Arriving in Vang Vieng

As I wake to the sound of roosters, there’s a dream-like quality to yesterday’s ride. Was it that  86km was further than I’d ridden for 3 decades, or was it the extraordinary sight of Peter, the lycra-clad young Englishman on his shiny white road bike heading the other way who stopped to chat, or maybe it was just the crunchy taste of the bbq bats on which I had breakfasted?  Well, it was all of those and more and so perhaps I’ll leave it to some photos to tell the tale.

Where it comes to hills though , I’m learning that those cycle bloggers descriptions do not meet my reality. “There’s a couple of hills, nothing worth mentioning” is not how I’d put it, but I know that’s nothing to what I can expect to the north.  Indeed, it was the beauty of the scenery in a photo I found on the internet taken in the hills between Viang Vieng and Luang Prabang  ( that catalysed my decision to come, so I am aware of the mountains to come.  Well, I think I am. Lycra-clad Peter’s concerned look over me and my equipment, as he asked if I was heading north after Viang Vieng, brought home a reality that I may be expecting a lot of myself. Still, that’s for another day.

For today, I’m heading off on a kayaking and cave tour which I’m hoping will be a relaxing upper-body-strength only kind of day. Situated amongst the stunning karst limestone hills where two rivers meet, Viang Vieng has developed as a tourist mecca, something that was immediately apparent as I cycled around the town yesterday afternoon. (I’d left at dawn at 6am, finally arriving in town around 3pm, after long stops not only for bats, but later for superb noodle soup/kindle reading.) After two days where I’d seen only one European face, even before I reached the town I was feeling backpacker overload.  It was a sinking feeling to see standards of dress, or rather undress, so alien in this country, and I found myself ashamed hearing a bizarre lack of respect with which stallholders were treated. (Showing my age, well maybe?)

Despite being keen, as you can imagine (and even in your imagination you probably wouldn’t realise  how keen) to find accommodation,  I passed up the first two guest houses I checked out, and finally cycled back out of the ‘party scene’ to the road that I’d passed as I entered the town, to find myself – thanks – the perfect teak clad room in a quiet garden setting.   At $25 per night with ensuite,  a swimming pool and breakfast included, and a helpful and friendly Vietnamese receptionist, Rafiki and Grandpa Bear were soon resting inside the room while I was poolside enjoying a discussion about the benefits of Brooks saddles and the best day cycle rides from VV.  This delightful Dutch couple around my age were spending two weeks travelling in Laos, and apart from that familiar look of concern as she heard about my plans, describing their bus trip south as “it was all curves, all of it”, which I took to mean hairpins, before I changed the subject, and she helpfully showed me on her local map of cycle rides, the caves and waterfalls they’d visited over two days using rented bikes from town.

My new dutch friend dismissed the kayaking they’d seen in town as something only the young and silly would do, encouraging me into a day cycle ride instead.  I don’t think she really gets it.

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I mean, weighing up another day in the saddle or or the chance to go kayaking, well, what would you do?


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