched on his stool for the whole time.  At least we weren’t on an unpadded upturned box like some others.

Finally we rolled into Luang Prabang at about 3am. Everyone patiently waited while all our stuff was unloaded from the roof unscathed and we were left in the cold and dark in this unknown city by the roadside with no one around as the bus drove off.

We decided to start pushing our trikes towards the centre of town to see if we could find a guest house that would open it’s doors at that time of night.  Luckily only a few minutes away we found just such a guest house – we shook the boy asleep on a camp bed on the porch and indicated we wanted a room. As we walked up a young woman in a short skirt left the guest house and drove off with a truck driver – a rather strange time to be leaving I thought and I feared we were entering a den of ill repute. However a woman appeared, showed us a pleasant room for a reasonable price and soon we were lying horizontal at last. Other commercial transactions of ill repute may well have been going on around us, but we were oblivious and although still feeling pretty gutted, were pleased and grateful that we had got so far.

It remained to be seen whether we could get the trike mended in Luang Prabang or whether we would have to get another bus to the capital (another 8 hours at least) to access the specalist skills needed to mend the trike.

12 thoughts on “Day 29.  2nd February.  Luang Namtha to almost Nateuy 32km and then …..  

  1. Phew – a tough day. Full marks for endurance. Hope you can get the derailleur sorted without another bus journey. Best wishes Malcolm

  2. Sorry to hear of this setback and hope you have managed to resolve it without too many more challenges and that you are back in the saddle. Your resilience is impressive!

  3. David & Bernie
    I’ve loved reading your adventures and am gutted for you to have this rotten luck. Hopefully Luang Prabang can deliver for you. I remember it as a very civilised place with good coffee shops and cake, and also many bicycles. Good Luck. Jayne

  4. Sorry to hear this setback. Hope you are able to resolve it without any further challenges and that you are back in the saddle. Your resilience is hugely admirable!

  5. We are routing for you here in Ireland and hope a better day for you tomorrow. So enjoying reading your adventures from afar ( particularly the zip lines over the forest tops !) Still full of admiration for you both -as neither Mark or I good with heights -and that bus journey a nightmare . You are both amazing . Good luck with finding the bike part to continue your travels.

  6. This is not a like, Bernie, though it should be for your writing. I feel for you, and very much hope that by the time you read this the trike is mended!

  7. Oh what a nightmare David and Bernie! Hope your enterprising selves manage to get it sorted. Been enjoying following your adventures

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