We made it through the night and even managed to get a reasonable amount of sleep. We awoke with the sun and ate the last of the rice crackers as we packed up. A light drizzle was falling so we put our jackets on and prepared for the difficult day ahead.
Soon we were back on the road and reached the top of the hill we’d been climbing the night before. After that the road went down. And kept going down for 15km – until we reached Nam Chat. My hands were so sore from braking hard on the steep declines, and I had to stop a few times to stretch them.
In Nam Chat we ate a breakfast of rice and noodles, and were glad we hadn’t pushed on in the dark because there was no guesthouse.
After Nam Chat the road went up. And up. For the next 30km we were nearly always going up. Sometimes the road would take us down again, only to take us back up even steeper inclines.
The views were (of course) amazing, and in the villages we met so many nice people. The children were always excited to see us and one of the things I will remember most about Laos is all the smiling, waving children. I felt so sorry for them – often without shoes, caring for younger siblings, carrying sticks on their backs. They have so few opportunities in life.
At one town at the top of a hill we needed some food and water and had to settle for coke and cake – as that was basically all they had in the little shop. Luckily we were able to stop for lunch at a restaurant in the next small town. While we waited for our food to cook we were entertained by a young boy ‘Ben’ and his sister ‘Kim’ – aged 6 and 3 – the children of the owners. Ben would copy everything Sam did – pretend to punch, put his hat on the side… and laugh hysterically the whole time.
Back on the road and the grueling hills kept going. As long as I was able to do 8km/h I could get a rhythm and progress up the hill. But some hills were so steep that I couldn’t stay on the bike, I had to walk for 200m until the gradient became manageable again. Sam was able to ride the whole way, pushing the pedals hard enough to carry himself and his gear to the top.
As the afternoon wore on, the downhill sections were no longer a relief, but demoralizing. Every time we went down we knew we’d have to do the work again to regain the altitude. And our legs were so tired. I had to walk a few more times – sections that I would have been able to ride earlier in the day. But now my legs couldn’t do it.
With 13km to go we started downhill again. We hoped this was it. No more uphill sections. We could be in Phou Khon in 20 minutes if this was it. We were hungry, thirsty, tired and wanted a shower. We couldn’t wait to stop.
While flying down the hill Sam got his first flat. So we had to stop to change the tube. Then we realized the tyre had a big rip in it, so we decided to put a new one on. An hour later we set off again to the bottom of the hill. Only to start going up again with 3km to the town.
We pushed hard and made it. It was such a relief to be there! It had been our hardest day yet. Even though the distance wasn’t great, the mountains had taken us to the limit.
We each checked a guesthouse in the town (there were two) and while one was 40,000 ($6) with a shared bathroom, the cleaner one for 70,000 with its own bathroom had airvents with no cover, which would mean mosquitoes could fly in all night. We tried a place called China Hotel but it wasn’t actually a hotel with beds, it just served drinks. So we went for the cheap guesthouse.
After showering we went in search of food. A girl who spoke quite good English had some eggs boiling so we decided to have one each. When we cracked them open though we realized they were the ones with little chickens inside… not what we wanted to eat after a killer day on the bike. So we bought some normal eggs from another stall that the girl cooked for us, and we ordered some chicken and noodle soup. It took her an hour to cook the food! Exhausted and famished, we sat waiting. And just when we were going to give up and leave we got our soup. Not exactly the filling meal we would have chosen, but it would have to do.
We easily fell asleep in the surprisingly quiet guesthouse.
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia