The route: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/179910468 (easy – downhill most of the way, good road all the way)
The altitude we’d slogged to the day before afforded us a late start to the short, mainly downhill ride today. No lie-in for Emma though – we had Sin Ho market to check out. Women from all of the local and not so local hilltribes descend on the town early on Sunday mornings to trade their produce to each other and town folk alike. Although a small market, it was absolutely rammed by the time we pitched up. A riot of sights smells and sounds, we were mere clutter rather than an opportunity for a fast buck, and refreshingly we were left alone to peer into baskets, pots, and over shoulders at the goods for sale. Preserved reptiles, unidentifiable meats, odd coloured rice and brightly coloured tribal outfits were all on offer, and the buyers and sellers were at least as interesting as the goods, with eclectically clad tribal women outnumbering Vietnamese locals by ten to one. As the only westerners in town, and standing a head taller than everyone else there, we were voyeuristically able to identify Dzao women with shaved heads and turbans, the boxy and conical hats of the Red Dzao and H’mong tribes respectively, the familiar jewellery and bright patterned clothing of the Flower H’mong* and one tribe we couldn’t identify, sporting Rasta-esque dreads sewn into their own long hair.
After a fascinating few hours at the market we met another pair of (motorised) two-wheeled tourists from Holland, who were living indefinitely in Kampot, one of our favourite stops in Cambodia. After swapping accommodation and route tips, we rolled away mid-afternoon, giving ourselves just enough time to ride the mainly downhill 60km to Muang Lai. The downhill ate up the last remnants of our disc brake pads, and the last few corners were negotiated with the less effective shoes-to-the-tarmac technique. A little hairy…
Muang Lai is just plain bizarre – nestled in the crook of a valley, the original town has been uprooted in the name of progress, specifically, to create a hydro-electric plant – and the entire population has been moved to a a couple of new-build sites on both sides of the river. But, at least when we visited, the river was almost dry, so the foundations of the old houses are visible in the mud of the riverbed. Not pretty. Still, no need to review the hotels on offer (fellow tourists, note again that contrary to the Lonely Planet, there are at least three to chose from) – we headed straight for the plush Thanh Long – a bargain at $10 – on the recommendation of our Dutch friends. And guys – what was wrong with the restaurant? We loved it!
*Some or all of these tribal identifications may not be spot on