17 August - Bao Lao – Sepon - 50km
We crossed the
border without any difficulty. We just had to fill in a form,
pay $35, produce a photo and we were A for away. Laos
immediately appeared more laidback, less motorbikes and less
populated than Vietnam. There appears to be very few ATM’s
around so Ernest had to turn back to go draw money on the
Vietnam side of the border and then change it to Laos Kip with the local
ladies. Changing money at the border is always a tricky
situation and seldom a win-win situation.
The ride was
extremely scenic but very hilly with loads of kids shouting
“hello” (sapadii) along the way.
18 August - Sepong - Donghen - 133km
We cycled up and
down many hills, past dense forests, valleys, river and
waterfalls. Along the way were hundreds of friendly children
shouting “Sapadii Falang” translating to Hello tourist.
Most houses are
built on stilts and water buffalo, goats, chickens, and black
pigs wander freely. Along the way were many small villages and
Buddhist temples surrounded by rice paddies. The air was fresh
with the smell of herbs and smoke from cow dung and charcoal
fires, it so reminded me of Africa.
19 August - Donghen- Savanakket - 73km
Another scenic day
on the road, it made me happy to be on the bike. What little
breeze there was, was just enough to prevent us from totally
burning up. We once again sweated buckets. We still arrived in
Savanakket early enough to look around for a room at a leisurely
pace, do some shopping as well as some internet. Before
unpacking ernest went off to look for spares for his worn-out
bike, but to no avail.
With the majority
of the population being Buddhist, it is now also easier to find
vegetarian food. I made good use of this luxury and found myself
a decent plate of food for the total sum of R5,00. Sticky rice
appears to be the main staple here and is eaten with every meal.
Rice boiled in a banana leaf is also available absolutely
Once again I got a
sim card for my phone, but as was the case in Vietnam, I seem to
be able to send an sms but can’t receive any.
Savanakket is a
maze of old crumbling French colonial buildings as well as old
Buddhist temples. Old men sit and play board games in the alleys
and children roam the streets. The smell of incence fills
the air mixed with the aroma from food being fried. After sunset
everyone sits outside on the pavements chatting and nibbling on
street food. Thousands of food stalls line the river frontage
and locals sit on kindergarten chairs chatting and watching the
sun set over the Mekong River.
It was the start
of the Buddhist “Lent” and from early morning bells were ringing
and monks were chanting in the temple across the road. What a
peaceful way to start the day. The streets were lined with food
stalls (mostly vegetarian) and it was a feast walking down the
road and sampling all the strange and wonderful dishes.
Ernest worked on
his bike most of the day, using old parts which came off my bike
(don’t know it that will help much).
22 August - Savanakket – Tha Khaek - 131km
After another day
in Savanakket, we finally left, heading north. The road was
hilly but at least we had some cloud cover for most of the day.
Along the way we stopped for some refreshments and if that was
not a frog soup with noodles, then I don’t know at it was!!
Everyone who runs
or cycles knows the feeling of gasping up a hill and those
little flying bugs gets sucked it right when you least need it.
This time it was a crispy one and before I could say “Laidback
Laos”, it was down the gullet. No matter how I spat it was gone,
well what can one do? Just swallow some water and carry on!! I
thought I could feel it crawling around my stomach all day, or
maybe it was just the frog.
- Tha Khaek
We spent a day of
leisure in Tha Khaek; it is such a peaceful town. We got a
take-away pizza and had a beer overlooking the Mekong River with
Thailand just across on the opposite bank.
I went local and
invested in an umbrella. Ernest like a true South African finds
it real hard to walk past anything that looks like a braai, but
to his surprise found not chops and wors, but pig intestines and
a bowl of crickets. Of course, here in Laos there’s usually also
some rather scrawny chicken portions on the coals
- Thakhek - Vieng Kham - 107km
Ernest and I, once
again, decided to part ways. So I set off on the road, with an
immense sense of freedom. The first few km followed the “great
wall” and I felt good after a day of rest but the euphoria
didn’t last long. Shortly after I left my front wheel started
wobbling like an eggbeater. It was like cycling with the brake
on and hard to go in a straight line. After a 107km and 7 hours
of cycling (that’s cycling time, not including stopping!!) I
finally reached Vieng Kham totally exhausted.
Lo and behold,
would I not meet Ernest at one of the three guesthouses in this
tiny village. Probably not as strange as that was about the only
place to stay within a stretch of 200km. I could tell that he
was not all that impressed with my arrival, but I was too
exhausted to care.
was a scenic day, hilly and hard but still very scenic. Never a
dull moment on this trip!!
- Vieng Kham
First thing in the
morning we went looking around for a new front hub for my bike,
and found an old rusty second hand one, probably from the
1800’s. Ernest spent most of the day working on my bike, and
what a good job he did too, considering what he had to work
He even had time
to go to the market (testing out my “new” front hub) - for some
salad stuff and petrol for his MSR stove. At a little roadside
stall they did not want to sell him the petrol (which is sold in
empty drink bottles), and the reason? - they thought the stupid
“Falang” wanted to drink it!!. After a long animated explanation
they eventually decided that it was safe to sell him the petrol.
- Vieng Kham – Pakxan - 92km
I was as happy as
the proverbial pig!! My bike ran like a dream, now it’s just
Ernest still struggling along with limited gears. If we can just
make it to Vientiane (the capital) which is only 150km away, we
can have everything fixed there, or at least so we are lead to
was again absolutely sublime! No wonder it’s such a popular
travelling area. We also spotted some motorbikes out on the
road, moving a bit faster than us. This is part of the very
famous "Golden Triangle Route”. So for al those keen bikers out
there look up
www.GT-riders.com. Pack your bags and
head for the hills. On this day we also cycled along the Kading
river (a large tributary of the Mekong), and crossed it at the
confluence of the two rivers.
- Pakxan – Pak Ngum - 90km
A real lazy day on
the road, we did not have to go far, so we just ambled along,
enjoying the scenery and the flat road. Scores of “sapadee
falang” came from the children along the road. There were small
villages and Buddhist temples jutting out of the forest around
At times the road
ran next to the Mekong River where villagers sell smoked fish
along the way. Ernest did some shopping and got himself some
dried/smoked catfish and some or other kind of meat delicacy
wrapped in a banana leaf, which he thoroughly enjoyed once we
were settled in for the night.
28-31 August - Pak Ngum – Vientiane - 70 km
It didn’t take
long to reach the capital city of Laos, and first thing we went
straight to the bike shop to enquire about the all important
spare parts - only to find the shop all locked up. The
neighbours told us that the owner was away in Thailand, and that
he would only be back in a few days time after the weekend.
After that we shopped around for a cheap room, but Vientiane has
typical capital city syndrome, ie. you pay more for most things.
First thing Monday
morning we were at the doorstep of the shop again, but still we
found it all locked up. This time the neighbours told us that
the owner would only be back the next day.
It was, however, a
pleasure walking the streets of Vientiane, no rip-offs or touts,
just a Buddhist temple and fruit sellers on every corner. The
river frontage comes alive after sunset while thousands of food
stalls line the street, and the aroma of barbequed meat filled
There were also
quite a few touristy shops, selling the most beautiful handmade
jewelry and silk items, o, if I could only buy some of these
things I would fill my bags.
2009 - Vientiane
We did find the
bike shop open on Tuesday, and I bought a new hub which Ernest
again fitted. The chain ring which Ernest needed for his bike
would, however, need to be ordered from Thailand – which would
take a few days (later we discovered that the order would take
too long, but they gave a second-hand chain ring which seems to
be working). I also handed my bike in for a service.
Ernest still had
his sights set on China, so we went to the consulate where we
both applied for visa’s. It all seemed far too easy as we only
had to fill in a simple little application form, and were told
to come back in 3 days to pick up the visas (and pay). Amazingly
we now have visas for China, but I feel a bit like a dog with a
bone – not quite sure what to do with it.
In the mean time
we were able to look around for a cheaper room, as it appeared
that we would still have to hang around for a few days. While
wandering around the city I found this great place the “Blue
Banana”, pub/restaurant, with air-con and Wi-Fi. Here one can
sit all day drink a cold beer (over ice, the strange things
people do!) and watch the world go by.
Vientiane must be
the worlds most laidback capital. In fact its so laidback that
there seems to be quite a few Western bums around the place.
Looking like old time hippies, stuck in time and out of luck,
bumming from travelers with sad stories of money stolen from
their room and late pension payments. Spot the bum, obviously
not the one with the shirt and watch!
5 September 2009 - Vientiane – Hin Hoeup - 102km
With my bike
serviced and our Chinese visas in our passports, it was time to
leave Vientiane, which by then, started to feel like home. We
headed North and once again found the road as scenic as anyone
can hope for. We also had a little taste of the hills to come.
Along the road we
witnessed a real life cock fight, something they quite big on in
this part of the world. Kept in special woven cages some looked
a bit worse for wear.
2009 - Hin Hoeup - Vang Vieng - 65km
A short but rather
hot and hilly day, fortunately it was a short ride to Vang Vieng.
The scenery was, however, jaw dropping beautiful. Vang Vieng
also known as “Chill Out Town” has the most scenic location any
village can hope for. Situated on the banks of the Song River
and surrounded by stunning limestone cliffs, it’s no wonder it’s
so popular with backpackers.
2009 - Vang Vien – Kasi - 60km
An even shorter
day, but even more hilly than the previous day. We had our fair
share of bike problems along the way but after some roadside
repairs we were on our way again.
The road climbed
up over the mountains and past numerous hill tribe villages. The
stunning scenery continued and by around 14h00 we reached Kasi
where we decided to stay for the night. Our early stop gave us
plenty time to sort out the bikes (hopefully for once and for
all) and go to the market. Ernest got himself a decent size
buffalo steak for a remarkably cheap price, while I stuck to my
rather boring noodles, but found some tofu to eat with my
We also found some
rather large grapefruits, which proofed to be a bit
disappointing. It was hard as a rock and very, very dry. As with
most of the fruit in this region they eat it before it’s fully
ripe and sprinkle it with a combination of salt and chilly.
2009 - Phou Khoun - Xiang Ngeun - 106km
What a day it was,
a slow, hard slog up many mountains. The hills are rather steep
and long. We had at least 2 long hills, one of 20km and one of
15km which took forever on a loaded bike. 5km an hour was about
the average speed up the hills, but at least where there’s an up
there must be a down!
By the time we
reached Xiang Ngeum, I could not face cycling up yet another
hill. Although Luang Prabang was just 25km away, I could not be
moved and we found a room for the night. The room was small, hot
and windowless, but we took it anyhow as there were no other
2009 - Xiang Ngeun - Luang Prabang - 25km
We woke at 5.30
with the sounds of chickens and the morning market being in full
swing right on our door step.
At last we reached
Luang Prabang after a short 25km cycle with just one hill. It
looked a real nice place but Ernest was concerned about reaching
the border in time and did not want to spend another day.
2009 - Luang Prabang – Pak Mong - 115km
We followed the
river the whole morning and although there were little steep ups
and downs there were no monster hills like our previous days.
The scenery stayed inspiring and we cycled again past many
tribal villages, weaving and spinning yard which they wash and
dry by the road side.
We reached Pak
Mong in good time and found a room.
12 September -
Pak Mong – Oudom Xai - 85km
It was an
exhausting day on the road. Not only did we encounter more
monster hills, but it also rained the entire day. The roads were
muddy with huge potholes. It was not only just us battling
along, trucks got stuck in the mud and motorbikes were slipping
and sliding along.
I was extremely
happy to reach Oudom Xai and have a warm shower and a bite to
eat. It seems all I do is cycle and eat. At least on top of
every hill was what Ernest called the “Welcome committee” hordes
of children shouting “Saibai Dee Falang” with great enthusiasm.
2009 - Oudom Xai
Another hard day
on the road, hills, rain, road works, potholes and mud. It was a
slow slog but still very scenic past rural villages and more
We found a
guesthouse opposite the market where Ernest found some dried
buffalo meat, the closest thing to biltong he was going to find
in this part of the world. There were also two other cycles
staying in the same guesthouse. They were heading south and onto
Laos and Cambodia after spending two months in China. They were
not feeling well and were planning in taking the bus to Laung
Prabang. Now that sounds a lot more sensible than just pushing
on while not feeling well.