Heading along Hwy 3 continued to be great, but I soon had to turned off onto the road to the capital, Vientiane, some 600k to the south, I was greeted with gravel, oh shit! Thankfully it only lasted about 5k and even that had patches of tarmac in it. The road was much narrower now and very twisty, good on the climbs as you can't see how far up you have to go. The afternoons now seem to have a bit of a theme with ground clearing by burning the hillsides, it does nothing for the views or my eyes.
I left Oudomxay the following morning and had some company for the first 15k of a climb, in the form of a young monk on a bike. I realised right from the start that he was only there for one reason, to get as much out of me as possible. He started with "I am alone in Oudomxay and my family are far away, I have no friends. I am studying but I have to pay for my own education and I just don't know how I am going to pay for the next term" etc, etc. He spoke good English but each time I changed the subject he wasn't interested. Seeing I wasn't giving him the response he wanted he changed his plans and aimed a little lower and over the course of the conversation he wanted me to give him my shoes, cycling shorts, shirt, bike oil, books and finally just cash. He was a little bit subtle, "Oh my bike is so uncomfortable, I need some cycling shorts, it would be so much more comfortable with cycling shorts. I can't get them in Laos though. How many pairs have you got? You don't need 4 pairs you could give me a pair". Anyway, who in their right mind would want a pair of my used cycling shorts? It became a bit tiresome, so in the end I cracked. I gave him my email address and sent him back to Oudomxay. The day was a toughie, ALOT of climbing, added to that I had no idea if I would find a guest house. After 80k there were a couple at Pakmong, so I decided to stop. They were both a bit grotty, but as I was about to check into one a girl cyclist arrived from the other direction and told me there was another place just out of town. So she took my room and I went to the other one which was much better. We met up again a bit later and exchanged info. She was Gulie from Paris, on her first trip alone and her first on a bike, brave girl.
The following day was 115k to Luang Prabang, much easier as it followed the rivers. I met Johanus from Germany going the other way. He was cycling from Germany to the Olympics and had followed a very similar route to me but took a flight from Kathmandu to Bangkok. A few k further on I passed another couple on bikes but didn't stop this time. It is approaching the festival of Pii Mai, the Lunar New Year with the main festivities here in Luang Prabang. It is celebrated by people drinking lots of beer and throwing water over anybody that moves. Consequently as I rode along I got totally drenched. I was surprising how quickly I dried out, but not surprisied by how quickly I became drenched again. Anybody on a motorcycle was dripping wet, but everybody takes it very light heartedly and some even slow down for a soaking. Another consequence of all this was that all the Guest houses were fully booked. It's a popular place here at the best of times, the prices of everything double what I have paid elsewhere and the guesthouses were doubling again for the coming nights. I had wanted to stop longer, but I could only get 2 nights, so I am on the move again tomorrow, no rest for the wicked. the guest house I am staying in offer free bananas. I didn't tell them that I have been known to eat 20 in a day, but since I have arrived they have hidden them.
Luang Prabang is a lovely places though, a little peninsular pointing out into the Mekong river, an old colonial French town with lots of lovely old wooden buildings, mostly turned into delightful looking restaurants and guest houses. There are many fine wats too. By the afternoon the water throwing had started again, so by the time I returned to my room I was once again soaked. Perhaps I will be glad to move on!
Now here's a thing. As soon as I crossed the river from Thailand to Loas the people are very different in their approach to cyclists. In Thailand you are generally ignored, but here through every village people call out and wave, the children getting very excited. I am glad to be away from the dogs in Thailand too, they were agressive little things, always chasing and barking at me, even when I was on foot, though they never tried to bite. But the dogs here couldn't care less about me, they don't bat an eyelid. How does that work then? It's only 100m across the river, yet even animals behave differently, I can't get my head around that one. Other cyclists have agreed with me too, but have no explanation.
You are right S, I did put the picture of me in the last post to see what reaction it would have and I too was surprised by the lack of comments. there were probably none in case I did it again! Actually people often tell me they have trouble posting comments so some don't even try anymore. Sadly there is nothing I can do about it.