17 December 2011
Bit of an unconventional day, in many respects. After the last few repetitive days, today comes as the rest that they say a change is.
I wake feeling pretty bad. Stiff, a little dehydrated, sleepy, and just generally not good. I elect to give myself a slow start to the day, and aim to be on the road around ten.
Jesse's write-up says the last 30km into Savannakhet are downhill, so I make Xeno/Seno my 'effort target'.
Breakfast at the Thakhek guesthouse is a drab affair, but it gets much needed calories in - I've simply not eaten enough the last few days and I'm playing catch-up. Why there's so much instant coffee used in a country that could be famous for its coffee is beyond me.
Just as I'm panniering up the bike, I run into the Dutch couple I shared lunch with in Kasi. We catch up on what we've been up to and I deliver a quick review of the guesthouse at their request. The Thakhek Travel Lodge is an education. It's far from perfect, but it seems to have invisibly bribed word-of-mouth marketing into submission, and consequently gets away with margin murder. I slept well though. Perhaps they'll run into trouble when credible competition shows up.
I roll out shortly after ten, and once I'm back on route 13, I soon start to smash it. So all I've really been missing the last couple of days is potato, bread and fried eggs? Really?
Breakfast means there's no urgency to eat, and shortly after I start thinking about refuelling, I catch up with Justin and Emma, the London to Bangkok riders I met last night. I was not expecting to see them as they'd planned to leave early, but they departed around nine and I was obviously pushing it a little harder than them. Emma says they're also keeping an eye out for food.
As a solo rider, I'm always in the front position, so I continue to lead, but at a slower pace so they can sit on my wheel and get some aerodynamic benefit. Despite dropping my speed, Justin falls off the back. Emma says he's been off colour a few days. We slow it all down and regroup, chatting about gear and this and that.
We come into a village with restaurants. At the third attempt we find a place with something we want. No drinks though, so I head across the street. We eat simple rice dishes and chat a long while. They're only heading to Seno, so don't have the extra 30km I do. After a short post lunch warm up, I leave them to it.
I couldn't have timed it better - there's a series of gradual descents, and I'm quickly running an average above 25. At lunch I've somehow managed to reset my bike computer, which I'm sour about for a while, but it quickly gets forgotten as the remaining 40km to Seno drops past me in one hour forty-five.
At Seno, there's an obvious right turn towards Savannakhet. This is the first time I've ridden something other than highway 13 in Laos (it's highway 9), and it's the first time I've done a branch to my route - I'll need to head back through Seno to continue east to Vietnam. It also stands out as the best biking road in Laos so far. Savannakhet has a border crossing with Thailand, aka the second Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge, so I think this meets the criteria for 'showing-off road'. While there's a few repaired patches in the car lanes, the bike lane surface is smooth as asphalt can be, it's signed as a bike lane, and it's generally free of obstacles. Oh, and it's downhill with a tailwind.
Savannakhet got included in my itinerary on grounds of having a cool name. I once saw it on a bus ticket sign somewhere and found my Southeast Asian geographical knowledge totally stumped.
I recently learnt that Savannakhet, and not Luang Prabang, is Laos's second largest city after Vientiane, with some 120,000 people. Tiny. It's long been a trading city on account of its Mekong shore location and its sandwiching between Thailand and Vietnam. I roll into town, following my nose at first and then my Android map software. First impressions are good. Loads of tourism potential, without much effort being made to exploit it.
I grab a room within a stone's throw of the Mekong and head straight across the street for a riverside al fresco Beerlao. It's true: the sunset over the Mekong never gets old.
A oblivious family shows up with a twelve year old girl wearing a t-shirt that says 'F*** society's idea of beauty'. Swallows test the camber of the air, the cirrus is dusted peach and blueberry, surreptitious geckos scuttle upon tree trunks, and then the dusk biters start to float and I duck inside a decaying colonial relic.
130km, 23.6km/h, 5hr30min, 2278km. Note: data from GPS following lunchtime reset.