Savannakhet to Thakek 113km
This morning I found bread again, and still had some cheese and apple juice. Breakfast made in heaven. I was excited to be riding alongside the Mekong, and ready to go before the office was open.
Savannakhet is a smaller town, with not much to see, but many visitors come here, many just for the day. Like Mark, an Englishman living in Thailand, and Paul, a Dutchman also living in Thailand. They all come here to renew their visas. Mark uses it as a chance to have an adventure, and cycled from Bangkok. Paul, brings his partner, and treats it as a bit of a holiday. I met them both during the day, while they were filling in time, waiting for their documents to be processed. They both told me that probably 90% of the foreign visitors are on visa runs, and it seemed about right, because the restaurants that were busy at lunch, were empty in the evening.
But, I didn't need visas, and I've stocked up on food, so I'm off. I know that after I get out of town, the road runs close to the river for about 20km, before it heads inland? The houses are better than what I saw in Cambodia on the river bank, but Laos has the "poor" Asian country mentality when it comes to rubbish......there seems to be no plan, except drop it...so there are lots of plastic bags about. Also there is not nearly as much activity on the river, nor houses built right on the waters edge. The river is still huge, even 1000km from the sea. It's great to be able to see the differences.
After 20km, I spot a small dirt track heading closer to the river. The map suggests that this might go for about 20km....but maps are often wrong. I'm feeling like an adventure. I turn down the road, passing through the back streets of a small village. The locals are "ooohing and aaahing", and I break into my faultless Laos greeting..."Sehbuddie" (Kiaora Bro). I'm "Sehbuddied" from all directions.
The road, read narrow dirt and sand track, weaves through the scrub. Occasionally it dives down across rickety bridges. Sometimes the sand is marginally too deep for Fiona to be comfortable, and she threatens to throw me off. In 20km three scooters and two small pick ups pass me. I see charcoal ovens in use and being built. I see goats, pigs, buffaloes, cows, and glimpses of the river through the bush. I pass through half a dozen tiny villages, where my "Sehbuddie" reduces the shock factor from the locals. I'm having a ball.
Eventually, I come back out onto tarseal, and almost immediately hit a village, separated by a small river, that leads into the Mekong. There is an huge festival being prepared here. On the south bank are 30 or 40 bars, side shows, Ferris wheels, and food outlets, and some small stages, with lots of speakers. On the north bank, are five huge stages being set up, with hundreds of speakers. On the Mekong, are perhaps 50 long ferry boats. Some are arriving filled with people from Thailand. It's going to be a big night.
I stop just past the festivities for a drink. Four Laosian ladies, early 30s, are drinking beer at the next table. I think they've been there a while. I'm invited to join them drinking. It doesn't take long for what are obviously raunchy suggestions, in Laos, to be voiced. I'm certain these girls have been here a while. The shop keeper has to help me extract myself. It's not even midday. It's going to be a Very big night.
70km, and a young man scoots up beside me. He wants to practice his English, which is very good. His mother is the local doctor or pharmacist. He is very excited to be able to speak to me, and we stop for a short time and chat. He is reluctant to let me leave. (I'm so popular today).
95km, and I meet a young Swiss, out for a day cycle along the river. He gives me some tips on Thakek. Apparently, it is a very popular climbing destination for tourists. I'm always astounded by what I stumbled on to. He also tells me that the circuit into the mountains I was considering, is very busy with tourists on scooters, and takes most about three days. I reckon, I'll stay by the river.