18/1/15: Xiang Ngeun to Kiou Ka Cham, alt 1400m (52.8km, av. 9.5km/hr, max 42.9km/hr, time on bikes: 5hr 32mins)

And so it begins… After breakfast at ‘Coffee in Love’, the road out of Xiang Ngeun is hard… An ascent of over 1,000 vertical metres (over 15km),  taking us into our first real rural hilltop villages. Then there’s a thrilling 30 minutes of downhill to Nam Ming, where we lunch. All we can find is fish on a stick and some pot noodle, but it definitely does the trick. Then it’s uphill all the way again, this time rising 934 vertical metres to Kiou Ka Cham. It’s never especially steep, but it’s a long  (20km), hard slog.

Somewhere along the way we meet Rob, riding a Surly Longhaul Trucky (jealous!) Rob is a pedicab driver from Washington DC who started the day in Luang Prabang. He overtakes us, of course, but we meet him again later in the day. We also spot our first crashed lorry (looks like it’s been there a while), and invent the ‘coach, truck, lorry’ game – guess the approaching vehicle by the sound of its spluttering engine. Unsurprisingly, much of the day is spent arguing the difference between a truck and a lorry.

We make KKC before dusk, just (Rob is starting to get worried!) where you can choose from three guesthouses; all roughly similar – basic, shared bathrooms, but OK for 50,000 kip. We dine with Rob, plus three people from Manchester who are headed the other way. Two are competitive velodrome riders – we’re starting to wonder if all cycle tourists are way fitter and more experienced than we are!

There’s not much else to do after dark, and it’s cold, so we head to sleep early after what’s been a hard day overall…

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