Saturday, March 3, 2007

After 5 days in Vientiane, in which Gal was fighting a bad stomach and Rami was taking care of
Gal, we finally left the 'big' city.

Gals' bad stomach

We were on our way to Luang-Phrabang, just leaving Kasi, a nice small town, heading into the
we passed one mountain ridge, but had the big ones in front of us.
slowly climbing the mountain, we arrived to a very small hotel/resort, on the main road (the only road). it turned out that the hotel was built on a hot spring, bursting out of the mountain,
creating a few hot pools. surrounded by mountain peaks, the valley we came through on one side,another valley on the other side; and the water didn't even stink of sulfur.
we decided to stay, after a short day, and enjoy the water. In Toms' words: "We have time" (in a heavy German accent).
In the evening Gals' stomach showed disturbing signs.
The next morning, Gal had a stomach ache and diarrhea. She preferred not to ride. Tom wanted the rest, and Rami was just waiting to jump into the hot water. So we stayed.
But, sitting still is too much for Gal, so she dragged Rami for a walk on the mountain road, towards the next village (guess who forgot to bring toilet-paper!).
After a 3-4 km walk, Gal barely managed to get back to the toilets in one piece.
Since then, Gal stayed near the toilets.
After a long night, understanding that things are getting worse, we caught a bus back to the capital, Vientiane. 6 hours of suffer, on a bumpy road, with only two toilet stops (one specifically for Gal, and in the other Gal was called out...), and we had an A\C room with cable TV (HBO & Star movies).
We went to the hospital, and a quick "shit test" showed that Gal needs lots of antibiotics and an infusion. And - we stayed there the night!
In the morning we left. the hospital didn't charged us for the night, because we had a hotel room.We went for excellent coffee and started walking towards our hotel.
After less than 1 km we saw a market. A BIG market! our eyes opened wide and we attacked the market, 10 minutes after the doctor told Gal not to eat uncooked vegetables and meat. So,we started with a baguette with Patte & vegetables...
As apposed to the Morning-Market that we visited the last time we were here, crowded with tourists being hassled, this market was pleasant and, in the words of Meidan: "It came to us good". We visited this market a few times on the following days while Gal was recovering and Rami was loosing his patience.

On the road again / dirt road

On 05/02/07, after 5 long days in Vientiane (plus a few rest days before) we were finally back on the bikes.
There was a bad feeling in the air about the cycling: Gal was very weak; we barely cycled in Laos, for some reason (as opposed to Thailand); we were stopped by the mountains!
So we were heading south towards route #8, which cuts east to Vietnam.
We decided to cycle near the Mekong, out of Vientiane, instead of taking route #13, the main highway in Laos - BIG mistake! The road did go near the river, but became a dirt road very
maybe this is a good time to mention that Laos is the biggest dust manufacturer in S.E. Asia. It even exports dust to its neighbour, Thailand, since it paved most of its road!
The Mekong road was somewhere between thin, dry dust (which goes into the clean gear of the bike) to mud (which sticks to everything).
So the next 30 km were slow and painful, especially for Gal, who was hoping for an easy recovery. We didn't expect this. We planned a nice, quiet ride, never imagining a bumpy dusty one, through some serious no-wheres!
After about 10 km we tried cutting back to route 13, not an easy task. Finally, after 40 km, 30 of them in dirt, we reached the paved road towards the "Friendship bridge", the bridge to Thailand. We quickly cycled to the first town, Tha-Daue, opposite Nong-Khai, where we found a shitty guest-house, another 2.5 km from town, on another dust road, on the way to another no-where.
To finish a rough day, the only food the town had, the same food in all small places in Laos, was a simple, but expensive, noodle soup (I guess we'll write about the terrible/expensive Lao food in a future post, mentioning that Thailand was cheaper for traveling) and their famous green papaya salad, without papaya.
The next morning came, with a promising paved road, taking us to route 13. After breakfast - noodle soup (actually, Rami found some small baguettes), we head off. After 10 km we reaches the famous "Buddha Garden" - a tasteless garden filled with stupid Buddhas, made of concrete, kept with the natural color - gray! (without offending the proud people of Laos, of coarse). The funny thing (we were not laughing) was that from the Buddha-Garden the road became unpaved, makes you think where they got all the cement for all these retarded Buddhas!
The following 40 km were dirt road redefining "no-where", with not even a house for over 10 km!
Finally, after filling our water supplies, thanks to the kindness of the locals (a kindness you can not miss, when away from touristic areas), we reached route 13, after 90 km of bad road, two days, finding out we are only 50 km from Vientiane (actually, we new we'll be making a loop).
The only regret was that Gal suffered, due to her upset stomach, her being still weak.
So, we cycled another few km, till the first village, and asked a few guys "where can we sleep here - in the wat?". One of the guys told me to follow him, and before we knew it, we were invited to sleep in a house in the village.

Paxan market

Route #8 20/2/07

We turned left from route 13, at Vieng-Kham, heading east on route 8, towards Vietnam, leaving the Mekong behind us.
We didn't know anything about the road we'll be taking, but after 100km of dry, boring landscape and crumbling villages in the middle of no-where, things could only get better.
According to our map, we were headed towards hills, but expectations were low due to the dry season.
We departed from Yael, Irit and Or, the three Israelis we have been cycling with in the last few days (the Merida bunch, from Hadera), and immediately started climbing.
As we climbed, the vegetation became more green and just MORE. In less than an hour, we were surrounded by jungle.
The road elegantly twisted and turned, slowly climbing, till reaching a lousy bridge. This will be a good time to mention that Gal hates bridges and is terrified of the lousy ones, especially the long lousy wood ones.
We finally crossed it, one of many. Rami was amazed of how fast Gal can cycle!
After a few km the landscape has changed: sharp black limestone cliffs emerged out of the green. The bast was at the pass - a big black forest of sharp limestone was surrounding us! and to the east, you could see the valley we were going to. The down hill was FUN! Even Gal Enjoyed it! It was quite steep, around 3 km long. Zooming down, with all the weight were carrying, was pure fun! (we had to stop a few times to let the rims cool down. We're thinking of changing to disk-breaks, in China - need to do some homework...).
Continuing in the valley, we reached a sign: "steep incline". The road was totally straight, for maybe 2 km, ending in a big cliff. It didn't seem so steep.
It was!!!
After 1 hour of seeing the same cliff in front of us, Gal moved to pushing. After a few minutes of rest we continued and after 10 minutes the road finally turned right. We were still climbing, but finally not towards that cliff!
After an hour or 2 of a tough climb through beautiful scenery, a rewarding downhill was waiting for us. Zigzagging down, between sharp, black cliffs with jungle, and glimpse of the coming valley, we quickly descended to the village of Na-Hin, where we rested for a day, going on a day trip to a nearby waterfall.
In Ban Na-Hin we had a few interesting conversations with Ralph, the owner of a guesthouse, living there for 7 years, enlightening us of Lao tradition & culture.
We left towards Lak-Sao, starting the day with a big climb to another pass, sliding down a bit to a hilly plateau. We passed through 20 km of hills, resembling eggs in an egg box. We crossed a huge river, one of many, and started thinking of somewhere to sleep.

The Merida bunch from Hadera.

The limestone forest.

The walk to the waterfall.

The market in Ban Na-hin.

"Many rivers to cross..."

Rained Out

We passed this beautiful valley, very relaxed, when Gal said she wants to camp!
So, we started searching for a place. The scenery was stunning. We left the valley with the begging of a cliff, that 'escorted' us for the next 30 km, till Lak-Sao. Finally, we found a village & bought 6 eggs, a big stash of sticky-rice, garlic (of course) and took 6 liters of water - about all the village had.
We left the village & headed back just a bit, to some dry paddy-fields near the cliff. Half the kids of the village followed us. Thanks to Rami's carisma, the kids quickly gathered fire wood, and thanks to his charm, they quickly left, leaving us alone, iving us half an hour before dark, to enjoy our camp and the quiet.
In the next 2 hours, we played with our fire, trying to postpone anything else needed to be done.
Finally, seeing it was totally dark, with 2 shades of darkness, where the mountains touch the sky (beautiful literature...), we started preparing our amazing dinner. 15 minutes later we understood that 6 eggs & a big bag of sticky-rice are not enough food aftert a day of cycling, and not so tasty. We finally went to sleep.
We were sudenly woken up by 3 men with flashlights pointing at us. They were looking in to our tent and at our gear, that was locked outside. Half asleep, we understood the word "passport". We didn't know whether we are in danger from muggers (who want to see our passports), or the village was in danger from the 'Falang bicycle bunch'. Rami pulled out his passport from between his smelly feet and showed it to them (+ the visa) through the tent window. They said goodbye, and left. We quickly fell asleep.
This is a good time to mention that, first, our tent has an inner layer, that is like a big mosquito net - all windows. Second, Gal 'needs air', so we don't use the cover - the wind-proof, water-proof, storm-proof cover.
We were suddenly woken up by rain drops. Rami asked Gal what to do (first mistake). Gal told him to go back to sleep, "it will stop in 2 minutes".
It thundered. Gal managed to convince Rami it will stop in a few minutes. we were tucked beneath our sleeping bags, with no intentions of mooving.
It was poring. Water started dripping inside. Rami had no choice, but to go out, butt-naked, and cover the tent, in the rain. Due to the situation (and some lazyness), Rami just 'sort of' covered the tent, not even putting the door in the right place.
Back in the sleeping bag, he could now only feel the rain on his feet & his head (when sleeping in an embrio position) - a big improovment. Gal simply enjoyed the sound of the drops on the cover, and Rami's wining.
A bit later the rain stoped, so Gal removed the cover - the woman needs air!
Obviously, the rain came back after a short while, so Rami was sent out again to cover the tent, and we slept the rest of the night.
We woke up neer a lake, inside our tent. actually 2 lakes: one between our legs and one neer Rami's head.this was a hint that our campground was tilted.
We waited till 12:00, so our stuff will dry. Gal was reading to Rami "a pigion & a boy" by Meir Shalev. We 'quickly' packed and continues riding right of the beautiful cliff, the short distance to Lak-Sao (a lively little border town, which we both liked. The sauna - highly recomended!).

Rained out :-)

The cliff.

Lak-Sao ("Km #20")

Bye-Bye Laos

We left Lak-Sao for the last 33 km, to the Vietnamese border. We were told the last 20 km are all steep uphill, but, counting the km, the incline came only at the last 4 km. The road was beautiful, a wet & green valley, not too big, with it's river flowing near us all the way to the pass (the border).
All the way we were thinking of the beautiful road and how we enjoyed the last 10 days in Laos.
Which brings us to the days before...
Laos was a bit difficult for us. Cycling in it was easy, just that we'll be understood; we knew we could sleep at any village, people were good, friendly & generous. Traffic was excelent (none). Food was BAD! We knew the language well enough (it's similar to Thai).
The problem was 'tourism' in Laos. We went from Vientiane noht to Luang-Prabang (didn't reach it), through Vianvien. Tourism has concoured these places! Too many tourists in a too small country, all consentrated in these 3 places. And the 'other' roads up north are dust roads or unothorised by the army.
Maybe that's why we enjoyed Lak-Sao so much: a 'nothing' town in a 'nothing' place, with a great market!!!

P.S. - Rami was in Laos 9 years ago, and "things aren't teh way they used to be" ;-)

The border.