(written by Dave)
We were out of the hotel pretty early this morning. In fact we unintentionally timed our departure to coincide with the morning monk walk to collect alms (called a tak bat). They were out in force this morning with several groups containing as many as ten monks. You can tell that this is a normal morning route for them because many of the people living along the route were out waiting to make their offerings. And best we could tell, the number of monks was typical as every person that we saw making a donation had an item of food for each monk with no extras. Once donations are complete, the entire line of monks stops and chants in unison for the person who made the contribution. I wish we could record this as ten monks chanting has a real nice harmony – peaceful.
When taking photos of the tak bat I try to do it from a distance so as not to disturb the interaction between the monks and the person giving the alms (doing the merit-making, as it is called). Information on the tak bat indicates that you are not supposed to make eye contact with the monks, but we have found that particularly the younger novice monks often look over at us and smile when they walk past so perhaps that is a skill they learn as they go through the process. Though we didn’t make contributions, we felt that the good vibes were with us all day long. Later in the morning we spotted two separate monks on bicycles – our first that we can remember – it was going to be our day.
The morning smoke was thick again today. We are still not sure if it is caused by garbage fires, slash burning or just the general pollution of town (mostly cars). Tha Khaek was a bigger town and there were lots of cars so it could be the latter. Best we can tell, they have emission controls here in Laos. That is, when you turn over the key, if the vehicle emits blue smoke and lots of noise, your good to go. I’ve been trying to capture one of these moments on film and will continue to do so. The timing is as hard as a Laos wildlife photo.
We had a few stops today, as you would on a longer ride. Our first at a servo with no food or drink as per normal. They had a sign offering clean toilets however, so we were happy. I can report that the toilets were clean in case anyone is taking notes. Later we stopped at a small roadside restaurant for water and a snack. There were some ladies here cutting a papaya for fresh papaya salad. We really enjoy a papaya salad but were not really sure how they chopped the fruit. Now we know, you basically take a papaya and make long cuts lengthwise, all the way around, then peel this layer off with a single slice, and repeat. I’m sure that the ladies made it look much easier than it is. For those readers who think of papaya fruit being red, the papaya used in salad is early season papaya and is not ripe so it is white, thus it makes great savoury dishes, like papaya salad.
Later we passed through a village named “Ban Na Say”. Ban means village, I’m not sure about Na Say. Not knowing the meaning, I took it to mean that no negative naysayer-like people live in the village. I could be wrong but everyone we saw in the village seemed pretty happy.
We had cross winds for much of the day. If we turned to the east, it became headwinds, turn to the west and it was a tailwind. The tailwind sections were great. As luck would have it, the last 30k we turned west and headed for the Mekong. We covered this 30k in a little over an hour. The blowing dust doesn’t seem so bad when you have a tailwind. In fact, life in general seems pretty good when the wind is behind you on a bike, particularly when you are almost at the end of a very long ride.
We rolled into town about 1:15 and easily found the Salasavan Guesthouse. It’s pretty spendy but in a great location in the old French quarter. It is in an old French colonial building with a fabulous balcony (complete with big cane rocking chairs), there are only 5 rooms. The rate included breakfast and they are happy to serve us at 6AM so the price is not so bad.
For lunch we went to a restaurant advertised at the guesthouse called Cafe Anakot which was run by a young Japanese gal. The food was absolutely fantastic. No surprise, I had chicken and herbs, while Nancy had an omelet sandwich. As I often do, I spoke to the Japanese owner in my bad Japanese, just enough to get Nancy to use hers and get me out of trouble. Nice food and a little reminder of Japan – we have to bicycle-tour there one day.
We worked our way back to the guesthouse and nearby information centre to get some photos and info of tomorrow’s route (specifically lodging options). It was past closing hours at information but I poked my head in the open door and managed to find a local who spoke great English. She was more than happy to help us out and give us some hope that we’ll find a guesthouse tomorrow. Being after hours didn’t seem to bother her but she locked the doors when she saw us out. I think we were lucky. I then took a few photos of the old French quarter buildings. Some of the buildings are being renovated but many are falling down and in disrepair. It’s a bit sad as they could really make something of the area with a few creative folks. I’m sure that it is hard to attract investment here, especially when you have so many other tourist/backpacker stops in SE Asia that are already developed.
For dinner we are not sure what we’ll do. Our lunch stop had many more things on the menu that merit trying but we’ll see if the guesthouse manager has any ideas.
Hopefully luck will be with us again tomorrow and we will find a place to stay without having to ride 180k! We’re looking for monks in the morning to get the right vibe.