Day 2 Vieng Thong to Vieng Xai
Vieng Thong to Vieng Xai on the map it looked like an easy 180 kilometre ride on the map, but along with connecting with cyclone as it blew through, the narrow switchback roads with the deluge making the surface treacherous.
It proved to be a tough going day.
Woken up a few minutes before 6am by tannoy from the local gendarmerie broadcasting the news to all & sundry.
Further sleep was not possible, but I rolled over and dozed stuffing a pillow over my head.
Outside a steady rain was falling.
Dad finally got me up at 0730 – later than planned.
Thongkhoun had got our bikes out and oiled our chains – what a great guy!
We returned to the fly-blown restaurant again – but neither grilled frogs nor fried insects appealed.
Dad & I had sticky rice, cookies – coffee for Dad – and M-150 [the local Red Bull] for me!
Thongkhoun tucked into the local delicacies with gusto!
With rain now falling steadily we bought chinese waterproof ponchos designed for riding scooters, as you could cover the front headlight and a passenger – all for $3.
0845 set off after filling up – my bike was using two litres of fuel more than Dad’s over the last section.
Unlike my fellow bikers, I thought the rain would soon lift and left without putting the poncho on.
Within 5 minutes I was soaked and I had to admit to Dad that he was right. GRRRR!
We cut the ponchos down to a midi waist-size.
Route 1C was originally built by the Chinese for the Pathet Lao in 1973 when the B-52 strikes stopped. This allowed cmmunist forces unimpeded access to reinforce their forces who were slowly gaining a strangle-hold around Luang Prabang.
It has been rebuilt may times sinces as the monsoon takes its toll on the surface.
The torrents of rain had created a shale slush which made the riding very tricky.
Corners and descent had to be in low gear as the rain grew the bike would step out on corners where the shale was thick.
Helmets misted up and, as the cloud closed in, the visibility dropped to barely 20metres at times.
I soon found that following the back wheel of our guide was the answer, mirroring his actions.
The rain runoff was foaming white, down the side drainage ditches.
Those clouds we had seen yesterday afternoon, were the beginnings of a cyclone blowing through northern Laos from Vietnam.
We were fortunate, as we rode around the periphery of its fury.
Elsewhere, villages were flooded.
We had acquired another rider from Vieng Thong who was going to Xam Neua to sell his bike, where he would get a better price.
Riding in a sodden jacket, with a plastic bucket of a helmet and flip-flop sandals he made us feel horribly over-dressed.
His tyres were bald and yet he was keeping up with us in the twisties.
Dad was keeping up today having cast aside his Bavarian Bus [GS] riding-style and was having to work the Baja’s revvy little gearbox.
When we reached Rout 6, we turned south for respite in the coffee houses of Nam Neuan.
Thongkhoun ordered turtle soup we had freshly grilled Moo and boiled eggs – DELICIOUS! And another M-150.
On the wall was a 3D menu board with bugs and turtles stuck to it.
Not very appetising for us farangs
Meanwhile the rain had returned.
It was just after twelve, when we topped up with fuel and rolled out North on Route 6.
The rain had eased off again; but we soon regained the cloud base, when we reached the mountain ridge crest.
At the 75km post to Xam Neua the twisties began again, hairpin switchbacks
with 200 metre drop-offs with no hard shoulder for a safety margin.
This required concentration – Dad was quite short with me
when I asked if I he minded my using my iPOD to keep alert.
I Want My iPOD!
The road though relatively quiet still had pick-ups, trucks and busses not to mention a smattering of scooters.
Butterfly strikes were an explosion of powdered colour,
leaving their imprint on my visor like a paintball splat.
The rain had dampened our enthusiasm for visiting the standing stones,
which were off the main road some 6kms down a rocky muddy road.
By now my boots had gained a deep end of water and my toes were doing fin-kicks to stay afloat.
We rolled into Xam Neua at 2.45pm, a large town nestling in the green hills.
The Hammer & Sickle upside down - a sign of distress?
In town, set back on the wide boulevards were hideous examples of soviet town planning with their crumbling architecture, a visual scar on a fast growing town.
Once in Xam Neua I discovered an awesome bridge that could be used as a small ramp for “small jumps”.
I got some AIR!
A quick coffee[Another M-150 for me] break before we rode the last 30kms to Vieng Xai,
The weather had changed for the better and so had the scenery.
Having crossed the mountain range we had descended to a beautiful landscape of intense fluorescent green paddyfields punctuated with dramatic rocky karsks.
Secret Laos - Vieng Xai, Pathet Lao Headquarters
In this stunningly beautiful setting the Pathet Lao
had held out against persistent B52 airstrikes
hidden in their bunkers dug deep into the large karsk rocky outcrops around.
Now the town is a haven of tranquility, that has become a museum to the Laoation communists' struggle against the US backed kingdom.
Outside the main graffiti covered auditorium is a gold painted statue extolling the courageous victories of the soldiers, farmers & peasants stamping on a bomb marked USA.
We rode out to the Thavisay Hotel nestling at the foot of one of the most striking mountain karsks beside a beautiful lake.
This was one of the last places the Lao King & Queen were seen alive in 1975.
A seminar was taking place and the reception staff, were only able to offer us two rooms.
I went to look at them with Dad, and it was clear that the hotel was running purely on the business from
its owners – the Laos Government.
The beds looked barely made, the plumbing was run through open holes in the floor, windows were boarded up
and doors partially repaired with plywood.
Dad muttered something about being worse than a Marseilles flop-house – whatever that might mean?
It was not a very enticing option for what we originally had planned as a two night stay.
We ended up at the Naxay GH, a newlybuilt operaton established by the head of Caves' Visitor Centre. A real case of the CP Member indulging in a bit of capitalist enterprise!
Dinner at a Chinese owned restaurant the Xailomyen GH by one of the many man-made lakes whose still waters hid a ghastly secret.
Great location, but not a culinary experience that I could recommend.
Afterwards Dad I watched the end of Die Hard 4 and then bed.