Moung May to Oudomxai, 140km without breaking a sweat. Day 12

After a totally apathetic day in mellow Muong May — I was raring to go again. I had done nothing but eat, sleep, eat some more, and had hung out at the riverside cafe the whole afternoon (not that there was anywhere else I could go).

There really is something wonderfully sedative about the effects of a flowing river. The more you unwind, the more you want to unwind; and you’re constantly sighing with gratified satisfaction. Honestly, the cliche about not having a care in the world held true for me.

The morning before, I had chatted with the Thai cyclists and they had given me a grim report of the road conditions that lay ahead; for me, that is. It wasn’t very encouraging — plenty of landslides, some of which were being cleared when they were riding through. I decided then that I wasn’t going to take any chances with this particular leg of the ride to Oudomxai. As well, the 40km to Muong Khua was still 4×4 country. So thanks, but no thanks.

The obvious solution would have been to find some kind of public transport to Muong Khua, and I found out from the guest-house boss that there was indeed one that went to Muong Khua daily.The man who ran this service happened to live just opposite the guest-house. The ‘bus’ turned out to be a converted lorry, fitted out to carry as any as 30 people with its long benches; but in third world countries, there’s no stopping them from packing in twice as many people, as long as there is empty space to accommodate the skinny bodies.

As luck would have it, the boss-man said he was going to Oudomxai the next day and that I could hitch a ride with him if I wanted to. Hallelujah! You bet I would. I was very quick to take him up on his offer. So, today, me and my bike take another break, with me sitting pretty in air-conditioned comfort all the  way to Oudomxai, 140km away.

The Oudomxai Express...all loaded and ready to go, with 6 passengers in total, including me. I felt bad for the husband of one of the passengers who had to sit in the cargo bed.

The boss. Note the US dollars tied up in rolls on the steering wheel. The glove compartment was also filled to the brim with Lao Kips. I guess it was time to visit the bank in Oudomxai.

At Muong Khua, which sits on the banks of Nam Ou (or River Ou), the only way across is by taking one of these longboat ferries. I found out that if one wanted to, one could take a long-distance boat all the way to Luang Prabang from here.

Vehicles, however, had to use the vehicular ferry. It was actually nothing more than a floating pontoon, pushed along by a tugboat of sorts (on the left)

Waiting for the ferry to fill up.


The next customer was a truck, but it was not the driver's day because as he was reversing into the ferry, the rear of the truck blundered into the soft riverbank and was well and truly stuck; 2 rear wheels almost fully immersed, and the front left wheel already half sunk. It was blazing hot by now and it didn't look good for him.

I counted no less than a dozen 'helpers', all trying to extricate the hapless lorry. In the end, and after waiting some 15 minutes, the ferry had no choice but to carry us across first.

Just as the Thais had warned us about, there were landslides aplenty. Fortunately, most of it had been cleared. In fact, I counted one every few hundred metres or so.


The river had risen to as high as 20-30 ft during the heavy rains. I saw the remains of many houses which once stood by the river banks.

The devastating rains must have swollen up the river very badly. I could see the riverbanks all red with Nam Ou's mud.


After Muong Khua, the road is actually sealed but thanks to the heavy rains in past weeks, it was a muddy drive. It was here at this junction that Boss decided to stop for lunch.

There wasn't a single day on the road that I didn't come across a pig. No different today.

There wasn't a whole lot of choices for lunch.


We settled for boiled bamboo shoots and sticky rice, as well as barbecued fish and even some grubs that the other passengers bought and shared.

My fellow passengers. The man in the cap sat, and even dozed off at times, in the back of the truck throughout the journey.

Next to where we were sitting, a pair of goat's feet hung in posthumous ignominy...possibly a delicacy or more likely, an ingredient for some traditional cure.

At Oudomxai, which is a biggish town, I didn’t have to agonise over which guest-house I should stay in. The Boss had already mentioned that his base there was actually a guest-house. So, in a reciprocal gesture, I stayed there for the night. It was nothing like his Amphon Hotel in Moung May, though — the room was smaller and older, but happily, it had cable TV, which would provide me with some mindless distraction to help while away the night, seeing as I had already finished reading the 2 Robert Louis Stevenson books I had brought along — The Black Arrow (which was a 2nd reading actually, after many years), and Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, his first travel book which detailed his 120-mile solo journey on foot through south-central France with a donkey as his travel partner, and pack carrier. It’s a fascinating book which I highly recommend. Apparently, people literally follow in his footsteps today, retracing the path that he took more than a century ago.

After tonight, I will be fully-rested, and I will be very eager to continue my ride. Tomorrow, I head for Pak Mong, a mere 85 undulating kms away.

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Idling in idyllic Moung May, Laos. Day 11

Waking up in a soft, clean bed, with not a hint of cacophonous honking in the background that was so typical of Vietnam, and the soft cooing of pigeons from a coop just behind the guesthouse … this was a few degrees short of heavenly bliss, and more so when my legs had just about reached their limits.

I didn’t care what the time was; it was early and the sun had just risen — and I wasn’t going anywhere today. By this time into the tour, my body had already  adjusted itself to waking up early; but today, I had the luxury of languishing in bed without having to think about packing up and getting ready to hit the road before it got too hot.

Nothing soothes tired a body more than a good night’s rest. Never mind that Moung May’s electricity supply only came on from 6pm to 10pm (Moung May was that rustic). While the power was flowing, Amphon guest-house was a like beacon in the night. No other property could compare with it in terms of the number of lights it had blazing. It was undoubtedly the pride of the town.

Muong May’s remoteness also ensured that the temperature was very agreeable when the sun sets. So, even when the power had gone off and there was no fan to keep the air moving, it still made for a comfortable night.

Eventually, hunger (you’re almost always hungry when you’re cycle-touring) forced me out of bed. As I walked out into the dusty street, the sun had just risen over the horizon although it was hiding behind the clouds. The air was cool and a light mist was slowly dissipating over the town. Some of the townspeople, small baskets in hand filled toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and towels; were on their way to the river to carry out their morning rituals.

After a not-so-hearty breakfast of Pho (what else), I went about exploring this little 2-street hamlet. The main street led to the river where one had to cross to continue one’s way to the next town. Some of the houses were decrepit and ramshackle, and some were a little better off, especially those engaging in some form of trade.

Early morning in Moung May…cool, misty, and peaceful.

Main street, Moung May. Amphon GH is on the left. The road continues on, a short distance away towards…

… a junction leading to the market, and about 150 metres straight ahead is the river.

Ahead the road ends in the river, and across was the road continued towards Muong Khua, the next town about 40km away.

My favourite hangout in Moung May was the cafe on stilts at the end of the road next to the river.

The best place to watch Moung May unfold. I lounged here for hours reading, or doing nothing, but always, my camera was ready…

when little kids came to frolick in the shallow river…

or when vehicles crossed the river. There weren’t many. It was also the only way for 4-wheelers to get into, and out of, town. This Chinese-made truck was similar to the one I hitched a ride on the day before.

Other interesting sights soon glided into view…like this fellow who had cleverly lashed bamboo poles together and floated downriver to his house, located just to his right on the bank, behind the bamboo fence.

And then there were little fishermen. In these parts of the world, as soon as you were able, you had to do your share of putting food on the table. This boy of about 12 years, carried himself with such a determined and confident manner, you knew he wasn’t doing this for fun.

The footbridge (also for motorbikes) a little downstream from where cars crossed the river.

Almost all the townsfolk did their washing as well as bathing al fresco.

Once, I happened to walk by the same washing place and saw a girl cleaning something that looked suspiciously like a rat…

IT WAS. I couldn’t imagine what it tastes like. One thing was for sure — I wasn’t going to be caught accidentally eating a rodent.

At the bridge crossing the river — these 2 girls were on their way home after washing in the river, but stopped in their tracks when they saw me with my camera.

A popular spot for washing clothes. Cars would cross the river precariously near them

Moung May’s police station, open only in the morning.

One of Moung May’s many convenience stores.

Kitchen ware, hardware, tyres …

The night before, as I was checking in, I had noticed a dozen or so mountain bikes in the courtyard and thought they must be cycle-tourers as well. I was too tired to find out then and I decided to talk to them in the morning instead. It turned out they were Thais and were following the exact route I had taken, in reverse, and going all the way to Hanoi.

These bunch of friendly matured guys were doing it a little differently from me — they didn’t carry their stuff with them; they would instead hire someone to take them ahead to the next town. In this case, they hired the guest-house boss and his Hilux to transport their stuff to Dien Bien Phu. And they would do the same again for the Dien Bien-Moung Lay leg. I though it was a pretty nifty idea.

The Thai riders who called themselves simply ‘The Gang’.

The oldest member of the group was 76 years old! More power to him!

Next: 140 km to Oudomxai without pedalling a single stroke….