Thursday, 17 April 2008

Day 331 - Vientiane

Well, I set out nice and early for the 156k ride to Vientiane, but I chose the wrong day. This was THE day, National Waterfight Day, not a day to be cycling on, let alone cramming two days worth in one. It was clear from about 8am that it was a National Holiday as groups of people had breakfast together with plenty of beer in evidence, and the constant smell of barbecues. The route remained a bit lumpy for the first half as the road wound its way through what was left of the mountains. I reached Phonhong by about midday, from then on the last 70k was a bit dull and flat. There were now houses on each side of the road almost all the way to Vientiane, gone were the traditional houses of wood, bamboo and a thatched roof, to be replaced with, well, untraditional houses, you know the type, concrete and tiles. There were still a few large wooden houses, but even those had tiled roofs. From mid morning onwards I was getting a pretty regular drenching, if the villages weren't enough I was also getting them from passing vehicles. I discovered that if I slowed right down at the drenching points the water was more or less poured over rather than thrown with force, it then became almost enjoyable. There was far more action today though. Practically every vehicle on the road was a pickup, full of people and water. They would drive along drenching the likes of me, then stop alongside a roadside group, they would have a big water fight with everybody ending up soaked, then the vehicle would move on and the process would start all over again. The roadside groups had loud music playing and whilst they waited for action they would dance and drink. By the time I reached the edge of Vientiane clearly some had had way to much of the latter. I group completely blocked my way, then threw water bombs as hard as they could from point blank range, one hitting me really hard in the chest that really hurt, it is still painful now. Let's just say that I wasn't best pleased. Heading into the city was a nightmare. I was wanting to keep reasonably dry so as not to be dripping water when I checked out guest houses, but hundreds of people lined the streets as pickups cruised the roads. The roads were littered with the plastic remains of water bombs. I then discovered that if I made no eye contact at all I would keep off about 9 out of 10 'attacks'. Then I reached a junction with traffiic lights. I needed to go straight ahead into a one way street but the roadside was completely lined with people and pickups were static, two abreast, and the biggest water fight I have even seen was taking place, it was a bloody war zone! I took a diversion. I found a few quiet streets with a few guest houses. I wanted to look further afield but each attempt to get out of the area was met with more war zones, so I cut my losses and checked into one I had already seen, not ideal, but better than trying to find another under the cirmumstances. I am on the fourth floor, overlooking the national stadium. That's a national stadium? It is oval with about 8 rows of tatty terracing around it, clearly sport is not taken that seriously here. In Bangladesh you would get more people around a television watching the cricket, or more people in a cafe watching a cyclist. In the evening the were still sparadic outbreaks of conflict, so I didn't stray too far.
Peace had returned by the following morning. After a leisurely breakfast I made my way to the Cambodian embassy, it was firmly shut. It is very quiet around town, I think it is another holiday, probably National Dry Yourself Out, Sober Yourself Up Day. I pootled about town on the bike looking at a few sights, but it is hard to believe this is a capital city. True it is very different and bigger than anything else I have seen in Laos, but there are wide boulevards and no high rise buildings anywhere, it just feels like a provincial town. I guess when the whole country has less than half the population on London that the capital is never going to be enormous. By evening I was totally amazed, there has been a complete unconditional ceasefire, you can walk the streets in safety and peace, wonderful. I seem to be rapidly turning into a grump old man, don't I? The thing is, I am sure it was all great fun if you are involved and armed with water yourself, but when you are on the receiving end the whole time, it was a bit of a nuisance.
Today I made another trip to the Cambodian embassy and they had thoughtfully put up a sign saying they are closed today and tomorrow, why couldn't they have put that up earlier? I did manage to speak to somebody though who said I could get a visa at the border, which contradicts what I have heard from everywhere else, but I checked in a travel agent and they confirmed it, hopefully that is the case then. I will set off for Pakxe in the south and try and get more information as I go, it will probably take me 6 or so days to get there, and that is where I will need to make my decision, either to continue south to the Cambodian border with Laos, or cross into Thailand again and cross into Cambodia from there where I know for sure that you can get a visa at the border. I have been around a couple of other sights today, but really I am taking it pretty easy here, it's a nice relaxed place, so I am making the most of it.
I keep seeing people here that I have seen elsewhere, some I have spoken to in the past, some I haven't, I just recognise them. Some I am please to see again, some I am not. I keep seeing the rather loopy Scotsman that I met in Luang Nam Tha and who tries to sell me drugs, I keep making out I don't see him so that I don't have to talk to him, I expect the feeling is mutual. I have also just bumped into David from Huddersfield who I met in Chiang Mai, it's a some world.
Aren't maps wonderful, you can look at them before you have been there, then look at them again after you have been there and they have a completely different 'feel' to them. Mystery is replaced by knowledge, though in my case with the memory span of a goldfish, it all too quickly returns to mystery! Mystery is replaced by knowledge, though in my case with the memory span of a goldfish, it all too quickly returns to mystery! Mystery is replaced by knowledge, though in my case with the memory span of a goldfish, it all too quickly returns to mystery! It doesn't seem to matter what the map is either, it seems to be the case if it is the map of a whole country or a street map of a town, the 'feel' of the map changes. You don't get that with a GPS.
I have uploaded a few more photos, there is even another one of me, I am with the young monk that I wrote about a while back, but I think it shows better how much weight I have lost, and that is despite eating up to 5 meals a day at times. For some strange reason on the shorter cycling days I seem to be overcome by hunger and as I have the time I eat more, I do, sometimes 2 lunches and 2 dinners, I only ever seem to have one breakfast though, may be I should look into that.


Lorna said...

Oh dear - I now have an image of a goldfish swimming round and round and round and round... And I can't remember what I was going to say after reading your latest blog!

Good to see the photos and 'new' you. You're looking happy and still recognizable:-)

S said...

I see you are turning into a natural blue!

Tony said...

Still appreciating your posts and pictures. Nothing much seems to be happening here, in comparison.

About maps.... very well put!

dad said...

I have an image of a fat goldfish tapping on the side of the bowl for more food, and trying to avoid getting wet.

I LOVE YOU said...