As we check out of our gorgeous hotel in Luang Prabang, Anthony finds out that there is a new route to Vang Vieng: a small short cut road across the top of the mountains was upgraded last year and is in good condition and cuts out the very twisty main road to Phoukhoun. Turn off the 4 road, half way between Luang Prabang and Sayaboury at Poungdong, and head towards Kasi. Easy! First time we’ve heard of this route!! As there are hardly any villages along that route, the traffic is likely to be much lighter. Worth trying it out.
So we say our goodbyes, thank the nightwatchman who kept an eye on our bikes for the last few days and off we go. It always feels great to be back on the bikes, heading out into the unknown. It is 9am and pretty cool so we decide to close all the vents on our jackets but opt out of putting an extra layer on. It is 18 degrees. Definitely cool for us!! Time for the heated grips to come on. And they stay on for a couple of hours, until the sun has burnt off the cloud layer.
We find the turn off easily and up the mountain we head. We stop several times, taking in the stunning scenery. I am feeling great. I am loving this gently twisty road, the light traffic. I had sorted my silly little head and my problem with the right hand hairpin bends (because it is all in the head). I had thought about it over the last few days and had worked out how to get over it: ride the bike on the pegs as I had done relatively well during our off-road training course, and again on the forest trail on that 2nd day in Myanmar. It worked. Problem solved. So now I can really enjoy this delicious road.
The crests of mountains have peaked out of the clouds. The butterflies flutter all around us again. The road takes us higher and higher, until we get above the tree line. The scenery is breathtaking. It is our kind of scenery. While the scenery from the Thai border to Sayaboury was incredible, with the most dense jungle and steep cliff gorges we’ve ever seen, I did feel claustrophobic. There was nowhere to go, impossible to stop or turn off. Here though, you could see far far away, and feel wonderfully insignificant.
We reached above 2000 metres. Here is a Google Earth photo of our route.
At one point, I comment to Anthony how we haven’t seen any animals in Laos. And a few minutes later, a long snake slithers across the road right in front of Anthony. It was nice to finally see some wildlife.
Then we go down, and down and down the mountain. It seems like forever. Even though the road is only a year old, we come across quite a few patches under repair due to landslides – once repaired though, that means loose deep gravel as there hasn’t been enough traffic to pack it down yet. A couple of wobbly moments, but steady pace and loose shoulders, and we’re through each one easily. One patch is being retarred and suddenly, Anthony’s bike slides left and right and left. Eeek! I see that and manage to switch to the dirt part in time. There’ll be some serious cleaning of his bike next!!!
Today is one of the most glorious bike rides I have ever done.
Once down in the valley, we enjoy seeing all the school kids riding home for lunch, mostly cycling and holding an umbrella. The girls wear the traditional skirt: a dark coloured wrap around skirt, with a lighter coloured and beautifully woven strip around the bottom.
We get to Vang Vieng and it doesn’t take us long to decide that we will not be staying tomorrow even though we have paid for 2 nights. Too bad. Although I had read that this place had been ‘cleaned up’ over the last couple of years, (too many drunken parties, drugs, thumping music etc), it still has a long way to go. All the daytime activities are for adrenaline seeking young folk. Not our style. And in the evening, we start to see and hear the effects of too much alcohol. The hotel owner was very accommodating when I asked for another room: after being there a couple of hours, I realised the rooster mext door was never going to stop crowing and would drive me mad. Talking to the owner, we found out the neighbours kept fighting roosters – they were indeed never going to stop!! Not until the hotel owner decided to get some dinner one day…
A lovely but nothing special ride to Vientiane the next day. Just a couple of photo opportunities. When we get to a longer patch under repair am I able to take a photo (while riding as usual). Once again, we are lucky to be here during the dry season – wet mud is something we are still learning to master!! The road deteriorates badly with nasty potholes as we get closer to the capital. It is worse for 4 or more wheels but we can generally avoid most of them and take the opportunity to overtake the slower trucks and coaches as they slow down to avoid them.
The most beautiful sight on our ride today, the 2nd photo opportunity, was that of a young Laos lady walking through a village with a bright green paper umbrella casually resting on her shoulder. The sun shone through the bright umbrella, her walk and slight shoulder movement making the bright light shimmer. A brief magical sight which I wasn’t quick enough to capture well on camera but which will stick in our memory.