Thakek to Tha Lang

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DAYS 97 & 98 – With another 100km day on the cards, Yami, Grace and I left at sunrise in order to get a good head start on Charlie, Niels and Victor, who would leave an hour or so later and catch us up at some point.

We found breakfast just before leaving Thakhek and made our way onto Route 12, east towards Vietnam. Soon after leaving town the road began to wind through striking limestone sheer cliff faces, although the stiff headwind meant we had our heads down and were pedalling hard, rather than enjoying the scenery. It took us the best part of two hours to cover 25km, and the three guys caught us by 8:30, having cycled at  an impressive 30kph into the same strong headwind as us!

They cycled with us for a while, then their pace quickened and they went off ahead. After about 50km, we stopped for a coffee and Yami and Grace began to talk about taking a truck to the endpoint of the day. They battled on for another 20km until lunch, then flagged down a passing truck and left me and the three guys to complete the 50km to Tha Lang.

We set off at a roaring pace, 25-30kph into a headwind. I kept up, but only by shielding myself from the wind in the slipstream of Charlie and Niels. After about five kilometres, we were surprised to see Yami and Grace waiting for us on the side of the road. Apparently the truck they were in had to return the way it came, so dropped them off, unable to take them to Tha Lang.

They stayed there awaiting another lift and we continued on, soon reaching a steep uphill section, which took me about 45 minutes to climb, using only my easiest three gears. I beat the Frenchman to the top but the Belgians beat me, and I found them waiting a shop having arrived ten minutes earlier.

From the top of the hill it was about 30km to our final destination for the day, along an undulating dirt road under construction. the road ran along the edge of a new reservoir created as part of a hydroelectric program in the area. The trunks of thousands of dead trees emerge from the water, indicating some of the damage the dam has caused to the land.

One of the Belgians, Charlie, sped ahead, leaving Niels, Victor and I cycling together. We set a good pace, covering 27 of the 30km in just over an hour, before Victor got a puncture and we waited with him to fix it. We cycled into Tha Lang and the Sabaidee Guesthouse just after 3pm, to find Yami and Grace had only arrived a short time earlier, having gotten a lift to a village about 12km from Tha Lang, from where they had to cycle the remainder.

The Sabaidee guesthouse has been built next to the new reservoir and was a real find. The owner is a really happy Laotian man and he made us feel welcome immediately. After a quick shower we had a game of Petanque and drank a few cold beer Lao, while the owner lit a campfire fuelled with the trunks of the trees killed by the flooding of the reservoir.

The group told the owner it was Yami’s birthday the following day and he prepared a plate of pancakes and doughnuts, which we ate around the communal camp-fire after singing happy birthday.

Being Yami’s birthday, and feeling so relaxed in the guesthouse, we decided to stay an extra day. Grace and Victor also decided to stay, but Niels and Charlie carried on to Lak Sao, ready to enter Vietnam when their visa became valid. So after breakfast we said goodbye to the Belgians who were heading north towards Beijing, and spent the rest of the day eating or drinking, and generally relaxing by the lake, gathering around the bonfire in the evening.

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