Riding in Isan and Laos Part 2 « on: Jan 19th, 2003, 10:45am » Quote Modify Remove -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I had visited Laos once before two years ago when i cycled by mountain bike from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. I made that trip in April 2000 and remember the heat being absolutely terrible, but the scenery spectacular and the people along the way particularly friendly. So this time riding into Vientiane on a drizzly January morning on a machine which didn't require any leg power proved to be a completely different experience. The road from the Friendship Bridge into Vientiane is busy and you should take care of oncoming traffic, especially of cars and trucks which seem to care little about bikes. In the morning the road leading out of Vientiane was absolutely chaotic with thousands of students walking to school, hundreds more on bicycles, lots of buses and trucks and one impatient foreigner on his motorbike with his horn beeping and light flashing. About 20km out of Vientiane the road becomes much quieter and less built up. The road to Vang Vien took me about three and a half hours and became more interesting once the road started to climb into the hills. Vang Vien is the first stop for most foreigners travelling North and there seem to be more of them than locals. There is good food, a beautiful river, interesting rock formations and several caves to explore though. I stayed in a pleasant resort about 15kms out of town which was very quiet and right next to the river. The road from Vang Vien to Luang Prabang is one of the most spectacular mountain roads which i have been on, only being beaten by the Karakoram Highway which links China and Pakistan and which i have also cycled by mountain bike. From Kasi the road rises steeply and the scenery becomes more dramatic. I noticed that there had been several landslides recently and parts of the road had been washed away but everything was easily passable. High up i was in the cloud for a lot of the time and the temperature can drop rapidly so you should wrap up warm. Vang Vien to Luang Prabang should be a five to six hour ride. About 80 kms from Luang Prabang i lost all my foot brake control and looked down to see my rear brake system on fire. I managed to put it out and ride on to Luang Prabang at a much reduced speed just using the front brake. I could not find any bike shop in Luang Prabang which was able to fix my rear brake and thought that the roads further North would be unsuitable for my type of bike as well as the added danger of only having one brake. I had intended to exit Laos in Huay Xai and re-enter Thailand at Chiang Kong rather than backtracking to Nong Kai. What i decided to do next was probably the craziest but most memorable part of the whole trip. From Luang Prabang to Huay Xai there is a speedboat trip which travels the nearly 400kms up the Mekong river in just six to seven hours. To do this i had to rent the whole boat which meant paying the ticket price of six tourists which came to 5000 baht. This fee did not include the extra 200 baht i had to pay for the eight men who attempted to carry the bike down the rocky slope to where the boat was waiting. They somehow managed to get the bike into the boat and tie it down only for me to hear air coming out of the rear tyre. As the boat sped away i began to have second thoughts and imagined the boat capsizing and my bike sinking to the muddy depths of the mighty Mekong. The only thing i could think of was to quickly put on my helmet which proved to be very useful. The boatman had to be constantly alert to avoid floating debris,exposed rocks and whirlpools which looked like they could suck the whole boat in.