After a few days of rest in Luang Prabang things became exciting. During the preparation of my trip I heard a lot of stories about the unpaved roads leading deep into remote areas of the countryside, now I wanted to give it a try. So the second part of my trip in the north was leading back to the south, back to Vientiane. I first followed the Mekong on a dirt road for seventy kilometers. In the beginning, the road was broad and well made, but then it became narrower and narrower and finally it was no more than a slender, rough trail. Here I had my first experience with falling, but it was my own fault. On the way where a lot of water buffalos walking in front of me and I couldn’t hold myself back to herd one of them with my bike. After a while, I drove in front of him him and the buffalo turned the tables. He followed me, not very fast, but steadily. When I noticed that, I tried to speed up to get away from him but because of the rough road and the heavy bike (I had bought new food so it was about 40 kilogram) I just fell over. For the next minute I laid under the bike, waiting for the pain to go. Meanwhile, the buffalo stood fifty meters behind me, gawking sardonically at me. After a while, he grunted smugly and toddled off the road. Every few kilometers there was a village on the riverside and often they seemed more wealthy than the settlements on the road Nr. 13 on my way to Luang Prabang. But despite this the tiny shops usually just offered things like batteries, cigarettes, beer and sweets. So I boiled water from a spring in the evening and baked bread in oil to have something to eat during the day.
Finally, I reached a paved road again but until the next dirt road with 140 kilometers of length it were just two more days of cycling.
Yet I had not been suspecting what was in store for me when I left the asphalt road again and turned onto the next part of dirt road which followed every single hill. In the next 30 kilometers, there where just two villages on the map. I reached the second village in late afternoon and I noticed that a destroyed unpaved road does not mean that there won’t be a lot of people. The settlement had two schools and around 1000 people lived there. I put up my tent under a canopy of leaves and all night long I heard the nice ringing from the bells of the cows surrounding me.
The next morning revealed the truth about my next route. My navigation software showed me that there won’t be a settlement for the next 60 kilometers. Within an hour, the way became narrower and narrower and finally became a 20 centimeter broad trail in the jungle. I rarely met a soldier on a motorbike and once two bikers from France who completely lost their calms when they saw me coming around a bend. If I wouldn’t have had a GPS signal to be sure that I’m on the right way, I would have went back. The massive green cover of fauna surrounding me, the steep hills and traces of wild elephants caused in me rather depression than euphoria. Fortunately, drinking water was no problem because there where rivers everywhere and so again I boiled water in the evening when I camped in the middle of the forest, at least 30 kilometer away from the next settlement in every direction. The next day was going to be hard for sure. My plan was to get to the next village but the height profile indicated that I need to pass a mountain going up 400 meters within a distance of just a few kilometers. The first days I had been forced to push the bike a lot because the trail was too bad, but this time it became so steep that there was no option for riding for the biggest part of the 27 kilometers. Until noon, my average speed was around 2 kilometer per hour. That means pushing the bike up the mountain at 15 degree slopes inside a dried out river bed (you couldn’t call that a path or trail) for 10 meters, taking a break to get new power and pushing again. It was woeful and grinding and in the evening I was hoarse from cursing and screaming at plants. When I finally reached the highest point, going down again also proofed to be no salvation because it was impossible to ride down these deeply rutted slopes. So I had to push the breaks all the time and let the bike slowly roll down next to me. When I reached the last slope, I hadn’t any power in my arms left for pushing and so I bit into my bar-pocket to pull the bike upwards like that. Then, ultimately, I reached Muang Thong and there even was a guesthouse.
After Muang Thong, there where again 50 kilometer of unpaved road but after that the comfortable asphalt road accompanied the Mekong until Vientiane. Once in the evening, I shot some pictures of setting up my camp to show how an ordinary evening on my trip (about 120 times so far) unfolds. In the ideal case, the camping site is even, dry and not visible from the road. It should be found in between half past 4 and 5, because at half past 6 it already turns dark. First I take down all pockets, set up the tent and put the sleeping bag and other stuff for the night inside. This has to be done until 15 minutes before 6 because then the mosquitos are coming and then you shouldn’t open the tent longer than 15 seconds or they will all come in. Afterwards, if there is enough water, I take a shower with a bottle of water, take on the mosquito seal clothes, stuff the trouser legs into the socks and the shirt into the trousers. All skin which stays exposed has to be covered with mosquito spray, as well as the cuff of the skirt and the collar. This way you can get away with around 5 stitches an evening. At 6 I have an evening-coffee and cook dinner. Often, the choice is just between noodles and tomato sauce or noodles with tuna and oil. Usually, I‘m so hungry that I cook too much. After dinner, I usually spend 2 hours on writing diary or blogposts, examining my photos, reading or watching a movie. Around 10 I go to sleep. In the morning I usually get up at 7, for breakfast I cook oats, water and sweetened condensed milk or instant noodles. Around half past 8, the unpleasant part of packing everything together again has to be done. It is nicer to listen to an audiobook while doing that. I start cycling about half past 9.
Finally I reached Vientiane again and the first month of cycling in Laos came to an end. I was so saturated with impressions that I didn’t do any sightseeing. I just relaxed and organised my Visa for Vietnam. Since there where not a lot of photos from the city in my first Laos blogpost, here are some more.