I had a good plan when I left Vientiane. There is a Buddha Park that I wanted to visit, it's 25km SE of Vientiane, so I decided to visit it on my way out rather than make a 50km round trip, I expected it to add about 20km onto my first day. I found the Buddha Park without any trouble, the road was easy to follow as it went under the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, a major border crossing, after that things went a little downhill as the tarmac disappeared and it became very sandy. Still, I got there and wasn't over impressed with it, so I was pleased not to have made the 50km trip. There I met a Swiss family who had waved to me on the way from the back of a tuk-tuk. They have been travelling for almost a year and were really nice, the guy even slightly changed my opinions of people with tattoos, though only slightly. They have been travelling with their 6 year old daughter and 2 year old son, now that is a challenge! From there on the road got worse and worse, still I knew it would only be about 30k, ha ha! After about 30k I stopped for lunch, knowing the main road would be just around the corner, it wasn't. I t just never seemed to arrive, I even flagged a car down from the opposite direction and their response was 'What main road?', they had never heard to highway 13, really the only road heading south. I resigned myself to the fact that this must be the main road (photo) and it would be like this for a few days, then joy of joys, there it was, nice smooth tarmac after 60k of sand and gravel.
From there on in it was decent road the whole way. I stopped the following day at Pakkading after a pretty uneventful ride, but was amazed to find a really good guest house in the tiny town. Heading south away from the tourist areas I had expected to be staying in dives, but not at all, they have been far better and at the same price, excellent value. 10 minutes after I had arrived I wasn't so sure about the excellent value as a cockeral was doing it bit non stop just aoutside the window, I had a pretty good idea that I wouldn't oversleep the following morning. It must have been a much loved creature as I was ready to wring it's bloody neck after 10 minutes. Also it suddenly got very dark, then the heavans opened with a thunderstorm, I had just timed it right and hadn't even seen it coming, it must have been sneaking up behind me. I had dinner at the restaurant next door served by a lovely looking lady.
I was right about the cockeral, it put on a show at 23:30, then from 3am until I got up at 6am. Amazingly as I was about to leave, so was the cockeral. I couldn't believe it, they stopped it from trying to escape, if it had been me I would have sent it on it's way with a hefty kick from a size 12 boot up it's backside. I don't even take size twelve, but would have happily bought a pair just for the job. I had breakfast next door, but the lovely looking lady from last night didn't look so lovely first thing in the morning in her pyjamas. No that doesn't mean I spent the night with her, it's just that life here is one continual circle of work. Shops and restaurants are family affairs and the living area is open for all to see at the rear of the business. It's rather strange to take your shoes off to go in a shop and after a couple of row of goods to see sofas and people watching television, or lying around in bed. The floors are generally tiled and some even park their cars inside. What I want to know is once they have parked the car in front of the tele, do they then take off their shoes to get out of the car, it just doesn't make sense to me, very odd. The days ride was once again very hot, but could have been so attractive with hills to the left, ruined by roadside power cables, and the Mekong river to the right, hardly visible due to high vegetation, I just had to use my imagination. By now I was off the bananas, but I am clearly hooked on sticky rice. Can you overdose on rice? I normally try and get some for breakfast as the noodles just don't give me the energy, then I also buy extra to take with me. I feel so much better when I can feel the globules of the stuff coursing through my veins. Although it is the same stuff as normal rice when squeezed into balls in your hands it is a very different texture to eat, nice and chewy, great stuff.
I left Thakhek without having breakfast as the choice was only noodle soup. I kept an eye open for sticky rice as I passed through the villages, eventually spotted people eating it at a table and stopped and ordered some, along with a cane juice. Clearly they thought this was a very odd order, but as I waited I realised this was only a little shop with a couple of tables outside, those I had spotted inside were just the family having their breakfast, still they gave me breakfast that included an omelette and all for barely nothing. I found another good guest house that evening but their spelling here is worse than mine as I was staing in a 'Guest Houes', a couple of days ago I stayed in a 'Quest House'.
Yesterday I set off not really knowing where I would stay as I didn't expect to find a guest house at all. I passed some early on, but far too early to stop. During the afternoon I looked for places to camp, but it was hardly ideal, dried rice paddies with cattle on. I stopped at a couple of villages and asked if there was anywhere to camp, they said no, but probably had no idea what I was on about. I stopped at a shop for drinks, I was oh so thirsty. This was very much a general store as whilst I was there somebody wanted medicines. Pills and capsules were all kept loose in a blue bucket, single shot liquid medicines were in the green bucket and money was kept in the pink bucket, not that it would have been very heavy as there are no coins here. As I sat at the store I asked the guy about camping, but he told me there was a guest house 20k further on. Oh well' I might as well plod on. After 21k I arrived at a village and stopped and asked a group of women how far to the guest house, I was told by 3 of them 2k, 4k and 5k, I guessed it was going to be the 5k. After 5k at last I arrived at a town, but no sign of a guest house, I asked again and was told it was another 4k, this could go on forever and it was rapidly getting dark, yet it is oh so close! Why is it that people always under estimate the distance, they never seem to say 20k, only for it to be 15. At last I arrived, to be met at a guest house run by a man with no legs, yet he was very able bodied. I was amazed at his agility as he swung in and out of his wheel chair. As I carried my bike into the room the door swung shut, but in a flash he was there to hold the door open for me, an amazing man. There are lots of places here called Lak, so many in fact that they seem to number them, I passed through Lak 35, 70, 90 and 12, today I passed Lak 58. Looking at the map last night they don't seem to have got it quite right as there are 2 Lak 12's! I pitty the poor postman! (They have postmen here?) With the guest house being out of town I had to ride out in a fantastic electrical storm for dinner. The first place I stopped at only had noodle soup on offer and showed me a bag of dried noodles, complete with a large cockroach. She wasn't the slightest bit bothered when I pointed it out to her, she probably thought I wanted in the soup. I moved on! The next place was fine, others were eating there too and a group of teenagers even gave me a glass of beer. A pot-bellied pig came in and barged it's way under the tables, needless to say that once again nobody batted an eyelid, it was probably the family pet, to be eaten in a year or so.
So after cycling far to far yesterday it at least left a nice easy ride into Pakse today, which gave me time to have a good look around, read sit around and drink wonderful banana shakes. Today I had the wind behind me which made it fast and a doddle. I also had it behind me for the last part yesterday, which I can't understand as prior to that I have been heading into a slight headwind the whole time. I have another long ride tomorrow, let's hope it's behind me again.