We woke and went through our usual routine of cooking porridge and filtering water as we readied ourselves for the road. And a crazy road it was to start off. The town was teeming with motorbikes, lorries, cars, school children, all wrapped in the thick fog of the morning. For 3 or 4 km we dodged and weaved through the traffic and around deep pot holes and disintigrating bits of road. We were glad of our front lights and flashing back lights in the fog – although most of the traffic could not be bothered with such things, even if they had lights they did not turn them on.
As we left the last houses of the town the traffic abruptly halted. What made this town particularly busy at 7.30 in the morning was not clear but it was all local and soon we were in beautiful country side. Emerald green paddy fields and swirling mist on the mountains as the sun burnt off the clouds.
We stopped to take photos and were passed by 2 touring cyclists, Joisen (from Holland) and Franklin (from Brazil), who previously lived in Switzerland and were on the way to a new life in New Zealand. There is something about European people we have met which has struck us – how many have chosen to live and offer their talents to a different country from their birth. We have met French people living in Germany, Italians living in France and Germans living in Holland. Maybe it is that free movement is a living thing – spreading talent across the continent or maybe people who have the courage and openness to live in another country also have a mindset to travel.
Joisen and Franklin were the first cyclists we met in Laos and only the third in our whole trip so far. They only had 2 weeks so were traveling light on gravel bikes and going off road into far more adventurous territory than us. It was good to chat and exchange tales. They were heading for the same town as us but would arrive much quicker.
After about 15km we reached the town of Pak Mong where we turned off Highway 13. Now we were leaving the territory we had covered in the bus (but had not seen) and were on Highway 1C. Given Highway 13 is the main artery from Vientiane and Luang Prabang up to the Chinese border it could hardly be called busy (this morning excepted). The new road though was blissful.
We had a fantastic 30km ride along a valley with beautiful tropical vegetation and increasingly spectacular mountains coming into the view. The road was gently undulating along the Nam Bak river. We knew we had a short day so we went at ambling speed, just absorbing the scenery and thoroughly enjoying the cycling. Passing through pretty towns and villages it was easy to return the smiles and waves we were getting. This is what it’s all about! For the thousandth time we felt so lucky that we enjoy doing this together, storing memories to share for our dotage.
We gently rolled into Nong Khiaw as the Nam Bak joins the Nam Ou river. We had left the Nam Ou yesterday afternoon as it took a course carving through roadless gorges until we rejoined it at the most spectacular setting of mountains and cliff faces.
We booked into a simple guest house at the south end of the bridge over the Ou. Simple but with a balcony overlooking the river and mountains, complete with hammocks. The other good thing about simple guest houses is there is no issue with using our little wisperlite stove to brew up so we sorted ourselves out with coffee and sandwiches (this part of Laos at least has decent baguette type rolls). We strolled into town to sort ourselves out with a trip to do tomorrow then spent a very lazy afternoon reading, rocking in our hammocks, listening to Dire Straights on our portable speaker, drinking tea and generally feeling very laid back.
In the evening we hooked up with Joisen and Franklin again. They are real athletes and it was fascinating to hear about their endurance racing exploits. Tomorrow they have a big day of climbing so were loading up with carbs with burgers and pizza. I just had to remember that we will be swanning about on the river tomorrow and didn’t need to be eating quite so much! One of the great things about this trip is the number of different people we have met from all round the world.