There were severa
l reasons why having left the Elephant Centre, I stayed overnight in Sayabouri and then headed to the bus station, rather than cycle all the way back to Vientiane. The more I viewed the road from the comfort of the airconditioned minivan ( where I sat with bike beside me – see the photo), the more I noted the corrugated unsealed surface, the undulating hills and the dust, oh the dust. It would have been four or five most uncomfortable days. Instead, I took great pleasure in wheeling my bike out of the van at the Southern bus station and cycling just the final 10km back into central Vientiane. Perfect.
Konglor Cave was a region I’d been recommended by several travellers. And so it was that after 2 nights in Vientiane I headed south-east but due to time constraints, once more I chose to bus. With only 4 days remaining I had left my bike at the hotel and taken what turned out to be 8 hours/300 km on one of the grossest of bus rides you’d imagine. It wasn’t just the complete absence of ventilation on a day where temperatures rose to 35C, nor the fact that several people were vomiting, the man cutting his nails and cleaning his ears across the aisle, it was more the grime covering every surface that made it particularly unpleasant. Compounded when the person next to me stuck his spat-out chewing gum onto the back of the seat in front of us. Oh, and the mosquitoes. One of those journeys better forgotten though towards the end the scenery was spectacular – leafy forests and Karst mountain landscapes.
Arriving at Konglor village made up for everything. I had fortuitously not seen the sign to my guest house as we had driven past, and ended up with a superb 2km walk back as the sun set over the hills, illuminating the tobacco fields and the village houses with the golden light of a perfect Laos evening. My riverside view room at Spring River Resort, a birthday gift from Sarah, Alice and Rachel, was idyllic and the restaurant a delight, though even better was the boat journey the following day (my birthday).
Have you ever been deep in a cave? Imagine a 7km cave through which you journey on a less than stable long boat with the boatman and two others through dark caverns before disembarking midway. Then walking along a twisting path through backlit grottos of stalactites and mites before finally arriving out into the sunlight at the other end of the cave to disembark once more at a small village. After a few minutes at the village watching a weaver at work, it was back through the cave, and once out into the sunlight, plunging out of the heat into the river for a swim. I’ve been lucky many times to have memorable and special birthdays – this day certainly adds to the list!
Two final days in Vientiane went fast. Time to catch up with the environmental consultant friend of a friend for a delightful dinner on th ebanks of the Mekong, to enjoy a final mango, swim in the hotel pool and wander one last time in and out and around the eclectic variety that makes up the centre of this city: French restaurants beside massage parlours, dress shops, and Indian, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese restaurants as if the numerous Lao restaurants alone aren’t enough. Silk scarves and French bread, temples and guest houses, bookshops and bike shops. Cycling cluttered streets, tuktuks hovering, mopeds weaving. Cool mornings, hot days and steamy hot evenings. So much I’m going to miss…
And so here my story ends. My plane departs in less than 12 hours. Perhaps it was my imagination but was Rafiki the bike reluctant to squeeze back into his old carton? My panniers and handlebar bag are stowed into one large canvas bag and I’m set to head to the airport in the morning to board Thai Airways to Auckland via Bangkok. Its time to return to my own familiar world but what an adventure its been.
So, would I recommend a similar solo cycling trip to others. You bet!