Thursday, 29th November

Having thought about it overnight, I have to report that your blogger ‘wimped out’ of the bicycle ride. I know. I felt a real light weight. But take a stony road, hills and a mountain bike with gears (my sit up and beg bike only has 3!) I saw a disaster in the making, so I opted out and joined Denise in the support vehicle. All things considered, a good move.

It was a bit overcast when we left centre ville, but the day brightened and warmed up quite quickly. We sat in the back of the truck that followed the cyclists to provide water and comfort, should the need arise. This was definitely ‘tour de Laos’ rather than ‘Tour de France’!! The whole enterprise seemed a source of complete mystery to the locals!

I think it is well worth dwelling on the villagers for a moment. Rice seems to be the main crop. As the rice harvest has taken place the fields are full of dry straw. Although town dwellers tend to have perhaps three children, in rural communities large families of perhaps 5 and 6, may be more, are still common we were told. Children being a good source of labour. In addition, there being no pension provision, children are relied upon to look after their aged parents. A good number of children spread the load of responsibility. Old people are respected and cared for. The children we saw all looked happy enough, tumbling with the dogs, cats and chickens in the dust around most houses.

We travelled up through a couple of villages out into the farmland beyond for about 7 kms. It was a very bumpy ride for us in the truck and it proved impossible to take many photographs because you could not keep your hands still, as we lurched along – swerving to avoid the biggest potholes and clattering across the narrow wooden bridges that spanned the streams and water ways.

At one stage we came across some major earthworks. These were part of the the new press railway line the Chinese are financing and building. The trouble of these ventures is that rather than giving work or trade to the local people, the Chinese provide all their own resources – manpower, machinery and equipment so it contributes nothing to the local economy.

The view from our perch in the back of the truck – on a less bumpy bit!

We eventually arrived at the nearest you can get to the Kuang Nyui Waterfall we were visiting. Our cyclists dismounted and we clambered out. Passing the usual gastronomic opportunity, plus puppy, we set out to clamber up the hill.

We started up the track, crossing a very wobbly bridge, even in Laos terms – planks shot up as you put your foot on them and the whole thing swayed from side to side!

The route took us up and through some pretty dense vegetation and then down again to an even more precarious looking bridge, but by now we could hear the roar of the water and see it tumbling over the rock above us.

I think it is difficult to capture a waterfall on a photograph as it is a roaring, living thing, too active to be represented in a still photograph. The Korean ladies who had passed me on the track were all very happily being soaked by the force of the downpour and gave some size perspective……..

Eventually the Asian representatives and their shrieking left and our little party took their turn,

Bruce and I performed paparazzi duty! There is nothing like a bit of water to give people pleasure. Somehow I have never been a Water Baby!

There was another, much more gentle pool on the way back where more bathing took place, before we left it to its quiet babbling. Laos generates a lot of hydro electric power in its towering limestone mountains and now sells it to its neighbours less blest.

We wandered back down to the vehicles, buying drinks on the way to support the small local community.

There were not quite so many cyclists on the way back. Bruce and Sarah had joined the support party and their bicycles were expertly tied on the roof.

Denise taking her duties seriously!

It was such a lovely meander back stopping for photos of water buffaloes

Pigs

And just views!

Back in the city we had our first free time of the holiday. Denise and I just lunched on a few cashews and nibbles and had a rest before setting out for an afternoon stroll.

We crossed the river on a very long and wobbly bridge amazingly shared by pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. In the usual way, the bridge swayed and the planks flexed as weight fell on them. I am sure they have been safe for years, but still felt happier when we had reached the other side!

The south side of the river it was much less developed, with hotel buildings much more in the local style.

Looking across back to the north side, buildings were multi floored and you could see the Vang Viang of the future. In fact it is a town with something of a darker recent past. Some years ago it became something of a backpackers paradise, situated as it is on the Nam Song river, in a beautiful valley about halfway between Vientiane and Luang Prebang. To some extent it became a victim of its own success. In addition to the backpackers who had found an inexpensive, beautiful location that provided kayaking, swimming caving and rock climbing it also attracted bars and restaurants including such niceties as magic mushrooms and marijuana infused pizzas. Unfortunately, it deteriorated into a place of drunkenness, drugs and debauchery by all accounts and when this was mixed with the outdoor pursuits and a number of people died, embassies started to register it as a dangerous place to go. Eventually the Government cracked down and closed some of the more hard core rave bars, started to enforce the drug laws and closed down the more dangerous activities. Vang Vieng had cleaned up its act and become a more respectable tourist location again. Since then it has grown rapidly with, it would appear, little deference to its cultural roots to n terms of buildings.

For us it was an enjoyable walk along the river. We passed cows and strollers and the inevitable cooking…

A lady was building a new fence to keep in her herd….

Someone was painting boats ready for the new season…….

At the end of road we turned inland and walked through a local community. We could see inside some houses.

Food stalls abounded and chicken feet were readily available for the discerning eater!

Back over another bridge, we watched the days balloon flights going over,,,,,, this bridge did offer at least a bit of protection from falling into the water!

Back on the night market street, young women were setting up their market stalls, babies attached. All happy, albeit shyly, for us to show an interest in their offspring.

We had agreed to meet the rest of the crowd at The Elephant Crossing again and spent a jolly evening together before adjourning to bed. It is the 8 hour journey to Luang Prebang tomorrow – advertised as being another bumpy ride but with bends (😳) as we cross the mountain range that lies between us and it.

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