2 December 2011
Today has the worst surface since that prior to Jiangcheng. I've left the new Chinese road behind, it becomes apparent as I roll out of Oudomxai. After about 5km, the road turns left towards Luang Prabang, and the first of two big climbs starts.
Patches of road are unsurfaced, the longest perhaps 50m in length, but they occur frequently, and make it difficult to keep a climbing rhythm. On the descent, they hold down average speed and force mental alertness. Pedal, zip, brake, judder, repeat.
The descent becomes another climb, which then descends again to the end. All the while the surface is good-enough rideable seal, with intermittent breaks. I start thinking of ending the day with a cold Beer Lao to celebrate having dealt with the bumpy road, and suddenly three big trucks wearing Lao Beer Company logos overtake: the road is succumbing to the attritional effects of the country's beer distribution logistics. In turn, the broken road probably encourages beer consumption.
It's a long stop start descent to the end, alongside a river. Pakmong is little more than a road junction with guesthouses and restaurants, but it's a necessary stop, as it's still 110km to Luang Prabang.
I look for a place to stay. I try at the Chinese place on the corner first, and while communication goes fine, the proprietoress doesn't bother to get off her TV-watching behind. It's not the right place. I get called across the street. I get a pokey room in a pokey guesthouse to match the pokey town. A guy comes to smash the electrics. I go for a stroll. I meet Hani, one half of the Dutch couple. We catch up; he agrees that the ride could have been easier, and that maybe there was some kilometre marker monkey business towards the end.
Back to Pokey Guesthouse. I get a road-wrecking beer. I notice the Kunming-Luang Prabang bus is pulled up at the Chinese place opposite. I step out to observe. Homo Sinensis is doing his and her thing: spitting, smoking, distainfully perusing dusty shopfront stalls, scratching, talking about the barbecued bugs on sale. Fat daughter talks to fat mother. Well fed now. Not for the first time in Laos, I'm tempted to yell laowai, the not entirely polite term Chinese like to yell at foreigners in China. The driver's yell goes out, they scurry to the cocoon bus, and continue south.
83km, 15.2km/h, 5hr24min, c.e.g. 1900m - this is a guess after correcting for an error on the GPS. Total so far: 1280km.