Sunday, November 23, 2008

The longest day

What was supposed to be the end of a short 25km ride, Tha Hua - Pic CW

Lonely Planet map check - another 80km to go! Bummer...

It was supposed to be an easy ride of 25km to the fishing village of Ban Thahua. There, we were planning to take a leisurely 2 hr boat ride to our destination, Na Num at the other end of the man made lake.

Being thoroughly rested, we punched to Thahua in a lightning pace and just took just over an hour in the cool morning air. The roads were broken no thanks to last month's monsoons and heavy traffic. Once again, the menu was gravel and dust and the first casualty was KG's rear tire that went flat.

This was a golden opportunity to demonstrate Puncture Repair 101 to Meerten who had plans to ride to Vietnam and had not done this before. It helped that we stopped in a shady wooden hut overlooking the beautiful Ang Nam Ngum lake.

We were absolutely delighted to find a boatman willing to take us to Na Num for 200000 kips but our joy turned to disappointment when the big boat he promised looked only slightly bigger than a dug out canoe.

Would you allow your Surly to board this? Pic CW

There was no way all 5 of us plus bikes could fit and going into that was like jumping straight into a watery grave. Reluctantly, we looked at the map once again and saw the 90km detour by road we had to make. Though everyone put up brave faces and a gung ho attitude, I could see the disappointment written all over our faces. What was supposed to be 25km was now going to be 4-5 times longer!

It was not encouraging too that this route meant more dust storms, rolling hills, gravel, traffic and more merciless blazing sun. When we arrived at Phon Hong, we were powder coated with fine brown dust.

Our destination Na Num was another 27km and the back roads to get there was far more pleasant. By the time we arrived at Thalat, the sun was nearly down and it did not help that we lost one of our riders. A frantic search proved fruitless and with our energy levels on overdraft, I could not help feeling extremely frustrated. The Belgians decided to head for Na Num but we decided to turn back to Thalat as there was a rather promising hotel, The Khamphong Guesthouse and the possibility of good food. Doing so, we saw a lone light in the darkness and the lost cyclist was finally found much to everyone's relief.

For such a one cow town like Thalat, we must have checked into the Ritz with cold aircon, firm mattresses and crisp bed sheets and covers that looked exactly like Dr Mahatir's (Malaysian's controversial ex PM) blue bush jacket. We felt really bad messing up the spotless room with our dirty laundry!

The "Ritz" of Thalat - Khamphong Guesthouse. Highly recommended!

And that dirt is only from one sock! Yucks...

I never felt so happy checking into a guesthouse after such a tiring day. 114km was recorded on the Cateye and this proved way too much when the original plan was 25km. You could say it was our longest day in every sense of the word. Phew!

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