The next stage of the journey is a biggie – 96km according to our map, full of steep hills, and with no obvious place to overnight. Reluctantly, we decide to take the bus, if only we can work out how. From about 9am we loiter at the most obvious junction, waiting for the bus from Phonsavan, totally missing the fact that the town has a bus station, about 100m from our guesthouse!
After a couple of false starts, a minivan pulls up and offers us to take us to Nam Neun. We’re not sure if it’s a bus or a taxi, or how much it should cost, but we eventually understand the fare to be 100,000 kip each, with the bikes strapped to the roof. With a sane driver and only me, Rach and a Thai woman as passengers, it’s a comfortable, enjoyable ride through yet more rugged, remote, spectacular scenery. Although we’ve read of some crazy cyclists managing to do this stretch in a day (and describing it as ‘super tough’) we feel vindicated that we’ve taken the bus.
We lunch in Nam Neun, where we’ve been told there are guesthouses but don’t actually see any (although there’s a charming ‘tourist relaxing cottage’, aka bus stop), then it’s on to the junction village of Ban Kor Hing (also known by the mountain it’s on – Phou Lao), where route 1C meets route 6.
It’s only 7km, but it’s the steepest 7km we’ve encountered on bike so far, and, in the heat of the day, we have to walk most of it. When, after more than two hours, we reach the top and spot a small shop we make a beeline to buy water and fizzy drinks. The shopkeeper quickly finds two plastic chairs for us to sit on – we’re obviously not the first red-faced cyclists to arrive exhausted in the heat of the afternoon sun and in need of urgent re-hydration!
We’ve heard Ban Kor Hing has accommodation but (surprise surprise) it’s not immediately obvious where it might be hiding. Just as we start to think this is another ‘no stay’ place, we learn from a friendly lad that the small eat shop on the corner has a few rooms upstairs for 50,000 kip – there’s even hot water.
The ‘bed’ is a bit like sleeping on a piece of bubble-wrapped corrugated iron but by this point we don’t really care, and sleep soundly.