I think the plan with Aad and Mike was to be on the bikes for 7:30am – as a surprise Karen and I were ready about 07:00am for a change – packed, loaded, lights washed clean to remove the dust and grime, and water bottles refilled, so we headed off and stopped out the front of the UXO Survivors Office to get some information and then rode the short distance back to Nisha’s Indian to meet the guys for breakfast. We’d met Francios – the French guy in his Toyota camper – here the night before, and also Andre and his wife (they are from Tasmania), and we’d next bump into Francios in Luang Prabang a few days later – what a small world it is !!!
My chocolate chapati was different and very oily to eat, but the Lao coffee was nice. Aad, Mike and Karen all had eggs & baguettes which they enjoyed. After a quick fuel stop (my 22L cost about AU$30 so no cheap fuel here in Laos – and this fuel would cause me problems later in Luang Prabang when the bike stalled a couple of times at slow speeds in heavy night traffic) we were heading out of Phonsavan about 08:30am, bound for the Kacham Waterfall, about 255km away or so.
The 125km road from Phonsavan to Phou Khoun is a fantastic ride – I’d commented when writing about my previous ride along this road in 2011 in the reverse direction that everyone should ride this road at least once, and my earlier comment still stands. The road twisted through the hills – at times you could see through five or six curves ahead, and this encouraged a nice quick pace, only tempered by the frequent cows that stood either slap bang in the middle on the road, or right on the edge. I had toyed with the idea of taking a small detour to show Mike the old abandoned airfield at Mong Souy but I got completely sidetracked with the riding – the first time I stopped I realised that I’d ridden the whole section to Phou Khoun and the airfield was near the other end back towards Phonsavan, so that will have to wait for another trip.
Karen and I grabbed a cheap and cheerful meal at the Phou Khoun Restauarant – whilst we watched the minivans full of pack-packers and tourists pulling into town for a break. I don’t think there’s much to see or do here, except have a leg stretch and bite to eat on the trip from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. Lunch finished, we headed north towards LPB, with the road deteriorating in places and the traffic becoming heavier and more stupid.
We stopped at a roadside stall and bought some bananas, and went halves with Mike to buy some spring onions to add to our noodles. We saw some cooked rats hanging up but couldn’t be tempted.
Aad and Mike needed fuel, and I wasn’t anticipating that we’d be able to get any food at the waterfall, so we stopped in Xieng Ngeun. The last few downhill km into town was a bit hectic with tour minivans clinging to the bikes, trying to make us ride faster. I’d pull to the side and let them go through as there was nothing to be gained by holding them up, a few times I was concerned that the other guys were going to get rear-ended by an over-ambitious van driver.
A few years ago the road south-west from Xiang Ngeun had been unsealed but its recently been paved and it didn’t take us long to cover the 18km down to the waterfall. The track into the waterfall itself was unpaved, but reasonably good. The park boom gate was up and no one was in the ticket booth – which meant there was no one to speak to regarding arranging one of the small chalets there. I rode up to the end of the track to where the waterfall and restaurant were, and chatted to a man working there who said that we could pitch our tents on the grass there. Yippee !!!
It was about 04:30pm at this stage so we worked fast to get our tents up – Karen and I are still battling with trying to inflate our air mattresses – and as the sun went down on another great riding day we were all seated above the waterfall pool, enjoying a drink and stale crisps. Whilst we had planned to cook dinner the restaurant – whilst empty of patrons – was open, so we ordered dinner from there as a way of saying ‘thanks’ for being allowed to camp at the waterfall. Karen ordered a beef steak and had high hopes for it, but it was served all sliced up and quite spicy – so she had some of my chicken fried rice and the beef was shared between Aad, Mike and myself.
We were all early into bed, listening to the sound of the waterfall and occasionally hearing local people walking past our tents late into the night as they headed up the steep forest track into the mountains for a moonlit night of hunting and foraging.