DAY 108 – Another pre-sunrise wake up meant we set off before dawn once more. Finding food at this time proves to be a little challenging and we generally have to ride a few kilometres to a town along the road to pass some time until the restaurants have opened and managed to cook something. This was the case again today; we didn’t find anything until we had ridden about 15km to the next large settlement, where we found a place selling noodle soup.
With stomachs full, we left the restaurant and immediately began a short but steep climb. From this point the road maintained an up and down momentum for the next 45km. All the ups and downs meant we continuously changed gears, which exposed a slight problem in the adjustment of Yami’s front derailleur, which kept throwing the new chain off the largest chainring, and wouldn’t allow her to use the middle chainring without the chain slipping. After a few roadside adjustments it seemed to work better, though not perfectly, forcing the occasional stop to put on the chain again!
We passed a friendly Serbian cyclist on the road who told us what we already knew – we were in for a tough few days riding with a lot of long climbs. This, along with the chain problems gave Yami some doubts about being able to reach Luang Prabang on the bike.
In hotels and guesthouses in Asia there is generally a toothbrush in a small travel kit provided in the room. Being a dentist, Yami had had an idea a while back to start taking these from the rooms and giving them out to poorer folks we see on the road, but we hadn’t stayed in any rooms with these toothbrushes for a while. The guesthouse in Phon Hong had them, so she took them and handed them to a lady with two small kids who we passed on the route. Hopefully they will be put to use.
The up and down ride to Vang Vieng took us through some pretty and varied countryside, leaving behind the paddy fields and entering some small hills, although we wouldn’t hit the larger ones until after Vang Vieng. After passing the reservoir created for yet another dam, the road flattened out and the final twenty kilometres into Vang Vieng passed quickly enough, meaning we arrived in the early afternoon. Being a backpacker haven, there are hundreds of guesthouses, so finding a room wasn’t too difficult, after which we fond lunch in one of the many bars that play reruns of Friends or Family Guy from morning to night.
We wandered around to get a feel for the place, and found a small town situated in an area with many natural attractions and a great setting, overlooking the river and the huge limestone cliffs on the other bank. Once a small village it is now totally overrun by backpackers. The town has recently developed a reputation as a party destination, as well as the tubing, where people would drink a bottle of whisky before floating down the river on an inflated truck inner tube. Unsurprisingly, drunk backpackers were drowning in their droves, so last year the Government shut down the bars along the river, meaning no more drunk tubing! They have also had a crackdown on the late night bars, so nowadays the town is silent by midnight.
With our flight not for another three weeks, and it being our intention to finish the tour in Luang Prabang, only three days ride away, we were in no rush so we decided to take a few days to explore some of the caves in the area, as thus far in Laos we hadn’t visited any.