The route: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/181777628 (119km – total 4501km)
The chat: Today’s 120km ride had us skirting the Chinese border for much of the day. Every second beaten – up van going past was Chinese, the road and shop signs changed to being in Chinese, and most of the inhabitants of the small villages we went through also appeared to be from china (either that or they couldn’t understand our excellent attempts to say hello/ask for directions in Laotian – a distinct possibility).
Rather upsettingly for complete coffee addicts, it was also impossible to get coffee at any of the places we stopped at – overnight it had been replaced with Chinese tea. The cafe we stopped at for lunch (Chinese noodles unsurprisingly) was packed full of Chinese truckers drinking heavily and shouting – such a contrast to the gentle softly spoken lethargy of most Laos people.
It has been raining intermittently for the last few days, with some impressively dramatic thunderstorms. We’ve been pretty lucky rain-wise until now and have managed to stay just ahead of the approaching monsoon which moves from South Cambodia up to North Vietnam from April onwards – our friends in Battambang have reported daily downpours and thunderstorms for the last month at least. Unfortunately now, as we head south, our luck is about to run out as inevitably we have to head back into the oncoming rainy season. We got seriously wet today – the rain is just so much heavier in the UK and can completely drench you in seconds. Often there is nowhere to shelter so we just grit our teeth and pedal through, squinting between the raindrops as our glasses rapidly mist over and our shoes fill with water.
Today was one such day, and it was a relief to arrive in Luang Namtha as we were completely sodden. Luang Namtha has gained a bit of a reputation as a trekking and ecotourism base over the last few years and our guesthouse was full of people returning from overnight jungle treks with war stories about leeches the size of your hand, and relentless 12 hour torrential downpours. We had been prevaricating about trekking here, but the ominous rain clouds, expensive pricing ($50/person/day) and aching legs from several hard days on the road dissuaded us without too much guilt-tripping.