The plan was to be down at the bikes at 7:30am so I’d set the iPad alarm for 7:00am but in Vieng Thong you don’t need to set your own alarm apparently as the local authorities take care of that by blasting out an ongoing stream of news announcements, public information messages and rallying songs over the town’s PA system from 6:00am onwards. Karen was less than impressed as the loud speakers seemed to be right outside our bedroom window and the sound was almost deafening.
On coming downstairs Aad and Mike had already started to load their bikes, and Stephanie (One World – One GS rider) was looking over her 100cc bike she’d bought in Vietnam, so Karen chatted with her whilst I brought the rest of the gear down. Stephanie shared a few tips and suggestions with Karen on how to ride a tall bike – she starts up the bike, puts it in gear and starts to move off as she swings up onto the seat. Karen had a sit on her small 100cc bike and managed to reach the ground – maybe she will switch to riding rather than pillioning one day! Stephanie also explained to Karen how she broke her leg during a demonstration trial on the GS, falling from a couple of metres onto the ground below, and how after the original surgery was botched up she required two years and another four operations to fix her leg. She spent most of that time in a wheelchair, and wasn’t supposed to be riding a motorcycle on this trip to SE Asia, but got bored of backpacking around 🙂
Breakfast itself was purchased from the shop across the road, water and chocolate biscuits for me, Coke and chocolate biscuits for everyone else. About 8:30am we were on the road heading towards Xam Tai, about 170km away.
The road climbed higher up into the mountains – peaking around 1,400 above sea level, mainly hovering between 1,100 and 1,200 metres. The road itself closely followed the mountain ridges, switching from side to side occasionally, sometimes running right along the ridge so you could look down into the valleys far below on either side. Some of the valleys had clouds inside them, and we could look down upon the tops of the clouds.
Arriving in Pho Lou I signalled to Mike to see if he wanted a drink, and we both pulled off the road just short of the only intersection in this little village (most villages here in northern Laos don’t have any intersections so this three way junction was a big thing). Aad was a couple of minutes behind us and we thought he was joking a round when he rode straight past us – even as we stood next to the road and waved our arms madly – and stopped in the middle of the intersection, looking to see which way to turn. We yelled out to him and he turned around and rode back to us, less than impressed with our corner-marking system 🙂
Mike and Aad both needed a small amount of fuel to get them through to Xam Neau, the largest interim town on today’s ride, so they each took onboard 5 litres of fuel from a 44 gallon drum of fuel that was being hand-pumped by a middle-aged lady. We pushed on to Xam Neau, carefully negotiating the mud-slicked hill leading down to the town, and stopped again to refuel. Karen and I had seen a big pig strapped to the back of a small motorcycle a short while earlier and this passed us as we refuelled. We rode into town and whilst I’ve been here before (years ago) I got my bearings wrong and hence took us to a restaurant that had been a dismal failure on my last trip, but fortunately today the fried noodles with chicken I ordered, and the chicken fried rice everyone else had was very tasty.
I watched over the bikes as the others went looking for an ATM and food supplies – coming back having found an ATM but no food, so we remounted and rode around town for a while before finding a small shop to get some supplies from, as from memory Vieng Xai didn’t have too much to offer.
From Xam Neau it was another 27km out to Vieng Xai, with a small delay thrown in when we were halted by some roadworks that we’re going on, with two large diggers shovelling sand from one side of the road to the other. A large number of motorbikes and cars were banked up on either side of the roadworks, and it was a mad scramble when the diggers halted their work and traffic was allowed through. The road itself had been dug up and was a muddy quagmire, and this took some effort to ride through safely, made harder again with all the other bikes and cars pushing ahead.
Arriving in Vieng Xai we rode to the co-ordinates given by booking dot com for our hotel, just to end up a few km out of town towards Vietnam and surrounded by jungle. We rode back into town and with a small amount of guesswork found our hotel, set back from the road and surrounded by a fence. We unpacked our gear and both Karen and Aad got stuck into the man running the hotel – our bathroom hadn’t been cleaned and no lights worked in Aad’s room.
Dinner this evening was cooked on the dragonfly on the open entrance foyer of the hotel – a nice noodle omelette. Pots washed up, Karen tried unsuccessfully to download a Christmas movie to get into the mood for Christmas, but either the Internet or iTunes wasn’t co-operating and so instead we turned to one of Mike’s movies – “Wild Target” – a quirky dark comedy starring Bill Nigh and Emily Blunt, which we were enjoying but I was knackered from the riding and constant concentration the riding demanded today, so we stopped the movie about 2/3rds in. And so ended our Christmas Eve 🙂