One helmet on thousands of coffee beans
It was an early start. Wolfing down the very average breakfast at Sang Aroun Hotel, we set off gingerly with butterflies in our stomachs at 0800. 50km of climbing awaited us from 100m to 1200m. The four of us cycled steadily through surprisingly very thick traffic. Though it was a nice cool 17c, the black smoke from poorly maintained diesel trucks and buses nearly choked us to death.
After about 8km, things got better. The traffic was seemingly lighter and the scenes of the beautiful Lao countryside started to appear. The sun was breaking through and made for superb lighting. The incline at this stage was nearly imperceptible and gave our lazy legs the much needed warm up.
We averaged about 10-15kmh which was dismal but things were going to get worse. At 21km, we arrived at Banana Junction and stopped there for a breather and fresh fruits, perhaps for too long. A Danish couple joined our table and we enjoyed good conversations. Many people rode on rented Honda mopeds and we were wondering if we should have done the same.
Our progress was painful and the sun was starting to blaze. It took forever for us to climb to 31km marker and the gradient got steeper. At this stage, we were stopping every 4km and we took nearly an hour to cover such a short distance. Wei on a racer and being much younger than us oldies on foldies naturally went up faster and it was kind of her to wait for us. We passed blacksmiths and coffee drying in the sun, but were too tired to explore further. Soon, our energy levels were waning and we had a simple lunch of fried eggs with onions plus sticky rice at a simple and dinghy Laotian roadside eatery. US$5 with drinks for the 4 of us and that got us recharged to tackle more hills.
We were so glad to arrive at 40km mark where Tad Fan, the first waterfall awaited us. It was a 1km ride on dirt roads and the Expedition and Speed 16, both with wide tires, covered easily.
Tad Fan has a eco-resort cum lovely restaurant overlooking the magnificient falls and we refreshed ourselves there with Lao beer, spring rolls and lots of french fries.
It took us a long while to peel ourselves away from such a sight and knowing that in just 2km, was another waterfall Tad Yeung did the trick. Here, it was a 2km dusty road that really rattled every bone we had. This falls were rather different and flattish and there were many restaurants and even a relatively expensive lodge there. We were all quite spent and wanted to stay there but unfortunately, they wanted a prince ransom for a very average wooden hut. No deal!
Pressing on at 5pm, we had one hour of sunlight left before reaching Paksong and we had to ride in the dark. We made the mistake of not planning for night riding and only Mike had a proper light which all of us depended on. Pitch dark, blinded constantly by oncoming traffic, cold, and just pointing our front wheel straight and hoping for the best made for a most harrowing ride.
I took comfort that my guardian angel is always before us and true enough at 730pm, we spotted Christmas lights on the side of the road. Turned out Greenview Guest House had a beautiful large room that could take four of us for only US$15. The owner took pity on 4 dirty, scruffy and shivering cyclists and drove us to a nearby restaurant for dinner in this brand new Hilux ute. Such wonderful Laos hospitality and kindness which really made our day!