Distance covered so far: 1488km
Have had three days of great riding, in very different ways. On the way up towards Vangvieng I spent a really nice lunch break with a group of different cyclists, set up in very different ways and on very different journeys. They were all heading south, but looking to avoid the capital.
It's fair to say, I think, that as pleasant as Vientiane is, it is not the most inspiring of capitals. And cycling into it wasn't anything to rave about either: it was a typical 20km of developing country urban sprawl, with hosts of garages, welders, bathroom fitters, you name it, interspersed with restaurants, covenience stores and temples.
But there is something that is always exhilarating about cycling into a capital city that should never be missed, and Vientiane was no different. It is where you get a snapshot of what all the normal Joe Bloggs city dwellers of the country are doing, day in day out, and a space where you can counterbalance all the beautiful tourist spots you are about to see with the real world. It helps you put everything in perspective.
And once you've finished with your home comforts and viewing the country's national treasures, riding out of town helps you reflect upon it all as a whole rather than purely the edited highlights, and on Saturday morning I very much enjoyed that experience while heading back out north onto Route 13 towards the hills again.
The main road that runs through Northern Laos has been dubbed the cycling highway of Southeast Asia, and after a few days on the route it is not hard to see why. I think I have bumped into more bikers on this trip than on any other stretch of a similar duration. Fully laden with a zillion panniers to those carrying but a small backpack, fully suspensionised all-terrain bikes to racers or something in the middle like mine, or reclining bikes or trikes with trailers... They're all out there pedalling. Some do the hardest routes they can find, others, less purist in nature, hop on a bus when they get to the bottom of a long climb.
Of which there are plenty.
Yesterday I covered 135km that didn't include a single stretch of flat, straight road, such are the mountains here. It was some of the most exciting road cycling I've ever done, with wonderful views every way you looked, should you dare to not keep your eyes ahead for a second. Villages sit perched on top of implausible mountain ridges, houses mounted upon stilts so that they hang over the steep drop below. And as you ride through there is a chorus of children inevitably waving and shouting 'sabaidee' in Lao, (as opposed to 'hello' in English), to welcome you. It's a really fun place to be on the road.