After spending a few days (and one more than planned) relaxing on Don Khone, we were excited about getting back on the bikes and doing our first proper cycle day in Laos.
First things first though – we had to get off the island. We had been told there was a ferry at 8:15am – too late for us now hardcore dawn risers. So we got up and emerged from our Bungalow at 6:15am hoping that we could find someone to take us across. Low and behold, right in front of our Bungalow was a man sifting water out of his boat and after some kindle based communication we ascertained he could take us over to the mainland.
It then turned out that the boat we had stumbled upon was in fact the local “commuter” ferry and we were it’s first passengers. It did several stops around different points of the island picking up more and more people and cargo. We thought it was full after the second stop but no! They kept piling on. Eventually at the last stop they realised that if they let anyone else on the boat would probably sink. The result was that they had to leave two old ladies squatting on the shore. We felt a little guilty – our bikes and us taking up room for at least 6 locals! However, if you snooze you lose!!!
We made it safely over to the mainland by 7:30am and had a quick, slightly overpriced noodle soup breakfast on the beach before it was time to ‘frappe la rue‘ (our new slogan!). Having been used to the bumpy bumpy roads of Cambodia the 96km flew by on the beautiful and quiet Highway 13 (lucky for some) – even with the rolling hills. We even found petrol stations! With toilets, food and, importantly, ice creams – something that didn’t seem to exist in Cambodia.
96km complete we stopped for a late lunch (more noodle soup!) before we went on the hunt for guesthouses. Here we met some Spanish lesbians who had said we should head over to a lovely island 10km away, where there was a community homestay. We ummed and arred but eventually settled on a guesthouse 1km up the road (the recent memories of our last “island based homestay” still strong in our minds). The restaurant at the guesthouse provided us with a delicious dinner, unfortunately however Jess was still suffering intermittently from our Cambodian stomach troubles and didn’t get much sleep that night. (Not ideal when the room only comes with a “squat loo”…)
Luckily, as Jess was still feeling ill, we only had a short ride to Champasack the next day. This included yet another boat over the Mekong (hopefully our last for a while), and then a few kilometres to the town, where we stopped to visit the ruins of the unfortunately named ‘Wat Phu’!!! (This is funny because “Ph” is pronounced as an aspirated “P” in the transliteration from Laotian to Latin script…)
The guidebook had told us there was an Italian restaurant in town, so once Jess had had another nap back at the guesthouse and was feeling better, we headed there for a lovely dinner.
Another early rise and we were on our way to Pakse, again only a short ride away. In a way it was a bit of a shame the ride was so short because it was truly lovely scenery, the road winding it’s way between the hills, past hills and over rivers.
On our way we met 2 groups of cycle tourers. The first were 2 Aussie guys on road bikes with the smallest amount of stuff we’ve ever seen. (Not that we’re self conscious about the amount we’re carrying.) The second, an older Dutch couple, with much much more stuff than us, but with pristinely clean & matching bikes, panniers and outfits! Initially we assumed it must be their first day on the road (like the Aussies) however it turned out they had been cycling for 3 weeks already. How they had kept their bikes that clean we will never know since ours, (even though we had done a pretty good job (we thought) of cleaning them the day before,) still looked like they had been through several dust storms! (Not that we’re in any way self conscious of the state of our bikes of course… (mostly, the dirt doesn’t show up on Sam’s bike any way because of all the gaffer tape he’s had to used to cover up the scratches in the paint work!)…)
We made it to Pakse in good time, pausing only briefly to get a quick iced coffee (this then turned into quite a long break as the iced coffee was practically a bin bag full and it took a very long time to get through), and shaking slightly from caffeine overload, checked into a nice hotel. We then had a great Indian for lunch and spent the afternoon buying supplies for our trip onto the Bolevan Plateau.
4000 islands to the town of Ban Nongsim where we stayed the first night.
Ban Nongsim to Champassak.
Champassak to Pakse