Cycling South again: Heading for the capital, Vientiane - Taking my life for a ride - CycleBlaze

September 9, 2015

Cycling South again: Heading for the capital, Vientiane

Well, technically that title is a bit misleading, I've been cycling south and heading for Vientiane since I crossed the Thai border in Chang Khong weeks ago.

To Thalak

I didn't get a super early start out of Vang Vieng, but was pedalling by 7:00 as I had about 100 km to cover today and knew my condition and the road conditions would conspire against me. Even though I'm giving myself an extra day off between rides and keeping most days short, I'm wearing myself out. It won't get any easier if I decide to head into the heat of southern Laos and Cambodia.

Leaving Vang Vieng the road is undulating with lots of short ups and downs through poor roadside villages. I was considering stopping early at Hineup, about 60 km into the ride. But by the time I got there I was still feeling fresh and kept going - silly boy. I was going for the resort area of Thalak/Thinkeo, my 100 km target for the day. By the time I got to the turn off at Phonhong I had enough of the broken roads, dust and heavy traffic of Hiway 13, so the left turn on to Hiway 10 to Thalak was a welcome relief.

Something strange is going on here in this country. As soon as you start on Hiway 10 the road surface changes from broken bitumen to dead flat smooth concrete, two lanes in each direction, still under construction. OK, I can see that they want to start building decent roads that last awhile and don't revert back to dirt and mud in 5 years. It's not quite finished yet and you certainly don't want your attention to waver because the road edge has a rude 12 inch drop off. Traffic is moving everywhichway as there are no road signs on the yet to be finished roadway and everyone is taking advantage of the free for all. All along the road there are magnificent private mansions that would put the best of Europe and the US to shame, luxury autos parked out front. There is more conspicuous wealth on display in one of these properties than I can make in 10 lifetimes. Lord knows what their offshore bank accounts look like. This in a socialist/communist country where the walls of homes and businesses are adorned with photos of Lenin, Marx, Mao and Ho; a country that recently fought a peasant war of independence; a country with one of the lowest per capita incomes on the planet. Something isn't adding up here...

The new road ends at the left turn to Thalat. It looks like they are going to continue with it in a straight southerly direction to link up with the old Hiway 10 at Mueangkao. If you're in a hurry to get to Vientiane, it would pay to carry on heading south on this road. The stark difference in road surfaces on this corner is dramatic. You go from concrete paved super hiway to a 4wd track. Honestly, the Great Central Road, the back track from Kalgoorlie to Alice Springs in the middle of Australia's outback is in better shape.

Anyway, by the time I got to Thalak I was too cooked again to think straight and took accommodation at the first reasonable looking place. I've got to stop doing this, it's going to catch up to me in the end. It had the best hot water of the whole trip. Funny how you notice such things. After a clean up and clothes wash to take advantage of all that hot water, I wandered off to the food area and had one of the dodgiest meals of the trip. Slept like a baby.

105 km in 6 and a half hours and fairly worn out by the end of the day.

Run to Vientiane

I still had about 100 km to Vientiane from Thalat. I thought I'd try to learn from yesterday's experience. Down here in the flats it's much more humid and hotter, so the miles roll out a lot harder. In the morning I headed out to the big hydro dam at the end of the road, just to have a look. Call me cynical, but I'm thinking there might be a relationship between all that ostentatious wealth down the road and this hydro dam.

After that it was back onto Hiway 10 and some roller coaster ups and downs, I pushed my bike up the worst of the big hill. My legs just didn't want to do something that they did easily only the week before. I tried the mantra "shut up legs," but it didn't work. One thing for certain, Hiway 10 is much less travelled and much more pleasant to ride than Hiway 13. Both roads go to Vientiane, so if you're thinking of riding this route, take Hiway 10 to Mueangkao and then the short cut back to Hiway 13, which is the only way north from that point.

I was aiming for Tha Ngon about 70 km down the road and only 20ish km from downtown Vientiane. It was a good idea to keep it to 70 km, as it was a hot day in the full sun. I even took a nap under a tree during the middle of the day in an effort to beat the heat. When I got there it was getting late and finding a hotel was becoming a problem - there was only one and it was clearly beyond my price range. About another 5 km down the road I found something. Again, one of those strange anomalies I'm bumping into here. It was a very big hotel, but there were no guests and I clearly posed a challenge. "100,000 kip," they said, thinking it would put me off. "OK, its a deal," was my reply.

I was probably their only guest for the last 6 months and the next 6 months, too. Cleaned the bike off under the garden tap and put it in my room, did my washing, had my shower - the standard boring cycle touring routine. Hiway 10 from here into the city was very busy and the big rigs had returned. A new strategy for tomorrow was required...

70 km and still a bit cooked by the end of the day, but feeling better about my choices.


Just a few km from the hotel there is a road intersection .... take it - turn right and head south. It shows up on my mapping software and also on Google Maps and it runs between Hiways 10 and 13. At 5:00 am, there was no one on it and the traffic didn't show up until I was only a few km from downtown Vientiane. I met up with David Walker again for early morning coffee and croissants.

Poor Victa...

I'm now lying low in Vientiane, sick as a dog and feeling sorry for myself. I either have a flu or Ebola. I'll be here for a while as just walking around the block is an effort.

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