Around Don Khon Island. 3rd and 4th Feb.

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 16.41.48

Gentle ride. Great views.

P1110763

Sunset over the Mekong. It does it every evening.

P1110797

No, I’m not cycling over that.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Waterfall, and fishing contraption. Not sure how, or if, they work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ex grand French School. A bit of work needed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Another great sunset.

A real treat to stay 2 nights in one spot, with a lovely view over the river towards the sunsets and even a hammock.  Gentle cycles around Don Khon discovering the remains of the French attempts to transport gun boats early 1900’s up the Mekong over the Falls.  They failed, and had to dismantle their boats and build a railway.  A lot of effort made to try and connect to China to the north.  Their footprint is still here with remnants of language and a very useful bridge connecting to the party island Don Det.

Dusty red sand tracks connect the small villages on the island and a single track path led us through remains of the jungle to the spectacular Tad Khone Pa Soi waterfall.  Lingering lunches on the river, deep fried spring rolls and beer.  All very satisfying.

Bumped into the Belgian couple we’d met in Pakse, Harry and Wally.  They had also circumvented Don Det as being a little “too spacey” and were settling for a couple of nights on Don Khon.  Joined them for supper and heard all about their home in Andalucia.  A rather lovely mountain spot.  May need to pay them a visit, both are very keen mountain bikers, and good company.

Now the start of our hard 5 days to Siem Reap.

 

 

 

To 4,000 islands. 2.2.16.

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 19.19.39

Hot and flat. 130Km.

P1110706

Sunrise! They are trees, not buildings.

Our ferry awaits. A bit like Southampton.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Big ovens for making charcoal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Unloading precious cargo.

P1110726

New rice, soon to be sticky.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Boy much braver than us.

Out the door by 6:15 am.  Crikey, never managed that yet, but we are learning that to do the kms we need to beat the sun.  Beautiful sunrise while we loaded the bikes onto the one-man ferry to take us across the Mekong to pick up the main road south.  Our ferry man had only one  arm, very possibly one of the UXO victims.  The river is quite magical in the early morning light.  Tossed away the hotel’s “takeaway breakfast” of curry sauce with a bread roll and made up some banana sandwiches instead.  We can’t get enough of the short, fat little yellow things.

Pedalled away for 7 hours, with short breaks to stretch our legs and refuel.  The day got hotter and hotter from a very pleasant 18 degrees up to a too warm 38 degrees. Tasted the best pork scratchings ever.  Made a water stop at a roadside shack also selling its freshly chopped up pig.  Alongside was a huge pan of still warm pork scratchings.  Paul had to persuade Linda that lots of fat isn’t the best thing for energy for cycling.  Linda thinks Paul’s wrong.

Almost thwarted by not finding any ferryman to take us across the Mekong to Don Khong island, when miraculously he appeared.  The financial negotiations kept changing but finally paid 40 kip (about £4) for 2 people and 2 bikes on his long tail boat. Worth it, as the alternative is a 15km detour and a new bridge. After 110km we thought another 15km was just a tad too much.

It’s a funny place.  Don Khong is the largest of the 4,000 islands.  We tried cycling across the island to catch the setting sun on the west side.  After 8km of rough, pot-holed roads with no nice bar at the end, we didn’t hang around but skirted round the south of the island, through the villages.  Our first proper sight of some emerald green and lush paddy fields.

The 4,000 islands are famous for being ‘relaxed’, with not much to do other than have swing time in a hammock. Tomorrow we are off to ‘party island’, Don Det. We will probably hate it. And move before sunset.

 

To Champasak. 1st Feb 2016.

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 19.16.09

To Champasak.

IMG_1705

Mekong, still.

P1110700

The Wat Site. Photos do not do it justice.

P1110696

3 headed elephant detail. Hindu and Buddhism together.

Out of Pakse and over the 2km bridge crossing the Mekong. It’s a pretty big river.  Quiet road passing through farming villages down to   Had a cheeky banana smoothie and coffee at the rather smart River Resort Hotel with views across the river over one of the 4,000 islands.  Then downtown to find a more budget spot.  We have discovered that booking via Agoda is cheaper than trying to negotiate at the door. The slightly bonkers Laos folk will not even match the Agoda price. Champasak is a rather special little place with some faded but beautiful French colonial buildings now protected by World Heritage, including our hotel.  Down the road further is Wat Phu. It is older than Angkor Wat, built by the same chap – well he had help- but smaller.  There is an ancient route linking the two.  Once it was an enormous religious site stretching over 10 acres with the backdrop of one of the highest mountains. Those Khmer knew how to build interesting Wats. Just as well that they can also function as a Buddhist temple, so the invaders didn’t do what most invaders do i.e. raise the old religion to the ground. There is no record about rape / pillage.

Have discovered cashew nuts “Laos” style, stir fried with lemongrass and lime leaves, add lots of salt and a Laobeer, delicious.

Supper a big treat with Sian and Lawrence at the River Resort – thank you chums.  We found our way back home in the dark on our bikes, rather a lovely cycle in the night air, no traffic, listening to all the frogs and cicadas.  Needed an early night as planning a crack of dawn start tomorrow.

Back from Tad Lo waterfalls. 31.1.16

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 17.09.03

Our route back to Pakse. Too hot.

IMG_3667

Stunning morning.

IMG_3670

Cassava and coffee beans drying naturally.

P1110632

Garden gnomes. Odd.

P1110640

The gecko has seen the light.

The Bolaven plateau is the centre of a huge extinct volcano. Loads of volcanic pumice stone and the whole plateau is rimmed by the crater’s edge. Fairly cool compared with the Mekong plain, so only 30C not 38C.  Lots of coffee, thanks to the French occupiers earlier. Now a big industry. Some of it is very tasty.

We thought that the ride back we thought was going to be easier than it was. Left at 8.30, so missed the cool of the morning. Over 3L of water each, and 2 Pepsi’s but still too dry. Banana’s and bread knicked from breakfast helped us on our way. Could become a habit. Where did we learn it from?

Back to a nice hotel. Sheets that are clean, water that is hot, and from a tap. We now take nothing for granted, and appreciate some things more.

Tomorrow a gentle day.

Both feeling fitter but the bearing of Paul’s knee might be a bit wobbly. Time will tell. Apparently a mix of some green plant and the urine of a local medicine man might fix it. We think ibuprofen might be better. Actually Linda is in favour of the local urine but it’s Paul’s knee. And he takes ibuprofen.

Tad Lo waterfalls. 29-30.1.16

P1110583

Captive, but seems happy. Not sure how you tell…..

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rickety bridge, rebuilt every year. Hope it lasts the next 20 seconds.

P1110591

Upper bit of the waterfall. And a bath.

P1110577

A bit of the waterfall. Slippy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bit more of the waterfall. Noisy, but doesn’t come out well in the photo.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

100ft drop. Linda says “Step away, … Now!”

Despite our best intentions to leave early before the heat of the day, we still only managed to get out of Pakse by 7:30am, together with all the morning scooters and trucks.  Felt really good to be back on our bikes although a little apprehensive as fully loaded and a long uphill ride ahead.

The best days are the unplanned ones.  It was so hot and Linda was beginning to question why take this detour to some waterfalls, when after crunching some 50 km and Paul having a near miss with a truck, we decided to make a stop for lunch and a break out of the sun.  A couple on a motorbike had just pulled in ahead of us to a “restaurant” and we followed.  Turned out to be a party day in the town and everyone cooked and shared their food so all the restaurants were actually closed.  The most charming middle age Laos gentlemen invited us in to share spicy noodle soup with the young Belgian couple also on their way to the waterfalls.  Learned his life story and the adventures of the Belgians and despite our protestations would not take a kip, or even a dollar.  Result!

Onward to the Bolevan plateau fealing much better and not so far to go.  Completely astonished with the first sight of the beautiful Tad Lo Falls.  Checked into the first guesthouse with a view over the river. Feeling quite smug after our free lunch and only £6 for the night.  You don’t get a lot for £6.  Our sac de viandes are getting well used. No hot water, no breakfast, but great view and the odd mozzie, and maybe a few bed bugs. Beer is cheap. Result.

Today we went in search of the other waterfall ‘up river’. We didn’t have much idea where we were going, even a discussion was had over Left / Right out of the guesthouse. Eventually arrived. Little water, but golly gosh, what a drop. And what a view over the plain. Linda conceded that it was worth the effort. Might have been easier on a moped. But that’s not cycling. Or cricket. Neither of us play cricket. Eh??

Now we are on our own we are not at all protected from the ‘big world’, and so far it is a most interesting place. Klaus, manager of where we are staying tonight, Tad Lo lodge, is a lifelong traveller, from USA but so far from mainstream America that he freely admits that he no longer recognises fellow countrymen. Interesting guy, who seems to have his world rather better sorted than most. Then Jan, a Dutch lone cyclist who was very helpful. He is on his journey of personal exploration and growth. Jolly fit, and hopefully more in tune with himself. All interesting, all on the same bit of our planet.

Tad Lo Lodge has 2 ‘pet’ elephants. A long story but they are much loved by the team looking after them and seem happy. 200kg a day of food each the running costs are huge. As are the poos.

 

 

 

Van Time, Vang Vieng, Vantiene. 26-28th Jan.

IMG_3657

No trips, well, outside, anyway. Vang Vieng in the wet.

P1110566

Broken down van time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sunset over Laos to Thailand, across the MM.

Three days, 1100Km, one back pain, one broken van, loads of near death experiences – for us, people close by and lots for cows, goats and chickens. We decided to rent a van with Ayrton Senna as the driver, sadly with some of his speed, none of his skill but almost similar end result. We went from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng, then to Vientiane, then to Savannakhet and now in Pakse, south Laos. Rain has gone, yea!! But now too hot, groan!! 38C this pm, and hotter forecast tomorrow. We are used to 5C so need to readjust our inner temperature settings. Hopefully this will happen soon, or the next month isn’t going to be much fun.

The van broke down, but quickly fixed. Vientiane rather good coffee but not as cute as Luang Prabang, which has our vote for ‘best city in Laos’. This may change as we go further afield.

The next few days there will be little wifi, so update on Monday. Our audience (both of you!) need not be worried, and we are sure the anticipation will be difficult to deal with.

Museums, Monks and Morphets. 25th Jan 2016.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Chatting with the Locals.

P1110564

Great company. Thanks Sian and Lawrence.

Today started cold. Then it got colder. Alot. This wouldn’t have been a problem but the city just isn’t expecting it to be so cold. It just can’t do it. No heaters, windows that don’t work, no one has warm clothes so people wear anything they have to keep warm. This includes a sleeping bag used as a scarf and blankets wrapped around smart shoulders. We were cold all day. We still are as the rooms don’t have heaters.

We started the day with a trip around the Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang’s oldest Wat. We were worried about catching a particularly cynical illness easily caught in these parts: Temple overload. This is caused by seeing too many temples in one day. We restricted ourselves to 2 or 3 of the most superb, and retained our joy at seeing them. Wat Xieng Thong was suitably impressive.

Next the Royal Palace Museum, which houses the gold Phra Bang Buddha, after which Luang Prabang is named after. Sadly no photos allowed. Not that you can see it anyway, but it is apparently there.

We then walked up Mount Phu Si. The view at the top and the Wat were impressive but the thing that made it so good was meeting an 18 year old novice monk on the way down. He wanted to speak English and it had been suggested that he stayed up the mount and chatted to tourists. This was a great idea when it was 20C, but bonkers when 5C. He was shivering, jumping to try and keep warm but wouldn’t leave until the 5.30 time his teacher had told him he should remain for. He looked ill but we talked for 20 mins or so. Really interesting. He hadn’t felt so well this morning when he had to go for Tak Bat. It was raining, cold and they don’t wear sandals. He got better and then braved the cold to chat to us. He has been a novice for 3 years, gaining an education and a way of life. He goes home twice a year but is up before dawn every morning, except today.

It’s an interesting city, but so much more had it been a few degrees warmer. We were lucky compared to the monks. We at least could wear coats and warm up with hot coffee, which we did. Alot.

Our final evening with Sian and Lawrence. We have had fun but reality will need to kick in. Cabbage soup and warm beer for the next few days, we fear. Thoughtfully Lawrence managed to find a few tot’s of good malt whiskey to toast Burns night. I’m not sure the locals understood it, but it went very well with the temperature. Thank you both. Safe travels. Hope we bump into you again.

Tomorrow to go south, searching for a warmer wind.

Around Luang Prabang. 23/24th Jan 2016

 

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 17.38.15

To the 1,000 Buddha caves.

IMG_1684

The final group photo. Thanks guys, great time.

P1110484

Cruise down the Mekong.

P1110451 (1)

Green snake. Apparently quite nasty if bitten. So we didn’t bite it.

-10

Pensive walk. Will the bamboo collapse??

Last cycle out with our great guide Loun.  Headed to the Buddha caves in glorious sunshine.  Some Mekong fried fish for lunch before a boat ride across to the caves.  Eagle eyes spotted the bright green rather nasty snake in the trees.  We kept well clear.  Buddhas in the caves not the most exciting.  Laos people are more animist than Buddhist. They believe there are spirits in all things; mountains, rivers, plants, animals that need appeasing. This usually involves fruit, blood, goats and a virgin if they can find one.

Gentle boat trip down the Mekong back to LP (both fell fast asleep).  Back to our busy guest house. Not sure how the backpackers can afford the place. We can’t.  A huge stand of fresh cakes for sale outside but saved ourselves for supper with Sian and Lawrence.  The town closes down early even with all the backpackers around.

Shock Sunday morning to torrential rain and freezing cold.  How can this be?  All layers on for a wander around LP, hanging out in coffee shops.

Supper in L’Elephant restaurant in LP. Best meal. Buffalo steak for the lucky ones. Paul had fish. Steamed. Lovely red wine, The Chocolate Block from SA. Bloody cold. They put warming charcoal braziers under the wooden table. Bonkers but jolly effective in warming us up. And the wooden table.

Hope it gets warmer. Winchester is warmer that here at present.

Luang Prabang is an interesting mix of Buddhism and tourism, done in a mellow way. Great place to chill (literally) for a bit.

The next 5 days is now sorted out. To travel south to Vientiane, then to Pakse in southern Laos. We will be looking forward to warmth, although we will want it cooler too soon. It can never be right!

To Luang Prabang, World Heritage Site, Laos. 22.1.16

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 22.48.31

Hard day, but what a day! 1000m climbing, up to 39.8C, and 80Km. Superb.

P1110386

For some this is an everyday view. For us, awesome.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Such a view…Top of the world, well, Laos anyway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our first sunset on the Mighty Mekong.

P1110392

The first of many Temples. Luang Prabang.

Very happy to leave our “guesthouse” room.  It was damp, grey, dark and grimy. A bit depressing, really.

Very foggy this high up in the mountains, a big shame as we had hoped to get a better view of the vast panorama of mountains.  After a transfer through the fog along the pot-holed road, a speedy 18km downhill to Loun’s village, Ban Khoua Nam Ming, on the river Ming.  Sadly, his brother had left to work in the fields, but we met his sister in law and great nephew.  Loun is probably the only member of the family to read and write, and certainly the only one to speak English.  We played with the two new puppies who chased the chickens on the mud floor of the house while Loun grabbed a late breakfast before hitting the next big hill, a 16km climb with pockets of searing heat.

Lunch of fried noodles sat on a log on the top of the hill before a cooling downhill.  The cycling  here is amazing.  One final killer of a hot climb before Luang Prabang and our first sight of the Mighty Mekong.  What a beautiful city with its french colonial buildings now transformed into smart boutique hotels.

Final Group supper, ie Paul and Linda. At the Coconut Garden restaurant where we were joined by Winchester friends, Sian and Lawrence who had just arrived from Chang Rai via the Mekong.  Looking forward to a couple of days here and a chance to explore the area.

Can’t wait to try out the fresh croissants and proper coffee tomorrow am.