Cycling gets serious.

Following our night with Mr ‘wheeler wood dealer’, we continued north bypassing Savanahkhet and headed for Thakhet – a lovely town on the Mekong, looking across to Thailand. At this point we thought we’d be on a bus the next day in order to visit a national park and see some elephants. Sadly, a bit of research via the internet soon put paid to this idea as the elephants that used to roam the area have gone – interestingly hit by lightning…. so over a good old pad Thai (we were on the Thai border after all) a fruit shake and skewer of liver (which Tash devoured in seconds, I’ve never seen her so happy) we made the decision to power through and cycle straight through to Vientiane in order to complete Ho Chi Minh to Vientiane using just pedal power. No more 80km days, oh no, this is serious. 120km was the minimum from here on.

The next day we made it along the constantly but gently undulating roads to Vieng Kham, a junction town on the crossroads of route 13 and route 8, which was confusingly signposted as something completely different, not as picturesque as our normal Mekong town but well equipped with numerous restaurants and guesthouses so not such a bad place to spend the night. Here we also met Vegel. A German cyclist who found us having dinner in the Lao Thai restaurant. We learnt about bike safety and a host of conspiracy theories from him…. traveling sure does broaden the mind!

We’ve met a couple of other cyclists on our trip up Laos one of whom we won’t forget is Mr Ma from Xinjiang in China who introduced us to “coffee to go” Laos style. It gets poured into a huge plastic bag with ice, sugar, condensed milk and a straw. It’s the size of a bucket, can be hung on handlebars and lasts all day…. a brilliant idea and you really do appreciate the ice until ¾ of a bag later when you begin feeling really sick!

The next day we left for Paksan, caught up on route by Vegel who accompanied us for lunch before cycling through the evening to Thabok, putting us within touching distance – a lovely 60k – from Vientiane. This made for a long 150km day but the beautiful Mekong views and exquisite sunset soon saw us forgetting our tiredness and we continued smug in the knowledge that the following day to Vientiane would be an easy ride.

That evening we returned to our guest house from dinner to find the place turned into something akin to a witch’s kitchen. Squirrels had been disemboweled and were being stuffed, bags of frogs and toads lay on the floor awaiting liquidation, boxes of stiffened lizards and geckoes were stacked in piles, a snake squirmed in a net bag and people wielding syringes were happily injecting recently deceased toads. This coroner’s office turned out to be a Korean led biology team making an inventory of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian fauna. Laos was their last country. Ten individuals of each species were to be collected, killed and preserved. Some specimens stay in the home country, others to go to South Korea. We got chatting of course. Apparently a lot of their specimens, especially the mammals, they buy from the local market! Amphibians and reptiles are collected along transects with the guy wading about at night in watery areas! They also had a whole range of fish laid out being peered at through what looked like a jewelers eye glass to decide if they were different species or just fry. We asked if it made a difference whether the species was endangered or not and were told no, they needed 10!

Next day we rolled the last few kilometres into Vientiane – the end of our cycle together. To celebrate our arrival we hit the fresh fruit shake joint before checking into a hostel with a pool to get a much needed cool down. That evening we wandered along the river front buying pressies at the night market and indulged in a pedicure while watching the Mekong roll by and eating ice cream – a rather fitting end to our trip.

So a month of cycling, 2000km on the clock and nine organisations visited – not a bad haul! Lucy left for Bangkok the following evening and a flight back to the UK while Tash had a couple of days in Vientiane getting ready to tackle the mountains on the way to Luang Prabang for Christmas day.

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