|Upgraded to first class sleeping berth|
|Riding in pitch darkness!|
|First 20 clicks to breakfast|
|They have to tell you....|
|This is how you bring your "Ma" out!|
|Broken bits of charcoal left behind in the kiln|
|A boy following his mother to the river, at Don Det|
|Mekong river at sunset|
|First, the panniers|
|Then, the bikes|
|There's a queue too!|
|Then, the wait for the women to get onboard!|
|Finally, the bikes and panniers boarded!|
|The beautiful river|
|Unloading in Don Det|
It's either an excuse to get out of the sun or to get out of the rat hole....we all left Sabaychay at 5.30am in the morning. We left Nan at "reception". He stirred as we quietly pushed our bikes out to the road. We bid him goodbye and good riddance to Sabaychay.
Frank was exceptionally cheerful. He was happy to be getting out of "this hell hole"!
Also, Frank had a candy last night. In fact, The 3 stooges all had one! Papa, sleeping on mat, Frank and KC on the 2 single beds all slept soundly, oblivious to the dust, dirt and whatever rats that may have climbed over them! They all had sleeping pills!!!
It was pitch dark when we set out. There were no street lights at all. When we rode past our little village, a lone shop selling vegetables was already opened for business.
The villagers were just about to start their day. The smell of woodfire was evident as each household started their kitchen going.
We rode for 20 km before stopping at our first village. We had our staple.....Pho again, at Toon Restaurant. This restaurant has clean toilets a few steps below the main building. Frank calls it, "stepping into a dungeon".
Much later, the pork seller arrives in yet another pick up truck. The fat lady at the back of the truck has baskets full of different cuts of meat, a scale and a chopping board. She bends over with a knife to cut the choice meat for her customers.
We witnessed the arrival of a monk collecting alms. Every shopkeeper was very willing to place food in his metal pot and kneel down in exchange for blessings.
We continued our journey...
Across the street from the petrol kiosk, two chickens were placed in overturned screw pine baskets. In fact, we see many of them reared this way throughout our 321 journey. It disposes the need of a coop. As chickens are known to have pea sized brains, they will not be able to device a simple escape plan....push to the edge until the basket falls over a dip on the ground!!!
Although we tried to do another 20 km before the next stop, we only managed 17 km. The sun, headwinds and slopes were systematically playing on our mental health. Claudine and VT succumbed to the lure of cold drinks at the first sight of shops with refrigerators.
All riders trickled in slowly, red faced and sweaty from the heat. Papa Mike was not last on this leg!!!
We had cold drinks and some tried the tiny packets of pan fried groundnuts. Nobody had any Pho although a lady that shared our table had one. When her noodle came, she helped herself to the condiments on the table. 2 teaspoons of white sugar, 1 teaspoon of chili sauce and 2 dashes of fish sauce!!!! That's how the locals like their Pho!
The army came in a whirlwind of dust! They parked their truck laden with logs by the side of the shop and about 8 soldiers descended to join us. Some had rifles with wood stocks. They declined KC's attempt to take their photos.
A single motorcyclist peddler with clear plastic bags filled with bras, panties and clothings of all sorts, bumped on the influx of customers. He got some interests from a few curious soldiers. But they are probably just "plastic" shopping and not window shopping!!!
We bid our soldiers goodbye! They did not render us a salute. They waved instead!
The next order was to start looking out for lunch stops once we hit 70 km. We did hit a town at 70 km but every eating outlet there looked dirty and run down with no visible sights of refrigerators. We went on, not trusting the town.
1 km later.....dry, parched, overgrown grass with no sight of houses.
2, 3, 4 km later.....still the same dry, parched, overgrown grass and still no sight of houses.
5 km later......white and red communication tower!!!
VT's theory of civilization is communication towers are built near settlements. This hypothesis was substantiated when we sighted shops.
Sporadic and few, we stopped at the last shop. Our criteria was cold drinks and this one had a refrigerator.
Our next criteria was food. While this shop had 2 tables with long benches and the usual chopsticks and condiments, there was no sight of any cooking activities. The only pot there was visibly empty and the stove devoid of flames.
"Nancy Drew" then spotted a single packet of uncooked Pho on the table. This indicates there might be food. Papa, the food connoisseur was asked to enquire about Pho.
We hit home run! It seems, the real cooking was done in the kitchen at the back of the house!!!
We played safe and ordered only one bowl to try initially. The noodle was heavenly and came with a separate plate of raw cabbage, bean sprouts and basil leaves.
When the last person said, "Burrrrp!" we continued with an afternoon siesta. KC and Celia took turns on the hammock. Alvin and Frank opted for the benches. The raised wooden platform, the sorts of patios was a favourite with the rest of the team.
Much later, Alvin and Celia upgraded to first class berth! They helped themselves to the owner's verandah.
When it was time to go, Colin blessed Celia by sprinkling water on her head while she was sleeping! She did not balked. Such is the good camaraderie amongst us!
The shopowner allowed us to use their outhouse toilet, situated behind the house. It was very clean and has a long cemented water tank big enough to take a dip. It looks like all cleaning activities including laundry, bathing and brushing one's teeth is done there.
While most of us used the toilet, Frank preferred the breezy feel when he emptied his bladder next to the tractor parked by the side of the shop. Our Jack Sparrow did it, not once but twice!!!!
We sat out the sun. When we rode again, it was past 2 pm and there were overhanging clouds. It was not as scorching as before. As we left our nice shop, the final peace prompted a drake to chase after a duck. They did not roll in the hay but rolled under a wooden bench!!!!
This time, Alvin took the lead while VT was the designated sweeper. We rode for 10 km, took a short rest then rode again with the promise of another short rest 10 km later.
While the first group went ahead to stop at the junction to the jetty, the second group could go no further. They had their own private breather by a huge bus depot. Papa was calling it a mind numbing ride!
Ian checked his GPS and raised everyone's spirit when he announced the junction is only 2 km ahead, and the jetty another 3 km more! Motivated, we rode to meet the others!
With another 3 km more to go, there was no pressing issue to go fast. We took a slow ride to the jetty passing by some expensive looking bungalows. There were the usual brick and wooden houses too, but none too poor as the economic viability of this place comes from tourism and not fishery alone. However, the road conditions were bad, with lots of holes and sand.
We knew the jetty was near when the air starts to smell like the ocean. Yes, even though this is the Mekong river, the salty smell of the ocean was distinctly there.
And then....we meet our Mighty Mekong again! The 7th largest river in Asia, it flows from the Tibetan plateau all the way down to Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
The jetty was busy with boats plying the river. We found a ticket booth selling tickets at 15,000 kips per passenger and 5,000 kips per bike. When the tickets were purchased, we had to manually haul our bikes down the steps, crossed 2 planks, walk on the floating, cubed plastic pontoons before getting to our boat.
Ours was a small fishing boat with a thin metal roof to provide cover from rain and shine. The hull itself is the base of the boat. We were given planks to lay across the boats. These serves as seats.
It seems, the boat was chartered for our team only. They load the passengers first, then the bikes. When all were on board, we set sail.
We cruised across the Mekong to Don Det island, one of the 4000 islands of Laos.
We saw fishermen casting their nets from their boats.
We saw a few similar boats like ours, filled with tourists on a river cruise. We wondered why they were given life vests while we were not!
We saw some tourists on kayaks. They looked hot and tired! We wondered why they do not look amused to see us waving our support!! Some of us will emphatise with their plight the next day!!!
We were surprised when our boat's engine slowed down to dock on a sandy patch by the river. There were no jettys in sight! 3 Caucasians were having a picnic there as if it was a beach!
Our trance were interrupted when the boatman told us to disembark! While we were given VIP treatment on the other side of the river, we now have to step into the Mekong and paddled our way with bikes and panniers through the soft sand!
2 little local boys were delighted to lend a helping hand. They helped all of us push our bikes up the steep ram to the road. Thinking they were waiting for tips and most deserving too, they ran off chasing each other when the job was done!!!
Winded and sweaty, with shoes filled with wet sand, we hooked up our panniers. Alvin was most mischievous. He told us it will be a short ride, about 5 km to our hotel. He then, led us pushing our bikes through a side lane, past a gate and there it was........our Little Eden!!!!
While waiting for our keys, we spotted our 4 friends from Pakse Hotel. They have left the same morning we left ..... through the hotel's car park.....they, in their car..... us, on our bikes. While we stayed a night in Sabaychay, our four French friends returned to Pakse on 2 punctured tyres!!! They arrived in Little Eden only a few hours ahead of us!
We showered our bikes and shoes with the gardener's hose. Then we showered ourselves in our rooms before meeting for another sundowner by the verandah.
When it was time for dinner, Papa refused food but instead opted for a 3 hour massage. Claudine and VT explored the village instead of joining the rest on hotel food. They made a bad choice in Miss Ning. The service was bad and the food terrible!
We clocked a total of 99.9 km on mostly flat terrain. The route was relatively easy but with not much write up on it, we were initially a little worried about the availability of food shops along the way. But, as witnessed by us, the long route is scattered with village shops and if one is not too picky, the standard Pho is always available every 20-30 km away!