230km ride today, including a 120km side trip (return) to Muang Sing that started and ended in Luang Namtha, before we started our 110km ride towards Oudom Xai in earnest.
Our morning started with a 7:00am wake-up call from the iPad, followed by a flurry of packing and loading of the bikes, ready for an 08:00am departure – our first destination “Lai’s Place” – the small restaurant down the side street that we ate at last night, and would return to today for breakfast.
Karen had a mango with a sticky rice pancake, the rest of us had Lai’s “Lao Omelette Surprise” – tasty and filling, with all sorts of interesting edibles in it. After a quick refuelling stop we were ready to head off to Muang Sing about 09:00am, taking the twisty mountain road that leads there. The first 15km of the road was quite chopped up with the road surface ripped away and replaced with a clay base. The sky was grey and threatened rain, and I was concerned that if it did start raining then we’d have difficulty retracing our steps as the clay quickly turns to a very slippery mud, but after a quick chat with Aad and Mike we decided to push on all the way to Muang Sing.
The narrow road twisted up and down along the mountain sides, following a river. We slowed down at one point as the road ahead was blocked by cars – a little people-mover van had slipped off the road into a deep gutter and people were trying to get the van back onto the road. Just a short distance further on an ambulance passed us heading towards the accident, but we hadn’t seen anyone injured in or around the car when we rode slowly past.
Just south of Muang Sing the road left the mountains and dropped down to the paddy fields, with little wooden houses built along the roadside a clear sign that we were approaching the town. We rode into Muang Sing and I stopped out the front of the old two storey building that was Tailu’s Restaurant & Guesthouse, but when Karen questioned a guy out the front he just mumbled incomprehensibly. Directly across the road we saw another building labelled Tailu’s Restaurant, but the man there said that the restaurant was no longer open. Oh well – I’d enjoyed a delicious banana pancake and Lao coffee here five years ago but it wasn’t to be today.
Mike spotted another small restaurant a little further up the busy main road of the small town, but when we rode up there the ‘Doof Doof’ music blaring out was that loud it was almost deafening, so we went a bit further again to a small Chinese restaurant and enjoyed some nice spicy minced beef and rice, along with a cup of hot tea.
Our early lunch over, and Karen having completed her rescue mission that involved picking up a big beetle that was slowly trudging down the road and risking getting squashed flat and relocating it to the tall grass on the other side of the road, we remounted and headed back to Luang Namtha. The return trip seemed to pass by a bit quicker – the road had dried out a bit and we could ride with a bit more confidence.
Just out of Luang Namtha we stopped briefly so Mike could check his GPS and then we headed east along Route 1 towards Oudom Xai. I spotted a water buffalo and its calf in a paddy field just near the edge of the rural road, but I was a bit slow in stopping the bike so Karen could get a good photo of it, nevertheless upon checking the photos later in the day she has snapped it quite well. The first 40km of the road took us out to Nateui and the open road allowed us to set a good pace.
Beyond Nateui the road started a bit more twisting and turning and narrowed a bit, so more concentration was required – validated by some of the missing sections of road that we had to skirt around to avoid.
We arrived in Oudom Xai around 4:30pm and made our way to our guest house that was a bit set back from the centre of town, dropped off our soft luggage and then rode back to Souphailin’s Restaurant back on the other (northern) side of the bridge, for an early dinner. I’d eaten a few times at Souphailin’s when I’d passed through Oudom Xai years ago, and this small, quaint and quirky place is listed in Trip Advisor as the #1 restaurant in town. Souphailin recognised me from the previous trip, (despite my long hair and beard now) and we settled down at one of the two outdoor tables located on the verandah surrounded by tall plants.
Karen wasn’t feeling hungry so she just had some mashed potato whilst Aad and Mike shared a delicious vegetarian dish of fried vegetables with pineapple and peanuts, and I had a traditional northern Laos dish – chicken cooked in banana leaf. Desert was banana in caramel (Mike), and Aad helped me finish a bowl of mango with sticky rice and coconut milk.
Riding back to our guest house in the dark gave both Aad and Mike a chance to test their new spotlights in the darkness, and they were very impressed. Aad had been quite impressed with the auxiliary headlights – the spotlights – on our BMW and had bought and fitted lights to his Triumph and Mike’s Yamaha in Chiang Mai. During the day these LED’s are much easier to see than their standard headlights, and at night they are great as well.
And so ends another great riding day in Laos. Great roads, great company, great food – it’s like a food safari over here 🙂