The Rest of the Northern Loop

After Ponsavan we follow highway 7 East, then 6 North until we hit 1C Westward, and we encounter many gorgeous little mountain villages. Riding through here is a joy! Bamboo village after bamboo village. Children wave and cheer as we pass. We stop somewhere to check the map and an old lady who looks like she may have nothing to eat herself brings us a plate of baked sweet potato to nibble on. You really fall in love with these people as you’re passing through; especially the kids.

Vieng Thong is the first stop. There are a two or three guest houses here as far as we can make out and we stay in one directly in front of the main village market (Sou Sa Khone, 60000LAK). It’s been a long ride and after checking in we head straight off in our dust-caked gear in search of food.

We cross a concrete bridge and as we’re taking in the scenery I meet a fella who points out the hot springs about a kilometre out of town – the local bath – and says he can take us there. We’re just hungry right now so I decline.

Across the bridge we find a few little bamboo food shacks, one of which operated by two lovely sisters. They cook us up some great local BBQ skewers (buffalo beef) with a delicious rice noodle and veg dish and we dig in.

What a meal! It’s so tasty we immediately go for seconds and of course there’s some beers to accompany.

As we sit there sipping away in the sunset I notice more and more people humming by on their bicycles and scooters with towels around their necks. They must be going to the springs for a wash. I put the idea to Ebru but she’s set on her hot shower in the guest house. No deal.

Well, we get back to the accommodation and immediately have a power failure. So much for hot shower. I exercise a bit of persuasion and soon Ebru and I are on the bike, towels in hand, headed for the hot springs. About a kilometre down a sand road after the bridge (you only have to follow the towels) we arrive there and check it out. It’s a hive of activity! In the car/bike/torch light you can see men, women, children, all bathing in the steaming water. They’ve built a dam wall against the springs with thick metal tubes extending out of it, bringing the water to various bathing spots arranged downstream.

At first we’re a bit nervous as we’re the only white people there and everybody’s surprised to see us. But soon we’re down to our underwear, being blasted by the piping hot water flowing from the end of the pipe and we’re all giggles and gasps. It’s absolutely awesome! The water is so hot at first it takes you a while to adjust, then afterwards you just sit there as it flows over you and you can feel how your muscles relax. Coming out you’re glowing and your skin is radiant and smooth. Just what the doctor ordered! Needless to say Ebru loves it! We haven’t found so hot a shower since we hit the road in August.

All shiny clean and recuperated we head out to a (the?) local establishment in town to enjoy some beers. We meet a nice Austrian couple who started from Burma and are now traveling through Lao with their 3 young kids (4, 7 & 9) – they couldn’t have made a better decision! He’s recently left his job in waste recycling in Austria and took the opportunity to take the family on an extended trip. They teach the kids three times a week to keep up with school work. Of course all the folks back home think they’re mad and it’s all far too dangerous, but no doubt these kids will remember this as one of the most exciting and valuable adventures that will have helped shaped their minds.

We talk about the metaphorical RESET button that was unexpectedly pressed whilst traveling through this country, bringing on deep questions of what really makes us happy in life and whether we were attaining it in our past routines. It’s a really pleasant evening of conversation and stories while the children are playing card games. The youngest of the children, Ferdinand, has been asked his name a few too may times on this trip, so we all take great pleasure in asking him again and observing his irritated reactions: “FERDINAND! Dad I’m telling these people for the thirty sixth time now and they still don’t get that it’s FERDINAND! …”

Well, our Austrian friends, I hope the reset button serves you well and you find that new rythm of life you are seeking. All the best and may we meet again.

Next stop is Nong Khiew. We stay here for a few days and relax. It’s a small village along the main road, either side of a long concrete bridge. There is great food and drink here: Steamed bamboo and fish in banana leaf, TomYam Lao soup and Lap (minced meat with plenty of fresh herbs served with sticky lice) make for a taste sensation and a couple of glasses LaoLao (potent rice schnapps / rocket fuel) deliver a hangover of note!

One night after dinner we’re talking to a local lad by the fire outside the restaurant, practicing his English and him teaching us how to count in Lao. Suddenly there’s a bit of commotion and he tells us that there’s been an accident on the bridge, so we go there to see if we can help out. I was expecting some gashes or scrapes which we might be able to treat with the medikit I brought along. However when we get there it’s tad more serious.

Two guys must have been flying along on their scooter and baled. The scene is hair-raising: the one chap lying on the kerb, grunting in pain, the other on the street, seemingly lifeless except for a shallow breathing, his scalp parted like a well-creamed hair style – not most confidence-inspiring sight when you’re soon about to be biking long distance yourself! Lucky for them there are three American chaps there – doctors I guess – who seem to know what they’re doing, latex gloves and the lot. We help them keep the spectators out of the way, stabilize the bodies and lift them on to a truck to get them rushed off to “the Clinic” (there is no hospital in this town). Last I hear a day later from the young chap at the local restaurant is that they both survived, “nobody die”.

There’s a little cafe called Delias where Ebru meets some interesting folk from Oz and Ireland and helps them build a stone oven! Result of a spontaneous decision made that morning when the right people happened to be present and the owner mentioned how fed up he was not to be able to get decent bread in the area. Sadly no photos of Ebru in action as I was busy elsewhere.

On the final night we go for a walk aroud town after dinner looking for a nice place to settle in for a sundowner. Just about everything is closed but as we walk past a side street we hear the thumping of loud music which seems unbelievable. We follow it and find what we’d have least expected: a real shabby little nightclub where it seems every local in town and neighbouring towns has come for a piece of the action. We can’t account for one western face but we go in anyway and order a beer. The place is heaving and the music is blaring – not just Lao tunes but western club music and even Nirvana! Everyone’s drinking and jumping around, the young girls are kitted up to the eyeballs – high heels, tight minis and T-shirts, hair mousse and make up. And there’s lady-boys galore! Well I love it, this is great – what a jewel!

Fortunately, my responsible other reigns me and shields me from the terrifying dangers of having another drink there, so we call it a night and hit the sack.

– Bathe at the hot springs in Vieng Thong. Especially after a day’s biking!
– Eat whatever you can in Nong Kiew!
– Try the LaoLao with mint at Sabai Sabai restaurant. Also they have a steam sauna and massage, but we didn’t try.
– Party at the local nightclub!

SEE PHOTOS OF “LAO 10 Days Bike Ride Part5 Viengthang to Namkhan…”

SEE PHOTOS OF “LAO 10 Days Bike Ride Part6 Namkhan to Luang Prabang…”