Jan 31, 2010

Day 28-31, Jan 29-Feb 2, Bangkok

O.k., that's not Laos anymore, but still lots of cafe... Just hanging out in Bangkok for the remainder. Found a great guesthouse north of banglampoo in thewet. Just a regular neighborhood with the flower market and the wet market across the klong resp. around the corner. If you look for a really nice guesthouse at a very fair price (bht 450 w/ shared br), check out Sri Ayuttaya, the best so far since I come to bkk (23 years now!).
Bicycling in bkk can be fun, but you mustn't be timid. As everywhere in SE asia only what's in front of you is your responsibility; everything behind you, well those behind you are in charge. No rearview mirror needed!
The real challenging matter is the particulate one in the air, very bad pollution especially from the tuktuks.
And what is there to do in bkk??? Besides phantastic shopping (!!!!) like the weekend market (also known as jj or chatuchak or what I just discovered, ratchada night market); well, there is a whole lot to try for the taste buds! The number must be in the tens of thousands of food stands besides the indoor restaurants. A culinary orgy!!!!!
Now you might be able to imagine what I spend the time with here in krung thep.

Km 30, ave 11.7, Tm 2.30

I'll be flying back on tue, so the blog is almost finished. But I will put up a whole lotta pictures and videos on when I'm back.

Total: km 1440

Thanks for following!!!!

Jan 28, 2010

Day 27, Jan 28, udon thani to khon kaen and on to bkk

The last big ride was actually today. I decided to bike down to khon kaen just for the cycling's sake. Otherwise it's not much fun to be on Hwy 2 which goes straight to Bangkok, from nong khai ca. 650 km. It's a major hwy although it has the obligatory moped/bicycle lane. It's straight, it's noisy, it's gets more polluted the further south you go. To either side ricepaddies, then sugarcane dominates. Fairly flat, I could go for stretches 30-35 km/h resulting in the highest average speed on the tour.
8 in the morning I left udon, at 1 o'clock and after 120 km i arrived in khon kaen.
Nothing to say about that town, didn't bother to take pictures. Went straight to the railway station to buy a ticket for the night train (sleeper, very comfortable. $20! for a 9hr trip) and checked into a hotel for the afternoon. Got another thai massage, good kneading!
Now I'm at the station waiting for the train.

Km 121.4, Ave 26.9, Tm 4.30

Jan 27, 2010

Day 26, Jan 27, vientane, Laos to udon thani, Thailand

The bicycle trip is almost over. Just another 20 km or so to the thai lao friendship bridge and over to nong khai in thailand.
Last shopping in vientane at carol cassidy lao fabric where the most amazing is silk is being woven and sold.
Almost there! the bridge over the Mekong I mean. I'm having my last lao lunch (soup, of course! I'm a lao soup fiend now!) and in a few minutes I will pack up the last few km remaining on this trip in laos....

Well, it turned out a bit different...
Early afternoon I got across the Mekong and into nong khai and it's only another 60 km to udon thani (became well known during the vietnam war and the 'conflict' in Laos as a USAF base resp. CIA Air America base and the 'Ravens'). So I kept going as I had been to nong khai twice already before.
On the highway the very left lane (lefthand traffic in thailand) is for 2 wheeled vehicles only. Pretty flat and straight it allowed for speeds around 30-40 km/h and barely 2 hrs later I rolled into udon (It must have been the soup; it's like the gaul's magic potion of asterix and obelix).
Udon is just one of those regular thai cities which i just like. There is nothing particular to see, no tourist attraction. What counts are the food, fruit and juice stands everywhere, the night markets, and so on. just regular thai life. Along the lake in the middle of town besides the aforementioned stands are also massage stands! I just had a thai massage, a very good one (and a bit painful as it should be). For something like $ 5.50 for 1 1/2 hrs. The standard price for a meal anywhere is 30-35 baht, around a dollar!

Km 92.5, Ave 22.2, Tm 4.12

Jan 26, 2010

Day 25, Jan 26, vientane

Last time I spent more than a few hours in vientane (as on the previous trip) was in 1995. I just came from Hanoi, totally exhausted from having spent 2 month in Vietnam on 2 wheels. First by motorcycle, then from Saigon to Hanoi by bicycle. Exhausted not only from bicycling but from the though friendly but also fairly aggressive environment.
And the best place to come to to wind down, relax, recharge was vientane. Travelling was very restricted, one had to stay for the granted 5 days in vientane prefecture. Absolutely quiet, hardly any traffic, very few cars and not too many people. I have this memory of unpaved streets but more likely there were thickly covered with red dust. A pitcher of beer (on the rocks!) was something like 25 cents; accommodation around $2. Well, my travel budget averaged $5/day...
I also remember the unbelievable friendliness of the us embassy ('you need a business visa? No problem, will be ready tomorrow!' I had maybe $100 in total to my name! Times have changed...).
The city had changed, too! it's indeed hustling and bustling comparable with a midsize city in Thailand, but with higher prices for hotels.
All in all not very impressive in comparison to the rest of Laos and no real reason to stay more than a day or two.

Day 24, Jan 25, pak lai to vientane

I'm on the Mekong right now travelling to vientane by boat. The slow boat goes 3 times a week and the trip is 8 hrs. So far a great journey. The boat has actual seats, room for 100 passengers but we are only 20. After a couple of tight bends the river swings to the east and the southern bank is already Thailand.
Most the time I'm lazying away the time on the roof which allows me sunshine, a steady breeze and an unhindered view.
In the meantime I have arrived in vientane already. This boat journey was possibly one of the best I ever have taken (the other one the 5 day trip down the amazon from manaus to belem). It really turned out to be 8 hrs travel time in which we put maybe 200 km behind us. The scenery was not as exciting as up on the nam ou, nonetheless what made this trip outstanding was the almost sullen air, the uncrowdiness of the boat, the subtle but steady change of the river and its surroundings including the human life along it.
Bicycling the remaining 7 km from the boatlanding into town took me back not only into civilisation but also into the hustle and bustle of apparently busy city.
In order to keep a relaxed state of mind I checked into a guesthouse on the fringes of vientane, an almost hidden compound with old Lao style buildings within a garden setting.

Km 15.1, Ave 20.7, Tm 0.43

Jan 25, 2010

Day 23, Jan 24, pak lai

A drumming beat woke me up sometimes in the night. A hard and steady rain came down. It let up a bit in the morning but is persisting as a drizzle. I plan to take the slow boat to vientane tomorrow. Sp I just hang out here. Not much to do except having coffee, walking in the rain, ...
Quiet today for it's sunday and it suits the mood. A rainy sunday in the tropics at some godforsaken place far away...
That's by the way the prison in pak lai...

Day 22, Jan 23, nam pouy to pak lai

A good day of off road riding resp. dirt piste of the first order! On the road by 7.50 after a hearty breakfast consisting of pho gai (soup) and cafe lao. Overcasted with cloud banks in the valleys and mountain slopes, a beautiful picture! The first 30 km were pretty tough, roller coaster with 100 to 200 m change of elevation. As it rained/ drizzled the previous days there was no dust and the road really smoothed out by the lumber trucks. Speaking of which, the road comes very close to the nam pouy national park. And everything in between is being clear cut right now. I saw every step of the process from cutting the tree to milling the lumber at the saw mill today. At the saw mill there is no effiency to be seen anywhere regarding getting the most out of a tree. Lots and lots of waste (of wonderful exotic lumber!!).
Anyway, half the way I pulled over and had a bath in a river, desperately again. For it cleared up, the sun broke through and it became hot and dusty, very much so!
I think I was (maybe) the very first bicyclist coming through here. It's a very remote area, off the tourist tracks and besides great mountain biking and the landscape there is no attraction for most travellers.
Here it's not sabai'dii (hello, how are you, good bye) what one hears 100 times in every village but 'farang!!!', for most people or at least kids haven't seen one. Farang, ferengi, etc. is the synonym for westerner (from franken/ franks, the crusaders that is) from the middle east to se asia. I was the saturday entertainment!
In the afternoon it became very, very dusty and hot, too. Everytime a vehicle is passing there is this huge dust cloud... Arriving in pak lai around 4, the Mekong again!!!, I checked into a guesthouse and took a shower with my clothes on and also showered down the panniers. Later on I washed the bike in the shower. Just regular procedure...
Btw, after the shower I turned on the tv and I got a great and weird combination in and from my room: mcqueen's bullit and a view onto the Mekong! Can't get any better, no?!?

Km 102.6, Ave 17.4, Tm 5.50

Day 21, Jan 22, xayaboury to nam pouy

Last night I stayed at the best hotel in town, $12 a night, w/ tv and a bathroom big enough to give the bike a shower. Slept well after the challenging ride yesterday. So I left town not before 10. For one I wanted to sleep in, second it was drizzling in the morning and I hoped it'd stop, third I had only 55 km to go.
Interesting, through most villages the road is paved, outside not. I guess that's because dust from dirt roads is a big health problem.
Again, I came across a mahout with his elephant walking/ riding along the road. It's such an amazing sight!
The road was half challenging, 90% dirt, sometimes smooth, sometimes rough. The surroundings mountainous, all previously logged, teak plantations and rice paddies, both dry and planted. One can see all phases of rice cultivation, plowing, seeding, etc.
And about teak, this time I noticed way more teak plantations than on the last trip. Basically teak is everywhere. I assume in time Laos will be one of the biggest teak exporters. Btw teak trees are not very pretty ones, but the lumber is one of my favorites.
Damn', it just started to rain, not just drizzling. Tomorrow I have to ride more than 100 km, all dirt. A little bit of rain keeps the dust down, but too much makes it all muddy.
Not much to watch on tv, only thai, Myanmar and Korean channels. But, the Korean channel is the one from north korea! Pretty weird! Check out the video! Also, a little while ago I stumbled over this: http://www.kcckp.net/en/ and http://www.ournation-school.com/ .
North Korean weirdo stuff!
That's what the local must think about me for I'm the only tourist in town and they have never seen one bicycling through...

61.2 km, Ave 17.7, Tm 3.27

Day 20, jan 21, luang prabang to sayaboury

No really, I left town... It started drizzling last night and kept going till the morning hours. Would have been another excuse, but I was ready to move on. 8.30 i was on the road. The first 29 km were familiar from the previous trip. At Xiang ngeun I took the right fork, west to sayaboury. The next 85 km were more or less dirt road. 2/3's the way I came across a mountain range, again all steep limestone cliffs. In muang nan soup for lunch (as well for breakfast, the best for a day of cycling! And dinner too). And going over another hump and around a curve there it was again! The mighty Mekong! Going full speed down the grade I caught a ferry boat just about to leave with another passenger. 5 min later and I went ashore on the westbank of the river. Another 2 hrs on partially fairly bumpy dirt road and I reached sayaboury, the capital of the namesake province. Coming into town one notices immediately lots of 'taco bell' mansion (asian style); big, almost monstrous, of course the greek pillars are all there. Apparently the town is getting rich from smuggling.

clocked 1000 km today
Km 112.3, Ave 18.4, Tm 6.04

Jan 20, 2010

Day 19, Jan 20, luang prabang

No, really! Tomorrow I'm going to leave. Just not today... 4 hr breakfast (coffee, croissant, the paper, you get the picture). Hung out with Christian; having a last dinner together; packing and preparing, etc. By the way, in the evening it rained, or rather drizzled a bit. Rather unusual around this time of the year.

Day 18, jan 19. Luang prabang

Another day of leisure in luang prabang. Christian happens to be in town as well (remember? The guy who bicycled from germany?). So we got together, having breakfast at the Mekong river front, checking out the market and finding by pure coincidence a crafts and arts workshop run by one of the silk product stores. Set on a lot above the Mekong with beautiful landscaping, gardening and views we spent there a couple of hours learning about silk, weaving and watching the weavers. Just amazing! Of course I couldn't stop myself and did some shopping. in the evening we met Jim again and we had a great dinner, few beers, drinks and good laughs...

Jan 18, 2010

Day 17, Jan 18, luang prabang

It's kind of difficult to part from this place (despite the high concentration of tourist, especially from france and Germany).
One doesn't have to do anything in particular to enjoy this town. For me, no temple, museums, etc, I'm templed out anyway from previous trips.
But what I did today was working. Well, sort of... I did some cooking, to be more precise I attended a Lao cooking course. First we visited the market where the teacher explained all the different goods, produce, spices, etc. We drove then outside the city to the school's compound. A creek flowing by, lotus ponds, beautiful landscaping, a little shangri-la! We learned about Lao cuisine, the difference to thai cuisine, the habits and customs regarding food, etc. The next 4 hours we spent cooking, half a dozen different dishes, sticky rice and a dessert. The preparation of Lao food (as well as thai food) is in general fairly simple. It almost always comes with sticky rice, lots of leaf greens and with a preference to bitter, salty and spicy.
It was quite fun and totally yummy!
Now sitting at the riverbank with a beerlao in my hand watching the sky burning up....

Day 16, Jan 17, luang prabang

9.15-14.30: Coffee, croissant, coffee, beerlao,laab moo, gin and tonic... Well, it's Sunday, isn't it?!?
And in the evening a phantastic multi course dinner ($10!!$).

Day 15, Jan 16, luang prabang

The guesthouse I stayed at last night was a throwback to past backpacker's days. It wasn't the $0.50 cubicle ála 1980's khao san rd, but the walls where paperthin and the noise level throughout the night high. No thanks, been there, done it...after breakfast at cafe chang i went roomhunting. Surprisingly there are still very good deals right in the center (boutiqueish places go for $40-80 ). So i got a room next to a pagoda on a semiquiet street for just $12! Incl. wifi!

A very, very relaxed town; one actually has to describe it as a sullen place. If one cannot wind down in luang prabang must suffer under a serious nervous condition and is in need of strong medication...
One can sit for hours in one of the many riverside patio bars/ restaurants nursing a beer or two. For now it's a mojito ....

Laos in general, on par with myanmar, is a very quiet place. Just the almost compete absence of traffic takes care of that. Laotians themselves incl. all the different ethnic groups are pretty relaxed, let's say in comparison to Thais who can get easily overenthusiastic.

Jan 15, 2010

Day 14, Jan 15, nong khiaw to luang prabang

Slept till 6.45, had b/f, then coffee, and got on the road at 8. I had a bit of ambition to make good time to luang prabang. I reckoned it'd be around 120 km, it turned out to be 145. Again, another phantastic day, riding and otherwise!
The elevation changes were very moderate, within 170 m, for it followed the course of several rivers, nam miang, nam nga, nam ou and finally the mother of all rivers, the mighty nam khong, also known as Mekong.
Nam is btw the word for almost all liquids and everything related to fluids. nam prik (spicy sauce), nam (water), hoang nam (bathroom), nam nom (milk), nam (river), etc.
Cool and overcasted in the morning, the sun tried several times desperately to break through, which he/she accomplished not before 13.30.
Late noon I had a bath in the nam ou, desperately. Then along the road in a village an amazing sight, an elephant with his mahout! See the video...
The landscape is again karst and steep limestone cliffs. After half the distance the road meets the nam ou again. It follows ithe river to a point maybe 15 km before the confluence with the Mekong. Over the bridge and another 15 km and there is the Mekong! What a sight and joy! It's now 2 weeks ago when I saw the river last. The last 10 km into luang prabang wasn't really a joy, bad airpollution from too much traffic. Finally I rolled into town at 15.30, not bad! Too exhausted to look around i hit the very first guesthouse, cleaned up and went to the riverside restaurant where I used to go.
Later, after dark strolled about town, did some emailing (wifi again), a bit of shopping on the night market, eat some more, etc.

Km 145, Ave 22.2, Tm 6.22

Day 13, Jan 14, muang ngoi to nong khiaw

A good night's rest, slept 9 hrs. Got up to explore the village. It's accessible only by boat. There are no cars or other motorvehicles. All around are steep limestone cliffs. Very pretty. Still I decided to take the next boat to nong khiaw. Packing my bags I notice I had a flat tire. The first on 3 bike tours. Got that fixed quickly and jumped on the boat 20 min later. And the boat was full with backpackers; so far I had been only among locals with a few traveller here and there. Another great boat trip! Past karst formation, villages precariously perched along the river bank and the river itself, it is a stunning landscape!
Arriving in nong khiaw at first not much seemed to have changed in comparison to 3 years ago. At second glance one notice way more backpackers all over the place. Let's hope it will not become another vang vieng...
Otherwise not much happened today. The fancy place where I stayed last time cost now twice as much. I took a bungalow on the opposite site of the river.
Everybody is suffering (sort of) under the cold spell. It's unusually cold, around 16 degrees. Apparently it's gonna be over by tomorrow.

Km a few, Ave low, tm ?.?.

Day 12, Jan 13, phongsali to muang ngoi

At 5.15 the public broadcast started again. I got up by then anyway to make sure I'd catch the slow boat down the nam ou river. The boatlanding ban hatsa is 20 km away. But I didn't know I long it would take. My worries were groundless because it was more or less 20 km downhill. When I got on the road it was dark and foggy. I couldn't go very fast. But around 6.15 it become brighter though still foggy. From then on it was downhill mountainbiking of the first order! Altogether I made it in an hour to hatsa. Now I'm waiting for the boat to leave.
The boat left at 10 past 10. Well...
The ride to muang koua took 6 hrs. Again, quite an experience. This is not a tourist gimmick, you won't see any. Every 5 to 10 km is some small villag clinging to the steep slope. 70% of the land along the river is cultivated, usually in the slash and burn mode. The rest is old and regrown forest. An absolutely scenic trip.
Getting off the boat I'm muang koua a boatman approched me saying he goes to muang ngoi the very instant. I jumped on that offer instead of staying overnight and taking the boat next morning anyway. The night arrived before we did in muang ngoi, which made the scenery almost ghostlike. Now we are in one of the many incredibly beautiful areas of se asia covered by karst/ limestone formations.
Muang ngoi wasn't much to look at in the night. Very quiet it was though.

Km 20 Ave 20. Tm 2.00.

200-250 (?) km, 10 hrs by boat

Day 11, Jan 12, boun tai to phongsali

Another day of hard riding. But it was worth every km and every % of incline. First I checked out the ruins of the old French fort in boun tai.
It turned out it is dirt road all the way to ban yo resp. the remains of the old french cobbelstone road. Dirt road means half as slow as on a paved one. Anyway, it's winding its way up and down through a amazing landscape again, almost half of it is dense jungle. Partially it goes along the nam boun river.
Finally I reached pavement, what a pleasure after 100 km on dirt! Around 1.30 I arrived in boun neung where the road splits. The left fork another 80 km to china, the right fork to phonsali resp. ban hatsa. I turned right and very soon it went up, up, and more up through heavily forested area to an elevation of 1400m. And more or less that was the course for the next 35km. For the most part one travels along mountain ridges which are higher than the surrounding mountains. often enough there is a view to either side. I would say it's one of the most scenic roads in Laos. Just phantastic! At the end of this elevated highway is phonsali. A fairly big town inhabitated by various hilltribes. Chinese is spoken widely besides 2 other local dialects.
Speaking of which, 20 CCTV (chinese state tv) channels on tv in the hotel, kinda interesting to channelsurf. CCTV very much ultranationalistic. btw, Christian said there is no access to gmail, yahoo, blogspot, google, etc. anywhere in china; total information control...

Km 91. Ave 14.5. Tm 6.15

8.30 to 16.30

Day 10, jan11, na teuy to boun tai

A long and hard riding day. I started at 8.30 and it went pretty smooth the first dozens of km to the turn off to ban kouang.
On every bike trip I try to do a stage or two to or through undiscovered resp. unexplored areas. This time i planned going to phongsali not via udomxai, but shortcutting from a point southeast of the junction where the road leads to boten/china. I could not get any information about this area. On different maps it shows various trails going north to boun tai. But all the maps about Laos are absolutely imprecise. fortunately the jct. is signposted as it is another road to china which forks off 20 km to the north. It's all dusty, bumpy, rocky, everything but smooth and paved. Oh, and it's another rollercoaster... It goes through an amazing landscape. Every 5 to 10 km one passes by or through a village populated by one of the many hilltribes. What an eyesight! Not only for me but for them too. Coz' they have never seen a 'farang' coming through their village and not on a bicycle anyway. Most women and girls still wear their traditional dresses. Not so the male youngsters, they dress more like thai hipsters, what they see on tv. That is one of the very few symptoms of the modern age one can see in those areas, most villages have a satellite dish (run on generators).
All over the northern provinces opium was a main crop. Those times are over though it's still possible to obtain opium if one really wants it.
Various efforts (e.g. chinese dea involvement) pretty much succeded to eradicate large scale poppy farming (it's being done in myanmar now) Poppy has been substituted by crops such as tea, cane, teak, etc.
Finally after almost 8 hrs on the bike I got to boun tai. Contrary to previous bike trips this time I didn't have a hard time to figure out the correct trail. All the people I asked knew the way. That is a rather unusual experience. By the time I found the (only and unmarked) hotel in boun tai it was 6.30 and getting dark.
Exhausted, but exhiliarated i had a multi course dinner. And a few beerlao...

Km 101. Ave 13.6. Tm 7.23

Day 9, Jan 10, luang namtha to na teuy

Wow, 40 km! ? Well, here is what happened: I made pretty good time to na teuy, which is the turn off to china. I pulled over at the crossroads restaurant for lunch. I enjoyed a good bowl of soup when I saw a bike traveller swinging around, apparently coming from china ( the border crossing is 20km up north). And what a traveller this guy turned out to be! He bicycled all the way from Frankfurt/ Germany through eastern Europe, Russia, kyrgistan, china and now Laos towards Singapore!! What a accomplishment! That is really something! Christian is now in the pantheon of my personal heros....
And what was supposed to be a quick lunchbreak become a beergarden session. Talking, discussing, philosophing, exchanging information, travel tips and just shooting the breeze, and downing a couple of beerlao till late afternoon. What a pleasure and not really in need of an excuse (to break the ride short).
So I decided to stay here overnight, Christian carried on to luang namtha.

Km 39.2. Ave 20.7. Tm 1.53


Day 8 Jan 9, luang namtha

Slept till 8.30! Not much else happened after that. Went to the wifi cafe which must be the only one within hundreds of kms, and did my email, blogging, etc, till 3.30. Back to the bungalow hanging out on the porch, drinking, reading, listening to music. Another successful day.

Km 5.4. Ave 12.5. Tm 0.25

Jan 8, 2010

Day 7, Jan 8, muang sing back to luang namtha

Last night was the warmest so far. Coming into this big flat valley I had the impression of a slight climatic zone change. Crossing the mountain range it became warmer and even the jungle looked more dry.
I thought I would check out the market, which is supposed to be one of the most colorful ones in the golden triangle, before I ride back to namtha. But there was no market at all. But I bumped into a couple, David and mai who live in chiang kong. David told me of interesting areas and also enthused me even more to try the short cut from namtha up north heading to phongsali.
Finally around 9/10 I managed to leave town. It became warm very soon. And I had to ride uphill for 25 km. Stopped at a small jungly ravine and scrambled up the creek for little ways. A few miles up the road, I'm in nam ha NP again, I pull over for a waterfall. After paying 5000kip I ride a narrow trail for maybe a km where the waterfall is. Have a bath and shower. Back on the highway it's soon over the crest and the going gets easier. Between 2 villages there are these 3.4 kids. One boy is bleeding badly from a cut on his thumb. I get the first aid kit out and bandage his finger. Around 2pm I get closer to town and stop at a restaurant sitting on stilts over the water for a delicious laab moo.
Check into namtha river lodge, a beautiful place with great bungalows, polished teakwood floors and all. Later I go into town and do my email, there is wifi! For the iPhone.
Meet David and Mai again, we sit down at the night market and shoot the breeze til late night, 9pm that is.

Km 58. Ave 19. Tm 3.02

Remote Asia vientane Jim motorcycle travel

Day 6, Jan 7, luang namtha to muang sing

Arrived in muang sing, actually 5km out of town around 2 and check into the stupa mtn lodge. It's situated on a hill slope overlooking the great floodplain on which the town, surrounded by rice paddies, sits.
A phantastic ride it was! A narrow but paved road; not much traffic; and a great scenery! For most part the road leads through the nam ha NP. The jungle goes right to the highway shoulder. I pulled over a few times, also for a jungle stroll. Visited a woodworking factory as well as a sawmill. Helped out a couple with a flat tire. Their airpump didn't work, made in china... Speaking of which, I'm sitting barely 10 km away from the border to Yunnan. A visa would be possible, but it takes 5 days. So not this time. Sitting where? In a bamboo hut restaurant right on the edge of the rice paddies looking across to china's mountains.
On the way back to the guesthouse I came across a moonshining operation. Well, most likely it's legal. Anyway, this man was operating a well making rice whiskey. the bottle at the bamboo outlet was a third full. He offered me a shotglass which he filled from the bamboo nozzle. It was still warm. Tasted not too bad. Of course there was a (not too big) concern to go blind (it didn't happen).
Back at the GH heading over to the restaurant to get a beer I walked by the bungalow they wanted to give me, but i chose the furthest one away. Good luck coz there was a octuple ant freeway l.a. style going maybe 20m and then heading up on the stilt right into this bungalow.

Km 74.2. Ave 17.9. Tm 4.08

Day 5, Jan 6, vieng poukha to luang namtha

6.30 am, everbody up! For you gotta listen to the national anthem, quite a nice one actually, but then some. I guess, political indoctrination. That is some progress to what I experienced in vietnam 16 years ago, they would start the propaganda broadcast at 5! Same earsplitting volume though.
On the road at 9. Again some climbing but less than yesterday. The cliffs rise on both sides of the road. On the narrow valley floor rice paddies recently being planted. After 20 km i get to the kao rai cave. Through banana plantings goes a trail for 200m and ends at the cliff wall where the gated entrance is. After 20min the gate keeper comes and lets me in. Actually he guides me. First a side shaft in and up maybe for 200 m. It's damp and warm, rather unusual. Back to the main shaft we follow that one for maybe 400m. It's quite big, up to 30 m high. Towards where we turn around, are travertine teracces. One can see how high the water will be the next raining season.
Back on the highway. The road levels out, sort of. It goes only 100 m up, then it's coasting down again. But there are few stretches which are steeper and higher! Crossing the nam ha np. More primary forest, amazing landscape and nature! Still, there is active (illegal) logging. And the military is in involved as one photo shows.
At 1.30 I arrive in luang namtha and ride straight to the boat landing gh. It's $40 a night, but I don't care, yesterday I paid only $5, so it's a good average. My bungalow is on the bluff above the nam tha river.
Later I bike into the country side along rice paddies on the way to that phum phuk (that=pagoda), which was toppled by a bomb during the second indochina war. Right next to it a copy of the original stupa had been erected.
Back to the highway and into the new town. The vulgar taste of newly rich can be seen everywhere. Disgusting new buildings! Mostly Chinese owned. After a first dinner at a Indian restaurant back to the lodge for a second dinner. Listening to the frog concert.

Km 76.72. Ave 20.4. Tm 3.45

Don't forget to read Tom dooley's 'the edge of tomorrow' and 'the night they burned the mountain'

Day 4, Jan 5, ban doncha to vieng poukha

Sitting in open restaurant overlooking viang phouka. Arrived fairly early, around 1.30. Last night there was lots of commotion just outside the guesthouse in ban donchai, trucks passing by all night. Only bumpy gravel surface, soil I heard it bumping and clanging. On the road at 8. Just cookies for b/f.
Half the road is just gravel. Very hard going, up and down, down and up. Typically a grade is around 10% and goes for a couple of kilometers first up, then down, where you can reach speeds of almost 60 km/h. No problem, now that I have hydraulic disc brakes.
The bike proves itself absolutely worthwhile! First time on tour with front suspension, it makes a huge difference! And the disc brakes, too!
Again the picture is partially fairly recently denuded hill;, pockets of very dense prime forest, sometimes covering pretty large areas. Lots of second growth too. Bamboo thickets everywhere.
Every 15 km some small village, at the entrance the ubiquitious storage sheds on stilts. Most building are wooden huts with thatched roofs. But apparently the preference are cement dwellings.
There is a difference between the peoples higher up and those on river valley bottom. They look different and wear different dresses. And, of course the use the land differently. In the valleys one sees more rice paddies, on the mountain slopes it's corn, teak plantings.

Viang phouka is actually a sort of pleasant town. Must be the biggest between mhuay xai and luang namtha. Rode crisscross thru town checking things out. See also video.
The accommodation is a nice bungalow made out of most amazing wood. 50000 Kip.
In the evening dinner down the hill at the road.
Phantastic laab moo. And petpet! So will be the b/f.
7-8 propaganda broadcast on the pa. Same in the morning.

Km 57.91 ave 14.6 Tm 3.56

Day 3, Jan 4, huay xai to ban doncha

Having b/f next door, noodle soup w/ a delicious broth, yammy. then into town to change money. Bank opens officially at 8.30. in your dreams only. I'm a millionare! $200 buys 1.6 million Kip!
Hitting the road around 9.20. outside of houay xai it becomes very rural very fast. Lots of tribal villages. After a little while we are at it again, 5 miles up, 2 miles down. Occasionally with a lift by a truck, hehe... Hanging on with one hand at the rear bumper inches away from the wheels. Still it's hard work.
Had some very fast and long downhill shots. What goes up has to come down, right?!
After 55 km the road becomes more deteriorated, stretches of gravel. Stop at some jungle ravine, cool and wet.
The landscape, beside hilly resp. mountainous,
is covered partially by prime forest, but to the biggest part it's already denuded.
Around 3.30 I arrive in doncha, after some difficulties I find the hang haem. A surprise, a French couple is already there. They travel on a tandem recumbent bike, a special construction, the rear rider faces backward!
Chat with the couple, drink a beer, do laundry and shower.

Km 70.10, ave 16.3, tm 4.17

Day 2, Jan 3, chiang kong, Thailand to huay xai, Laos

Beautiful view onto and across the Mekong in the morning. Went to bed around 8.30 and slept till 6.30.
Getting everything sorted, fixed and cleaned. Breakfast: kao gai (chicken w/ rice), twice! Then cafe latte (!) prepared w/ 5 sec espresso, never mind, it's not farm table....
Around noon lunch (som tam) at a street stand. On the way to the ferry came across the 'bike museum', huh?? Propietor is Alan bates from England, a professional bicyclist. He will be in sf around June 21 to start his north America leg of the around the world record try to beat the what's his name ass. Interesting character and museum. Then checking out of Thailand, crossing the Mekong and checking into Laos.
Hotel mekhong, 500 bt.
Now sitting in a riverside tavern getting slowly drunk on 99 cent beer Lao....
Dinner at a roadside stand, 10 skewers of something. To bed early, and a bit of tv....

Km 16, ave 13.9, tm 1.10.

Day 1, Jan 2, chiang rai to chiang kong

Arrived from Bangkok by plane in chiang rai around 10. Had been travelling from sf for about 30 hrs incl. layovers.assembled my bike and got on the road by 11.30. Forgot how difficult it is to figure out directions. Hardly any latin writing and asking thais for directions is a crapshoot. Rode through very rural area. Rice, corn, teak. Hot and exhausting from 1 to 4. Got into chiang khong at 5.30.

Km 117 ave 19.3 tm 6.01