(written by Nancy)
With the aid of our sleeping bag liners we made it through the night. The ant population remained steady overnight but they seemed to mind their own business. Dave put his hand on the sink and it almost came off the wall so we did not linger this morning after a quick brekkie in the room. Dodgy plumbing and ants were only two of the many items making this guesthouse “no stars”.
The start of riding was quite nice. It seemed cooler than yesterday – the temperature was quite pleasant. We saw glimpses of the Mekong and Thailand across the river. We are riding next to a tallish string of hills but the route is flat as we are down along the river. Reminds us of riding Highway 30 in Oregon. In the morning the hills look quite mysterious, shrouded in fog. Probably full of tigers and elephants, and snakes as well.
There was very little traffic today but the traffic that is there seems to go pretty fast. We had quite a few buses go by us and they sound a bit like bomb going off behind you. Fortunately everyone seems to give them lots of room and so far they have given us enough room. We laugh a bit about the horrible exhaust systems they have here as many of the cars, trucks and motorcycles spew black smoke – there are certainly no environmental quality standards applied to motor vehicles. Many people on motorcycles and bicycles ride with their faces covered or at least have a mask on.
The area we are riding through is very rural and the houses are often very simple huts. Many have thatch roofs or walls and some appear to have no power lines going to them. There are many of what appear to be small rice farms, often with folks wearing the traditional hats out cutting the rice by hand. It looks like very hard work – makes my back hurt just to watch it. Lots of water buffalo munching away in the fields too, and goats roaming around. The buffalo generally seemed to be tied up with long leads to allow them to wander a bit, the goats were freely roaming the fields and going back and forth across the road. Cars and trucks just tooted their horns at them to get them to move.
Like yesterday, we had lots of hellos and even more sabaidees. The kids are very enthusiastic with more high-fives coming from those closest to the road. There are so many sabaidees that sometimes we can’t even tell where the voices are coming from and all we can do is wave in a general direction. People say that this can become tiring but that’s a long ways off for us. It is hard to not ride with a big smile on your face.
We made just one stop today at 40k and there we spent some time working out how far to ride today. We opted for a shorter day to Paksan as it is a bigger town with more services than the next town about 45k from here. There are numerous guesthouses here and at least one hotel. We looked at the Hotel Paksan but it was very empty and the room was not that nice. We ended up booking into the BK Guesthouse just down a side road for half the price of what the Hotel Paksan room would have cost. The room is ok but the atmosphere much nicer. We were probably too early for check-in but I think we are the only guests. The owner speaks Lao and French so it was fun getting all sorted. Once check-in was completed she went to her garden and picked us some fresh star fruit – a nice touch we thought. She and her staff spent the afternoon hand grinding some sort of dried spice. We never did figure out what it was but it smelled nice.
For lunch we walked next door to a place highly recommended by Lonely Planet. We were not disappointed. Dave had another Laap (Lao salad), this one made out of beef. That makes it chicken, beef and water buffalo so far. Fish is next, I guess. I had my normal chicken and rice which was good – it comes out different every time. Dave’s salad was quite tasty but also very spicy and all the ladies in the restaurant were laughing at him as he huffed and puffed and drank his water quickly.
After lunch Dave went scouting while I hung out in the A/C and worked on Internet chores, trying to get the details for our 2-month sojourn in France worked out. He reported that the sabaidee level remained high even without the bikes. I guess not too many tourists make it to some of these small towns.
For dinner we went back to the same restaurant but they appeared to be closed. Not to be deterred, Dave peeked under the awning. The only customer was our guesthouse owner and Dave was pretty sure that they said they were closed. After more discussion amongst all the women in inside, we were motioned to the side door and treated as regular customers. The roller door stayed down so we are pretty sure that they were not open but they all seemed pretty happy cooking up a couple fried rice dishes for us. To give you a perspective on how hard the money is to figure out, our dinner cost 36,000 Kip. That’s less than $5USD but it is still hard to get your head around the numbers in Kip. We used two of our four Lao words (thank you and delicious) profusely as we departed.
Tomorrow we are planning about 100k to a small town called Namthone. From reading various online bike journals it sounds like accommodation options on this route are a bit iffy. We have a list of 3 guesthouses to check out tomorrow, hopefully one will be manageable for an overnight stay. The following day we are headed into Thakhek, a much larger town where we know there are some good hotels so there is always that to look forward to. Food seems to be a bit of a challenge as well so we’ll have to see what we can find. We are going to make some oatmeal for breakfast so at least we’ll have some food in our stomachs when we start off.