Three days, just under 300 km. Out of the hills, then a nice flat run along the Mekong river, then Christmas dinner in the capital of Laos, Vientiane.
Couldn’t be easier, could it?
Well, it could have been. Just a little bit. If I hadn’t somehow forgotten everything I used to know about riding a bike in the heat. It didn’t help that I was trying to push the average speed up. It certainly didn’t help that I’d only marginally upped my water intake from Vietnam, where it was about 15C cooler. This was especially dumb, as I know full well how much I need to drink when the weather gets warm.
But what really, really didn’t help was the brutal little climb as soon as I started on Wednesday morning:
I say ‘little’, but it was actually around 300 vertical metres. It was 30 degrees C. And yes, it really was as steep as it looks in the picture (maybe a bit steeper, in places). But it still shouldn’t have been a major problem; I’ve done plenty worse.
Trouble was, that I was already dehydrated. And that the hill was just 5 km into the ride, and after a rest day. So I hit it cold, hit it hard, and blew myself up spectacularly. I’ve been recovering slowly ever since. And giving myself a good mental kicking, as well as massive doses of water.
On the plus side, the view from the top was spectacular. And that was the biggest lump in the road before Vientiane. Highway 8 from Vietnam eventually dropped me onto the flat, flat flood plain of the Mekong river, so I could take it gently to recover. Just one turn right onto Highway 13, and that was all the navigation done to get to the capital, too.
I hit the Mekong itself at Pak Kading (above – the river Kading about to enter the Mekong). It’s just been a case of following it ever since. Me on the Laos side, Thailand waiting for me on the other side of the river.
Two more uneventful days (heat, straight, flat roads, cheap hotels and litres and litres of water) saw me rolling into Vientiane on the afternoon of Christmas Day.
I’d developed a slight obsession about cheese after leaving Vietnam; rural Laos really doesn’t have any, and I’ve always had a bit of a habit. Towards the end of the ride to the capital, a large, cheesy pizza and a large, cold beer had cemented themselves as the centrepiece of my ideal Christmas dinner. The reward at the end of Highway 13. Not exactly turkey and roast potatoes, but it was what was required.
Just an hour after hitting town, I was sat looking at exactly my fantasy dinner. An hour-and-a-half after hitting town, I was absolutely stuffed. Possibly, the side dishes were unnecessary. I waddled back to the hotel, lay down, phoned my Mum in the UK, and crashed out. That’s what I call a proper Christmas Day; 93 km on a bike, one large pizza, one beer, and passing out. Don’t say I don’t still know how to live…
Today was spent poking gently around Vientiane on foot. It’s a really small capital city, and very relaxed. There’s a very European feel to it, too. So I drank a few coffees, ate a few pastries, and generally loafed about elegantly. Or as elegantly as one can in creased, plastic travel clothes.
Tomorrow (Sunday), it’s back to the road, and another border crossing, just ten miles down the river from here. I’ll be leaving the ‘Communist’ world behind, and re-entering my nemesis, Thailand. Back onto the correct side of the road, but with a little trepidation after what happened last time I was there.
Fingers crossed, it goes a little better this time…