Riding south to Vang Vieng: There are bandits in those hills - Taking my life for a ride - CycleBlaze

September 5, 2015

Riding south to Vang Vieng: There are bandits in those hills

Leaving Luang Prabang in a southerly direction

03 & 04/09/2015

I put off leaving Luang Prabang for one reason or another. According to a resident expat I met (Dan, the American), there are many long term residents here who arrived and just never could find the motivation to leave. I almost joined their ranks. It’s a nice quiet town that you could easily spend a week or two relaxing in.

I finally left on Sept 3, it was raining, as it had been every morning while I was there. I was just settling into the ride when Dave Walker rode up along side me, he runs cycle tours out of Thailand (paintedroads.com). He was exploring new routes during the wet season. I was headed south on Hiway 13, the main direct north south link between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. He was headed due west investigating new routes for his tours. Long story short: by the time we finished talking over lunch, I was running behind schedule and decided to stop at the base of the 50 km climb to my next stop.

I started early next morning (in the rain again) and it was more or less about 20 km of constant uphill of varying grades followed by about 10 km of wicked downhill and another 20 straight up again. I cycled all but about 20 metres of it, which is a good effort for me. OK, I admit it was a slow ride. I can only do slow when it comes to uphill and I was doing about 5 kmph for most of it. The downhill was 10 km of high speed fun, but the rest was a slog, about 8 hours of slog.

I stopped off at a roadside stall/eatery/rest stop halfway up the second climb of the day and had another interesting conversation with its owner, Thit. He told me he put himself through university and that normally family would help with meeting the cost of studies, if they could. He unfortunately was an orphan. He was tragically orphaned by unexploded ordinance, a sadly not uncommon occurrence in this country. His mum and dad were out in the forest cutting down a tree and the tree fell on a large buried unexploded bomb from the days when the US was illegally carpet bombing the Lao countryside. Now, 40+ years after the US ended their bombing campaign, people are still dying every year. The US still refuses to accept any responsibility for what they have done and the tragedy they are continuing to inflict on the people of Laos. It’s quite a painful and sobering experience to listen to a firsthand account.

Thit. Ask him what he thinks about the US legacy in Laos: a gift that sadly keeps on giving...
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My destination for the night was the hilltop hamlet of Kiewkacham, @ elevation of 1400 metres. The village sits right on the ridge and it has fantastic views, but I never saw them as everything was in mist from the time I started the day to the time I left the next morning. It’s a dirt/mud poor village with accommodation to match. But surprisingly, the rubber chicken soup didn't kill me and the grubby cellblock room had clean sheets. I had a much needed and appreciated peaceful quiet night’s sleep.

Kiewkacham Saturday morning market. Cold, misty and muddy.
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Surprisingly, I was in fairly good shape next morning. I thought I’d wake up stiff and sore, but after a bit of stretching was ready to go. OK, the legs were complaining and certainly didn’t have much in reserve, but the body was willing. None the less, I scheduled a short day of 55 km and an early finish as there was still plenty of climbing and descending to do. These are my first real hills and I don’t’ want to overextend myself.

At one particularly steep pitch while passing through a village I was considering getting off the bike and pushing when I was surrounded by three small kids who enthusiastically “sabadeed” me, then high 5’d me and then ran to the back of my bike and pushed me up the hill for about 10 metres. It was a great experience that had me laughing. Until I stopped around the next bend to check the back of my bike (no I didn’t trust the little blighters) and instantly noticed my raincoat was missing. I turned around and as I slowly rounded the bend and they saw me coming, they dove for the cover of their hut. Dad was squatting outside the doorway, as he had been from the start. He sheepishly smiled at me, reached behind the doorway and pulled out my raincoat. The kids were giggling from the darkened interior. I growled at them menacingly, then laughed. Cheeky little bandits…. Dad included!

Bandits Ahead. This is what the main north/south hiway in Laos looks like.They were up around the next corner in the road, lying in wait.
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On a later climb I could see a queue of vehicles stopped on the road, both up and down the steep incline. That could only mean an accident or landslide. There were plenty of landslides on this road (at least one every few km) and that was what I was expecting. But it was an overturned truck. Rounding a tight bend, it had landed on its side, perfectly across the entire road, blocking all traffic and nothing was getting past… except bicycles. I took a couple of photos for your enjoyment and then pedalled on. They were in for a long wait as it would be hours before a recovery truck could make its way there and then several more before it could negotiate its way through the knot of vehicles to the overturned truck. I just pushed the bike through the mess and carried on – very nice knowing there would be no traffic coming up behind you for the rest of the day!

Mudslide. I had to negotiate one of these every few km. Some were easily skirted, others required careful pedalling through calf deep mud.
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The Roll Over. Don't know how he managed it, but he did. And I'm just glad Turtle and I weren't under it.
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The Roll Over Party. Everyone was out of their cars and watching the clean up effort: paint and building products everywhere and no prospect of anyone going anywhere anytime soon.
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I spent the night at a very fancy but appalling poorly run guesthouse in Phoukhoun, perched on the edge of the ridge overlooking the mountain peaks and jungle. Fantastic views though.

The ride off of this ridge tomorrow will be sensational.

55 km through the mists and mountains.

The view from the guest house back veranda. That jungle wilderness stretches for as far as the eye can see, and then some - with few if any access roads.
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Same view, but with the art filter turned on and pulled a bit closer to pick up some more of the detail. Gotta' admit, it does look prehistoric - I expect dinosaurs to walk out of it any minute....
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