Sunday, November 23, 2008

Vientiane at last

Almost there and in high spirits! Pic CW

Thalat is very much a typical country small town in Laos and our hotel had complementary (and compulsory) natural wake up call through over-enthusiastic cockerals. We were glad to leave this morning after a very basic breakfast. Route 10 is the longer but more scenic way than Route 13 and with its good roads, light traffic and better scenery as it runs alongside the Na Lik River, is the recommended choice for cyclists. It was a 92km run to the capital city and we were excited about this final day of riding.

The first 10km proved to be a tad hilly but after that, it was a breezy and easy ride through very quiet villages and small towns. While coasting down a hill, a butterfly got caught at my chin strap and thankfully managed to free itself. Talk about getting close to nature. At our first rest stop, we spotted our 2 Belgian friends just cycling out and celebrated another re-union. We had thought that after yesterday's hard ride, they would stay for another night to enjoy the lakeside so this was a surprise. Their can-do spirit impressed me no end as they were carrying 12kg huge backpacks on bamboo and were newbies.

For some reason, this ride seemed the hottest. Riding quickly or slowly, it made no difference and it was just a question of bearing with the heat and drinking lots of fluids. The game plan was to stop every 20km to cool off with ice cold energy drinks and we were once again lavished with fabulous Lao hospitality. One lunch spot we stopped served only Pho - the MSG laced type with suspect meats like tongue, curdled blood and pieces of meat I could not recognised. The kind seller obliged my request to make my own lunch and allowed me to use her cooking facilities. My basic culinary skills enabled me to whipped out a lunch of sticky rice with garlic, shallot and chilly omelete. My hungry cyclists all tucked in ravenously and voted this to be the best on the road lunch ever! Guess when its that or suspicious meat noodles, its not much of a compliment.

Chef me at work - Pic CW
While resting at our last stop 13km from Vientiane, another very friendly shopkeeper took out the chairs for us and even put a big stone in front of my rested bike to prevent it from moving. This amazing warmness truly is something I will never forget about this trip to Lao. Suddenly, a white pick-up zoomed past us with 2 farangs screaming at us. We recognised them immediately. Our Belgian friends, Meerten and Katerin, managed to get a free ride as the heat was too unbearable for them. It was a good thing too as Meerten's LA Gear bike broke 2 rear spokes.

We wasted no time and gave chase. It was the fastest 13km in our trip. Zooming into Vientiane at 30kmh, weaving through traffic, we reached the iconic Patuxai, (Lao's Arc de Triumpe) in less than 30 mins.

There, our friends were surprised that we arrived so quickly and they only waited 3 mins for us! There was a great sense of celebration, just like the end of the Tour de France, only instead of champagne popping, we had humble water in our well worn plastic bottles.

5 dirty bikes with panniers and 5 most unpresentable and smelly riders attracted curious onlookers. The obligatory group photo in front of the famous monument marked the official end of our long journey.

Proof that we made it! Pic CW

People could not believe we rode all the way down from Luang Prabang. What took 50 mins by twin propellors took us 5 days of hard riding to complete. A sense of accomplishment and amazement filled my heart. Its incredible that we covered all that 450km distance through the mountains on two wheels and a chain, powered just by our legs. Indeed, it goes to prove how marvellous and efficient the humble bicycle is.

We checked in the Heritage B&B and enjoyed all that Vientiane had to offer. It was with deep sadness that we cleaned our mud scarred bikes and packed them into bike boxes purchased from a French bike shop. The celebration dinner with the Belgians was at the fabulous non-profit NGO run restaurant called the Makphet. The decor of this place is lined with bright and colourful childrens' paintings, adding to its cheerful ambience. Food was fusion Lao and served on a low table with us sitting on cushions.

What a great 2 week bike trip it has been and we cannot believe we had made it to Vientiane at last!

1 comment:

omegaforest said...

That's chef on a foldie! Using what's available! I must say very privilege cycling companion!