Friday, November 21, 2008

The ride begins!

Another 2 days in Luang Prabang made it all the more harder to leave this beautiful french provincial town but today, it had to be done. After a hearty breakfast at the Chang Cafe along Kingkitsalat Road just by the Nam Khan River (look out for an old 1960 white Mercedes), we made our way south along Route 13 to Vientiane.
The cool 15c ride for the first 25km was easy enough, passing through quite small villages. Traffic became increasingly lighter though a few huge trailers and coaches, particularly the "King of the Bus" ones, zoomed passed us a bit unnervingly on some narrow sections. Their exhausts spewing black poisonous diesel smoke can truly induce vomit.

Then, the torture started. 15km of continuous climbing. We started at 300m and ended up 1100m. It was a bitter taste of what laid ahead and getting stuck on granny gear on the LHT most times was not fun. I quickly learned that climbing is a mind game, spinning at a leisurely 8 - 10kmh, the temptation to push the bike was great. But the shame of it was too unbearable and provided the perfect motivation to plod on. My strategy was to stop every 2km to enjoy the view and catch my breath. That worked very well. It helped immensely too that there were plenty of drink stalls every 10km for a recharged if necessary.

What goes up must come down and our reward for the hard climbing was flying 15km downhill. Zooming at 30-40kmh will give any adrenaline junkie a satisfying fix. Add in the spectacular mountain views, I knew this was going to be one heck of a ride. One concern was overheated brakes but that sure was better than having over-tired legs.

We arrived 53km at Nam Ming, a village at the foot of the hill with a beautiful bridge around 1pm, hungry but happy.

Unfortunately, the only food available was instant noodles and the heavily made up shopkeeper took pity on us and made some spicy ones with eggs. Beggars can't be choosers and we wolved it down, pondering our next move - a steep 22km to Kiou Ka Cham.

As there were only 2 guesthouses at KKC and we estimated the 1500m climb to take 3-4 hours, there was a chance we could be up there stranded with no room. It so happened that Ms Make Up had a spacious pick-up and her brother was willing to bring us up for 150,000kips (US$18). So feeling slightly embarassed, we loaded our 3 LHTs behind and enjoyed the ride. That move happened to be a smart one as we found out later that a Belgium couple started the climb at 9am, and reached the peak at 3pm!

Chris asked the driver to drop us 1km before town so we could experience some "climbing" and maintained what precious dignity we had left. A prudent move as only one guesthouse was opened and we managed to get the last "big" room at the back of the restaurant. The Dung Rabbit guesthouse was reputed to be the dingier one with non-flushing squat toilet in a "Oh my gosh" common bathroom.

You won't want to stay in this toilet for too long - Pic CW

DR was described by a CGOAB cyclist to be a trucker's brothel stop but we found it "acceptable". The owners tried to make us comfortable and got hot water in a pail for our evening bath. I enjoyed that very much.
Our pre-dinner walkabout of KKC was pleasant enough with us busy snapping pictures of village children playing and having lots of fun in an abandoned truck.

Dinner was a simple affair of rice and dishes and we met Meerteen and Katherin, the Belgium couple with brand new mountain bikes. They soon became our riding buddies to Vientiane.

We retired early into our pink beds as the evening was getting colder, surrounded by too many posters of various Lao ladies on the wall.

Temp raising posters ... good for cold weather - Pic CW

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