Thursday, December 14, 2006

Cycling Nothern Laos (3)

Tuesday (February 24, 2006)
Before sunrise we woke up and packed our bags for the 6:30am bus to LUANG PRABANG. We have to wake the guesthouse owner in order to open the door for us. The morning was unpleasantly cold because we don’t bring any jacket. Plus cycling just gives us enough grieve as our bodies are extremely freezing. The morning was so quite as anybody is still in their beds but when we reach the NOTHERN BUS STATION the situation varies. Surprisingly the station is a little bit busy and the stalls are open… few western traveler sleeps at the corner of the station.

Unlike in MALAYSIA everybody is friendly and helpful. Not even within local and foreigners but among themselves. Buses are one of the most important transports in LAO… they can bring anything along their journey. On top of our bus, there’s few bags of padi grain, vegetables, small animals, motorcycle and a full size refrigerator to name a few… J if you plan to travel by bicycle to LAO, you won’t find any problem if you’re tired, or lazy to cycle or just want to show of your modern, expensive soft tail mountain bike… you can always put your bicycle on top of their vehicle.

11 hours to go. J Imagine traveling using non-VIP bus in Malaysia… there’s no 24-seater in their book of bus dictionary. What can I say… plus you can bring anything along that you can imagine sitting on top of a bus. The journey was quite an experience… if driving through MALAYSIA PLUS North-South highway you don’t even have to raise your hand and pee at the bushes, even worst doing a serious business. But, here in LAOS is a MECCA for I-bet-I-can-do-it-anywhere-I-want…

Before 11pm the bus stops at KASI village for 30 minutes lunch. We just eat biscuits and fruits we found on one of the stalls at KASI. We spend our lunchtime with a crazy Frenchmen, who is super friendly but we can’t understand a bit what he’s saying. But, before we get back to our bus he shouts really2 loud “I’m GAY!!... YEAY!!!” and catch everybody attention. And to make the story a little more interesting he sits besides me until we reach LUANG PRABANG, true luck huh… and ZUL sits beside beautiful LAO girl with a baby that he always talk about even when we return to MALAYSIA. The roads getting rougher and stiffer after KASI… but the good news is the view-to-die-for getting more and more impressive. And this is what does excite me most.

In the bus the conductor starts to spread small plastic bags to every passenger. My curiosity ended when most of the passenger starts to have a vomiting party. Well let’s party!.

We arrived in LUANG PRABANG around 5pm… it was quite a journey. Packed our bags and get our bicycle from top of the bus. While workout our panniers and ZUL pump his puncture tire, a man approach us for accommodation. Bargaining started and we closed deal on USD5 per-night at his guesthouse. Fairly it was located near the MEKONG RIVER. It was cozy with a wooden style house and a shared bathroom. By the way his name is SAI’.

Wat Xieng Thong
Well we spend our day in LUANG PRABANG by cycling around the temples and palace using the peninsular road. Compared to MEKONG RIVER at VIENTIANE, here in LUANG PRABANG is much more breathtaking.

Lucky us we find our favorite restaurant NAZIM for an early dinner… J hehehe MUTTON BRIYANI.

At night we almost can’t cycle… it was too damn cold. Since we decide it was our last day in LUANG PRABANG cycling in a chill-to-the-bone weather wasn’t an excuse. At the center of LUANG PRABANG city there was a night market. You can find a wide range of local handicraft especially LAO mountain people… and little stuff from china.

Luang Prabang Night Market
After a cup of NESCAFE at the one of the cafĂ©… we cycle back to our guesthouse to relax and plan for tomorrow.

Wednesday (February 24, 2006)
Wake up early to catch our SongTheaw to NONG KHIAW. The first plan is to cycle there, however, by SongTheaw we can reach NONG KHAI in the afternoon. After that we will decide whether we want to stay there or continue crossing Nothern LAOS to VIETNAM border.

Sai’ our guesthouse host waiting downstairs to bring us to the northern bus station. We follow Sai’ with our bicycles through busy LUANG PRABANG morning. We even cycle along the steel bridge crossing MEKONG RIVER. Sai’ pointing out the SongTheaw that supposed going to NONG KHIAW. I’m pretty excited since SongTheaw is just a Lorry with roof and long bench stretch along its back carrier. And we have to sit inside there 5 hours until reach NONG KHIAW. J Arrived early isn’t a good idea because sitting in front of the row going to make you freeze to death, unless you bring a nice warm sweater. Us? Just sleeveless t-shirt… can’t you imagine the idiocy. And nobody cares.

Preparing to Vieng Kham
Arrived at NONG KHIAW 5 hours later. It was too cold to handle, and dusty journey. However, the view is something you can’t imagine. It certainly payoff our uncomfortable journey. While others travelers waiting for boat to MUANG NGOI… we checked our bicycle conditions and pump a few air to Zul tyres, packed our bags to our panniers and cycle towards VIENG KHAM(nearly 100km from NONG KHIAW). Our eagerness and stupidity eats our guts off. We forget to buy some food, or even take lunch… or any fruits, and even forget to buy or top up our water reserves.

Mountain Village
The roads conditions is to tough to handle. Even the view is spectacular… climbing steep roads along the way without water and food is NOT possible. Even everybody can’t do it I think. Hehehe. After nearly 4 hours cycling + several 15 minutes nap in between cycling and 2 bottles of of water not more then a liter we pray for SongTheaw to pass by.

Thank god we’re saved after that.

Before 7pm we reach Vieng Kham.
Unfortunately there’s only one guesthouse, and there’s no transportation over 200km towards VIENG THONG. For us crossing the boarder as fast as we can is our target. They’re one Swedish couple stranded at the village over 2 days. Locals said that once in a while there’s bus going through the village towards SAM NEUAbut nobody no the schedule.

We make a deal with one of the villagers (sorry I don’t now to spell his name) to bring us to SAM NEUA (15 hours by SongTheaw), he charge us US dollar 100 per person. By our power of bargain and persuasion, we manage to get 40 per person. J But the deal is over night at VIENG THONG (paid by the driver) and early morning tomorrow continues towards Sam Neua.

Fixed both our bicycle beside the SongTheaw, say bye and good luck to the Swedish couple and we off to VIENG THONG. No wonder it’s so expensive (but I think local pay less), we have to go through roads without proper pavement, mountains, cold, thick forest and it’s too dark because the trees is so tall, even the moonlight can’t get through.

Trying to stay put because my bicycle tightens behind me, the paddles hitting my hip every time we have a bumpy ride (giving me rash too). After blistering night, fighting with zul for his comfy and warm sleeping bag we arrived at cold and quite VIENG THONG. It was 12:49am.
Hopeless looking for food as we didn’t eat since we depart from LUANG PRABANG. Ask the driver for PA’ (fish in LAOs), he went to few houses but NO chance, only pork and meat. Well at leas we’re half way.

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