81.7km, av 18.3km/hr, max 51.9km/hr, time on bikes: 4hr 26 mins
Today is one of our more successful days on the road, starting with a WINNING noodle soup (return of the fried garlic – yum!) and the procurement of our fave and much missed dry donuts.
The first part of the day hands us some nice downhills and perhaps even a bit of a tailwind, and for the first time on this tour we’re averaging ABOVE 20km hr and spend most of the day in the top cog! (Sorry, that’s about as technical as this is gonna get.) The landscape could be spectacular, with a range of hills to the left and a river about 1km to our right, but it’s so hazy all day that we can’t really see it clearly. That and the fact we’re whizzing by so fast, obviously.
The cheerful ‘helloooo’s of Vietnam have been replaced by the slightly more shy ‘sabadee’, but every now and then a hoard of kids will absolutely yell their hearts out until we’re out of sight, or hearing range, whichever comes first.
With our speedy progress and early start, we’ve covered around 50km north on Route 1 by the time we’re ready for lunch, and then a few km later, we chance upon a sign for Tad Hua Khone waterfall, just a km off the main road (immediately after the large river bridge). This turns out to be a fantastic place to lunch, as well as sample Laos coffee, which is grown everywhere in this region (the Bolaven Plateau). The falls themselves aren’t particuarly spectacular, but this is because, we learn from the young guy who has set up the coffee shop (only open since 14 Feb), there is a hydro electric power station upstream which reduces the river flow until 3pm each day. Nevertheless, there’s still a refreshing rock pool to swim in, and the local kids are chucking them selves into the water off nearby rocks with plenty of enthusiasm.
After a light lunch, including the leftover bean salad that is too spicy for a Dutch girl to eat, so she donates it to us, but it’s sadly also too spicy for us to eat too (the guy protests “But I only used one chili!”)
We’re then on our way, stopping only for a photo opportunity at a sign for Ban (town) Dan… me yelling as if I am Alan Partridge shouting ‘DAN’… er, this may be lost on non-UK readers or anyone unfamilar with Alan Partridge.
We get into Sekong with plenty of time to spare, but as usual skip the first guesthouse we come across (Phonmani), cycle another 5km or so checking out almost all the others, and then return to Phonmani and staying there in a decent upstairs room with balcony (50,000 kip, hot water, no wifi). It’s owned by a lovely Vietnamese couple, we virtually have the place to ourselves, and they even cook us a great veggie meal for 30,000 Kip. They are so laid back they don’t even bother with room keys at this place – when I ask he just waves as if to say, “the place is empty, who needs keys?!”