Considering it yourself? Your questions answered

HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT TO FLY WITH YOUR BIKE?   Thair Airways (Auckland – Bangkok – Vientiane) make it very simple. Luggage allowance is 30kg and that can include a bike. The only requirements are to remove the pedals, deflate the tyres, and turn the handlebar sideways. I packed the bike into a old bike carton from my local bikeshop, duct taped it up and then had it plastic wrapped at the airport for extra durability as I was transiting through Bangkok.  I packed my belongings into the panniers, and fitted them inside a raffia carrier bag along with the bike saddle, helmet and handlebar bag. More duct tape and the task was done, and everything arrived on time and undamaged in Vientiane.

IS IT EXHAUSTING?  Well, it seems to be feeling easier day by day!  It would definitely have been easier if I’d practiced more before I left. However I’d still recommend just doing it like I have rather than putting it off for a better fitter time.  (And like offshore-sailing and finally arriving into a welcome anchorage, there’s been each day that wonderful feeling of a day well spent when I’ve reached a guest house, taken a shower and can relax with my kindle).

AREN’T YOU LONELY TRAVELLING BY YOURSELF?  As an introvert (INTJ) I’m generally happy with my own company. Riding is meditative and peaceful, and there is always something interesting to see. Each day so far I have found myself storying with others, sometimes fellow travellers with extraordinary personal stories but perhaps the most delightful of conversations have been those with local Lao mothers, carried out non-verbally through smiles, gestures, and that great communication tool, photos of my children and grandsons.  Sucha great reminder that all around the world we share so much in common.

IS THE WATER SAFE TO DRINK? There is bottled water for sale everywhere, however I prefer not to add to the plastic waste problem from empty bottles so haven’t bought any water yet. Each day I fill up my two water bottles from the tap and then ‘zap’ them with ultra-violet using a gadget lent to me by Rachel. Its worked for me so far.

WHAT ABOUT TOILETS ALONG THE WAY? Because of so many unexploded cluster bombs the US dropped during the Vietnam War ( and that ‘Secret War’ will be a separate blog topic), its inadvisable to go far off the roadside into the bushes.  I generally try and stop at a roadside cafe for a drink and to sit down out of the saddle. There’s almost always a toilet out the back, usually clean and well-looked after, generally a squat loo with a bucket of water and a scoop for flushing.

WHAT IS THE TRAFFIC LIKE?   The roads in Vientiane are a bit crazy and it required confidence to keep going with traffic going in all directions, including mopeds coming towards you on the wrong side of the road! And people drive on the right here so that took a bit of getting used to.  But once out of town, traffic has been light: as you’ll see from my photos, there’s quite often no other vehicle in sight.  The main road users are mopeds, sometimes carrying a family of four, along with children cycling to and from school, and from time to time, cattle and water buffaloes, sometimes herded, sometimes just wandering where they choose.  Drivers of buses, trucks and cars often seem in a great hurry – at times on the narrow road there’s a car overtaking a car that’s overtaking a moped; it doesn’t take me long to move right over onto the verge – while overtaking on blind corners also seems to be in fashion.  Currently I’m on the old road through the hills and there’s a new faster road taking most of the trucks and buses, as well as those hurrying SUV and ute drivers.

HOW DO YOU KEEP IN TOUCH? I bought a local Sim card soon after I arrived. Data costs are very reasonable – $10 for 5GB – so as long as I carry a top up card, I can both check Google Maps to find out how much further it is to my destination and keep in touch with family and friends.  Free WiFi appears to be standard at all but the remotest guest houses anyway, and though the connection speed varies, its ideal for checking out Youtube bike maintenance videos!

WHATS THE FOOD LIKE?  Delicious!  Even in the smallest rural café, it is all cooked to order.  The only challenge is that with no common language and not even being able to read the menu due to the different alphabet, I often don’t know what I am getting until it arrives, but generally it is tasty, delicately seasoned with herbs and chilli, and either a fried rice dish, some sort of spicy better-not-to-ask-what-it-is meat with rice, or my absolute favourite, a big bowl of superbly seasoned noodle soup, with side additions of fresh lime, watercress, mint, beansprouts and lettuce.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WISH YOU’D BROUGHT? Maybe more Earl Grey tea bags – I’m using each one twice but my stash of 30 seems to be dwindling!  Its more the items I’ve brought but haven’t used that bug me: towel, soap, mosquito net (everywhere I’ve stayed has had these), padded shorts (inappropriately short and too hot anyway), 3rd shirt (everywhere I’ve stayed I’ve been able to wash clothes, and with the lightweight ones I have they dry overnight). However, its early days yet.

ISN’T IT A RISK FOR SOMEONE WHO SUFFERS FROM FIBROMYALGIA AND CHRONIC FATIGUE?  Yes, perhaps, but on the other hand it may just be the best thing for it!  Since contracting the tropical Chikungunya virus in Bougainville in 2010, both fibromyalgia – severe aching of limbs – and chronic fatigue – debilitating tiredness – have been my unwelcome companions. (If you’re a fellow sufferer you’ll know what I mean when I say no two days are the same, and its pretty much impossible to predict what makes it worse or what makes it flare up. When it does, all my compassion just disappears, both for others and myself, and it’s easy to spiral down into depression.  I tend to  hibernate inside the pain and exhaustion, let the dark clouds swirl and cut myself off from everyone and everything.)  Its not a good place to find oneself. I’ve been gradually simplifying my life and working on increasing the positive fun aspects. This cycling trip is part of that journey. And yes, there have been times on this journey when I’ve had to acknowledge the return of my unwelcome companions, fortunately as yet in fairly mild form.  I felt so good I stopped taking my nightly 10mg of Nortryptiline, which aids my sleep and reduces symptoms.  Stopping the medication was not a good move – I won’t try that again!


WHAT HAS SURPRISED YOU MOST?  I had read that in Laos it is not customary to look people in the eyes. (‘Most Lao avoid direct  eye contact at all cost. In the West, speaking while looking someone ‘straight in the eye’ is seen as a sign of honesty and trustworthiness; in Laos it is viewed as circumspect’  says Brett Dakin in his fascinating book of 2 years in Vientiane –  Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos).  What I hadn’t realised is this translates to cycling through villages with people appearing not to notice you. And I too avert my gaze.  Its different for the kids, it appears that its ok for them to look and wave and shout, ‘Sabai di’ (hello), and I wave and call out back. But there is this odd feeling of being invisible to anyone over the age of about eight. I hadn’t expected that.




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