Day 36: 9th February: Chong Tai to Muang Hiam/Vieng Thong. 61km. 1450m climbing.

We set the alarm early as we knew this would be another big climbing day and set off into the foggy morning determined to pace ourselves. Unfortunately, in our final departure, we left David’s UK and EU flag behind.  We only realised after 6km but could not afford to add another 12km to what would already be a long day so cut our losses and left it. We will try and replace it somewhere.

It was 20km to the start of the ‘big climb’ along the river valley.  As with yesterday this was not flat but significantly undulating.  We did 400m climbing and only gained about 50m elevation – it was hard not to resent every 30 or 40m downhill which we knew we would have to climb again. 

However as we neared the end of the valley the scenery got more and more beautiful.  The usual early morning fog had burnt off to another cloudless day. As the river we were following turned up one valley we turned into a new valley between the large rocky cliffs that are characteristic of the ‘karst’ mountains of the region.  We had a 750m climb ahead of us and were relieved to get it started.

We have learnt much about the psychology of big mountain climbs over many years. Like so much sport, much of it is in the mindset.  Particularly heavily laden for touring, we switch to a new mode where we spend much of the time in (or very near) bottom gear, often only going at 4-5km an hour. Once you have accepted that you are going at snail’s pace, there is something very calming about plodding up a mountain. The mind becomes tuned to the body and seems to clear of everything else.  Hours can go by with hardly a thought, apart from thinking about the next significant point – 50m climbed or a 100m height gain. 

This was a particularly enjoyable climb.  The gradient by and large was not too great, the road surface (for Laos) was OK, The road was quiet with vehicles only about every 10 or 15 minutes (if that) and the landscape was beautiful with the narrow road winding up through tropical forest.  This gave good shade, which combined with the steadily increasing elevation, kept us cool. So it was quite serene with just bird song and insects chirruping to accompany us.

We reached the summit at about 1350m – the highest point of our trip so far.  No views as such as we were in thick forest but amazing vegetation. We then descended 500m, crossed a river then into the next climb – another 250m. Legs were definitely tiring but we gritted out teeth and plodded up to a view that opened out onto layer upon layer of hills and mountains.

Then a lovely 12km descent – the best road surface we had had for days so we could swoop down to the town (but still need an eagle eye out for pot holes). We had completed 1450m climbing, the third day of 3 mammoth days. We felt pretty bloody fit but decided that this was probably enough for us so decided to get a bus tomorrow to rest our tired limbs. 

Young women with children will be one of our strongest memories of Laos.

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