Rest and Relaxation in Laos

What a difference between China and Laos. In Laos the village homes are mostly small bamboo structures with thatched roofs, the rolling hills stripped by logging and slash-and-burn agriculture. The roadside shops are poorly stocked, the markets sparse and the prices higher than in China. But we felt a calmness and tranquillity that was somewhat non-existent in China. Instead of the blank stares that we had gotten used to, we were greeted by bright smiles and cries of sabaidee (hello) from almost everyone we passed. Every time we rode by a village, small children would stop what they were doing to greet us with uncontrolled enthusiasm.   Greeters in the small village of Nateuy

  Rice terraces outside Luang Namtha

  A village along the highway between Oudom Xay and Pak Mong

Rather than head directly south from the border, we decided to take a short (40km) detour to the town of Luang Namtha, the main base for trekking in Northern Laos. We had no intention of trekking, but we knew we would find guesthouses, restaurants and other travellers' amenities that we had longed for since leaving Dali in China. Despite the fairly easy terrain, by our eleventh consecutive day of cycling we were really moving slowly and our legs were in pretty desperate need for rest. So we spent four great days in Luang Namtha doing very little. We met lots of cyclists and travellers, ate every night at the night market, went to the herbal sauna and watched lots of Star Trek.

Our only Luang Namtha (mis)adventure was stumbling in on a cooking class where we were invited to partake in the post-class meal. We were basically roped in by the two foreign tourists who were clearly too nervous to eat their creations alone: steamed bat and squirrel stew. The stew was palatable, but the bat, steamed whole in a banana leaf was a little bit difficult to handle. Attempting (probably quite poorly) to hide our discomfort, we gnawed away at it's tiny body, trying to get the little meat that there was. Yann was completely convinced we would get sick because the bats were steamed with none of their organs removed. Not recommended.   At the Oudom Xay market

From Luang Namtha we rode to Oudom Xay, the largest town in Northern Laos and a major trading point for Chinese goods entering the country. Subsequently it is Chinese-style ugly. We had fond memories of the city from our time there seven years earlier, so we were eager to see if the town had changed much. We had put a lot of hope into eating pancakes from a street stall where we had eaten every night on our last visit to the city. We roamed around in the evening, where our vendor used to set up, and we were very disappointed to find that he was no longer there. For years we had referred to the Oudom Xay pancakes as the best pancakes we'd ever eaten. We realised that those fried pancakes, smothered in condensed milk were the only real reason why we wanted to re-visit the city.

Our route continued south along National Highway 13 with the 80km from Oudom Xay to our next destination Pak Mong rumoured to be its worst section in terms of road conditions. We can confirm those rumours.   Can you spot Yann?

  The worst stretch of National Highway 13

After our intense riding in Yunnan, we tried to slow our pace in Laos. We planned to detour from the main highway again to spend a few days in the small river-side town of Nong Khiaw. What a great decision! We checked into a beautiful (inexpensive) lodge on the western bank of the river, away from the tourist ghetto on the eastern bank. Right up the street from our hotel was a small family-run restaurant with fantastic, (inexpensive) food. Everything on our side of the river basically shut down by night fall, which is pretty early in October. All we could do was sit and admire the incredible mountain scenery that surrounds the village over a cold Beer Lao.   The Nam Ou River through Nong Khiaw

  View from our room at the Nam Ou River Lodge

  Menu at the Nong Khiaw Family Restaurant where we ate every day

Stats for Mohan to Nong Khiaw:

Days of cycling: 3 full-days, 2 half-days
Days of rest: 5 full-days, 1 half-day
Kilometres cycled: 296
Metres climbed: 3249
Cycle-tourists crossed on the road: 6

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop Expedition Support

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