Updated: Nov 12, 2018
Dawn breaks over Vientiane & from our lofty perch on the 9th floor, we stare out over the city. Different but not too majestic. I think we’re too far away from the main attractions. First order of business was to secure a local SIM card so we can use Google maps as we go. This proves a bit more complicated than Cambodia, so the Concierge helps us out. We end up with 5Gb of data on a 4g network valid for 30 days. A bit of overkill for a 2-3 day visit, but it was still well under US$10. We do more planning than usual, knowing we are heading into areas that are unlikely to have multiple hotels & decide on a destination & find a great little lakeside resort as well. We decide to book the last remaining room, wondering whether Booking.com simply say it’s the last room even if it isn’t. I check again after we’ve booked it & sure enough, the last room was booked 2 minutes ago! So you can probably trust it when it says ‘last room.’
As we have measured ourselves & decided to have an easy first leg into the Laos hills, we visit the main sights in the capital first before heading north. Some are extraordinary, like an ornate Wat, others like the National Monument a bit less so. It has been turned into a bit of a bazaar & apart from a great ceiling and arches, doesn’t really live up to the expectation. The tomb of the unknown warrior was interesting, as were a few ornate surrounding buildings. Tourists & their pack leaders were starting to descend, so we fled for a coffee & croissant in a place that bore a remarkable resemblance to Starbucks! After that it was northwards for our new grand adventure!
The roads out of the city were good & the traffic controlled, but we reckon that’s only because there are a multitude of cameras scattered around because as soon as we reached the city limit, the speeds increased & the roads deteriorated. We were heading to a resort on the northern edge of a large reservoir lake, called Nam Ngum and the hills started as we reached the southern tip of the lake. As the roads started winding up, the surface deteriorated even more & the speeds of the lorries & buses & SUVs increased exponentially. We had to be constantly focused because there was no let up, even when we went through long patches of unmade road. Everyone was in a hurry, everyone wanted to overtake & bikes are simply the lowest priority, no matter the size. Funnily enough, the place where we managed to overtake the most was on narrow bridges, where we knew there wasn’t room for anyone else to overtake or squeeze in coming the other way!
One hundred or so Kms out of the city, the number of people sitting by the roadside, selling small trays of rice or simple holding out their hands for donations also increased dramatically. That this is a poor country is very obvious in the countryside, even when the latest Mercedes or Range Rover SUVs are hurtling through it. We passed a procession of small kids, each with a big empty basket on their backs & further on it became clear where they were headed. A couple of families were by the roadside, picking what looked like berries from trees, so the kids were obviously the conveyor belt, shuttling the produce from the pickers back to base. The trees were not on anyone’s property, so they were simply trying to make ends meet any way they could.
Because of the condition of the road & the traffic, it took us twice as long as Google estimated it should. However, things are obviously not rosy in the Google / Laos camp, because the estimates of time & distance varied widely each time we checked. We need to take a long hard look at the road ahead & the options we have. Neither of us are on good enough bikes to ride really terrible roads & Simon especially given his bike swap is on a pure road bike, completely unsuitable for touring. We also have the slight complication that we may have to go out of Laos at the same crossing point we came in, so if we continue on the mountain roads up to a northern crossing point, we may be turned back. Much to cogitate!
Arriving at the Sanctuary Nam Ngam Beach Resort, we have to look really hard for the turning off the road, as Google doesn’t recognise it & as usual there are so many street signs in Lao that nothing really stands out. It is an oasis. A beautiful little resort, made up of multiple little chalets, all staggered around the contours of the land so all have lake views. A bar & restaurant under a massive umbrella style roof (no walls) perch at the highest point in the resort & a swimming pool sits floating in the lake itself. All very tastefully done although it could have a few more simple amenities in the room, like a chair!
We wander down to the floating pool & sit at the pool bar discussing our options of routes for tomorrow. There are many permutations to consider, although I’m very concerned about Simon’s bike on potentially further deteriorating roads. Back to the room for a refreshing shower while we think things through. We try to sit out on our little balcony overlooking the lake, but the insects are far too numerous & annoying, so we retreat to the restaurant for a Saturday night special bbq. Very good it was too & I ate far too much. We are not going to rush things in the morning, enjoy the amenities on offer & decide where to go when we wake up, having slept on the all the issues.
“A new dawn, a new day.”
You’ll find all the images from my Rovings here:
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