Bor Nam Oon offered nothing in the way of distractions other than the hotspring. So, with nothing to do, or see, at night, I was off to bed early after dinner. And with only 2 cafes there, you don’t have much of a choice either. Fortunately, I had company for dinner — 2 college boys on their customary see-the-world-after-graduating holiday. They were on motorbikes hired in Vientiane and were due to return the bikes the next day.
Bor Nam Oon is a lovely place to wake up in. Although it’s next to the main road, there wasn’t much traffic at night to wake me up. It wasn’t as cold as Kiewkacam but it was cool enough to ensure a good night’s rest.
The road to Kasi, about 20 km away, was a quiet one. At that hour, I was the only person on the road. A few km after Bor Nam Oon, my reverie was disrupted by the sight of a couple of cyclists heading towards me. As with all cyclo-tourists who shared a common bond, they waved excitedly and I could see that this was a very friendly couple … so friendly in fact, that they crossed the road to meet me before I could do the same.
Pius and Margrit Jorger are a couple in their late fifties who are cycling into retirement. When I met them, they had just broken camp a few km down the road in some Lao farmer’s backyard. They were as seasoned-looking as their panniers and bikes and were totally at ease and unhurried in their demeanor….
We spent some time chatting and I learnt that they had been on the road for a year and a half, and had covered some 23,000 km. They would probably be on the road for another 23,000 … or more. Right now, they were on their way to the Chinese border at Boten. How I envied them … and their gear, too, especially the much-fancied Rohloff Speedhubs on their rear wheels. At abt US$1,500 a piece, they’re made-to-last in typical German fashion. Some owners have even reported up to 70,000km of use without having serviced it.
The road was heading gently downhill as I made my way to Kasi, which was where I planned to stop for breakfast. Kasi is a relatively big town but had no attractions to speak of.
One of the things I had wanted to do during this tour was to visit a local school but somehow I hadn’t quite had the opportunity to do so … until now. When I saw the one below (you could always tell it was a school because it was usually the only building to fly the Lao flag), I knew this was it.
Outside, a big group of primary school students were playing in the sun, some barefoot and in rags while others were slightly better off. But one thing was the same — the unbridled laughter and joy of that emanated from all of them.
As I rode in, their first reaction wasn’t what I had expected — they were taken surprise by my sudden presence in their midst. Their concerted screams were quite ear-piercing as they all bolted away. But children will be children and just as quickly, they came back, thanks to their teacher, who with a disapproving tone, chastised them for being so rude to a stranger.
So far, it was almost a daily affair to be surprised by some strange sight. Today was no different. As I rode along a small river, I was drawn to the fare on display. This was exotica at its best. Squirrels, goat’s head, goat’s feet, chunky femurs from some animal, fresh-water crabs in little baskets, charred corpses of tiny creatures that looked like bats, and bottles with a mish-mash of disgusting-looking contents.
Today was a hot day. And I mean hot. Clear blue skies with very little clouds. As the day wore on, I began to wilt in the hot noonday sun. Not good at all…
Then I chanced upon this little wayside stall selling watermelons. Just the sight of those cool, juicy, sweet, refreshing watermelons was enough to make my mouth water with anticipation. After the 2,000 Kip price was agreed upon, the lady running the stall quickly cut one up into slices and served it to me on a large plate. It was absolutely delicious, but I couldn’t possibly finish one whole fruit by myself so I shared it with the stall owner’s daughter and her child.
As I rode into Vang Vieng, ambling along at walking speed and looking at what the town had to offer, a laid-back looking guy came up to me to say hi and asked me where I had come from. At first, I thought he was a tout for one of the guest-houses but he turned out to be a cyclo-tourist as well.
Peter, his name that was, had been in town a for almost 2 weeks and he was actually planning to leave for Vientiene the next day, and from there to Bangkok and home to NZ. He was low on funds and had no choice but to engage in an unspeakable activity if he wanted to continue touring in the future — he had to work.
I had actually wanted to stay for 2 days in Vang Vieng but the thought of having a companion on the road for the last stretch was quite tempting. At least for once, I had somebody to talk to on the road. But, our intrepid traveller had been invited to a party that night and he hoped he will be still be walking in a straight line after a few drinks. So we’ll see, he says. A true party animal, is our friend.
After I checked into Pan’s Place, the same GH Peter was staying, I treated my self to one of the nicest meals of the tour — the smoothest fruity smoothie and fries (from real potatoes, I might add) with plenty of salt (the body just seemed to begging for it). Not satisfied, I had another smoothie. I don’t know about the other guest-houses, but I can certainly vouch for the kitchen here.
After the meal, it was time to check out the town. I had read that almost all of Vang Vieng’s activities and attractions centred around the river and I wasn’t particularly crazy about it. Tubing? (as in floating down the river on old tyre tubes)…. been there done that on our Malaysian rivers. I’ve even tube down mild rapids before. Caving? Done that, too. Waterfalls? Same same.
A quick ride around town confirmed my suspicions. Having fun in Vang Vieng means river activity, cafes, bars, and of course, the one thing that delighted foreigners — banana pancakes; or what we call ‘Roti Canai’ back home. The only difference? Here, I would have to pay about 4 times more for the same thing. I must say the one thing we Malaysians are really blessed with is ample cheap food, but that’s another story.
What about the happy part? Well, apparently, here in Vang Vieng, they can happify anything that you can ingest via your mouth, nose or vein or any other orifice. That’s right, you name it, they have it here — opium, heroin, magic mushroom … whatever.
To the credit of the management of Pan’s Place, they do warn visitors in their in-room information about the dangers of being overly happy in Vang Vieng. According to them, it’s not uncommon to hear of fatal endings for many ‘happy’ visitors here.
And so, seeing as there wasn’t much in terms of Lao culture to be observed and enjoyed here, I decided to head for Vientiane the next day, with or without Peter who, incidentally, slipped a note under my door before he went to bed at about 3am in the morning … No prizes for guessing correctly what he said…..
Bor Nam Oon resort (Kasi) to Vang Vieng — 87km
Total ride time – 5.45 hrs
Total ascent – 370m
Total descent – 775m
Total distance to date – 1008km
From Bor Nam Oon, slight uphill then flat to downhill all the way Kasi (20km), after which is mostly flat all the way to Vang Vieng. Road conditions start getting craggy about 15km or so before Vang Vieng. Smooth roads followed by potholes evenly spaced out. A dustmask will be very useful here. The road generally follows the river at just above water level.