75km, av. 16.2km/hr (only 15km/hr before lunch!), max 51.9km/hr, time on bikes: 4hr 37 mins
Next day we set off relatively early after a quick noodle soup breakfast and not before I’ve managed to crash yet another ATM with a request for two million Kip – around 150 UKP.
The first 20km or so on Route 16 are relatively painless, if a little dull, but the next 30 or so turn out to be really hard work. We’re going uphill all the way – up onto the Plateau from around 250m to around 800m – and, although it’s not especially steep, it’s pretty gruelling, especially in the 35c heat. There’s really not much to see either, just a parched landscape.
By the time we roll in to Thateng for lunch with 50km on the clock we’re completely exhausted. We find the first decent noodle house and stay there for nearly two hours, greedily supping down our soup and drinking as much of the free tea as we can before they throw us out. There are a couple of guesthouses here, several functioning ATMs, but not much more than that, certainly not enough to tempt us to stay.
Revived, we pedal on. Fortunately, the remaining 20 or so km to Tat Lo are much kinder. Incredibly, it’s almost all downhill, including one fantastic section before we hit Route 20 which is surprisingly steep and on which Rach reaches over 50km/hr for the first time!
We hit Tat Lo at around 4pm, giving us plenty of time to find somewhere to stay. Our first choice, Fandee, is full, so we settle for Tim’s Place, just a few doors down, as we really don’t have the energy to schlep around today. Tim’s Place has cute little wood bungalows (as do all the places round here) for 50,000, decent beds, loads of hot water, and space to hang your washing.
It’s not yet dark so we decide to go for a bit of a waterfalls reckee but are pretty surprised to find that the falls are hardly as described in The Book (aka Lonely Planet). We have a 2014 edition, so it seems that the changes here have been quite recent; there’s certainly no aquamarine pools to swim in, and the falls themselves aren’t *that* impressive (yes, am aware that this may sound like pretentious tourist nonsense but I guess if you’ve done a long hard journey to see something which is no longer there, it’s worth pointing this out). The water is a muddy/sandy brown too, something we also notice in the water that comes out of the taps here.
Later, over a huge and delicious communal evening meal served at nearby Palamei Guesthouse (named after the owner’s daughter) the owner tells us that, once again, hydro-power is to blame. It’s another recent project, and it seems to have totally transformed both the colour and amount of water that gushes through. Not great news for a village which relies so heavily on tourism, and probably not great for fish either, but we have to guard against being hypocrites – we love that we can recharge our phones and get a cold beer in the evening as much as the locals seem to. It will be interesting to see how tourism in the village is doing five years from now – will anyone still bother coming here..?
Next day – on our day off – we cycle in the heat of the early afternoon to the other, bigger, waterfall: Tat Suong. This is a little foolish as a) it’s ridiculously hot, b) what with it being located upstream of us, it’s uphill all the way (for about 8km) and c) there’s not much water coming through. Struggling up the hill, even without panniers, we have to stop twice, and the heat is so intense the tarmac on the road has started to melt. WHY ARE WE DOING THIS ON OUR DAY OFF?!? Especially since we have to cycle along this very same road WITH PANNIERS tomorrow!
As it turns out, the top of the falls are still pretty spectacular, even with the reduced water flowing through. There’s a vertical drop of at least 50m, and it’s fun/scary standing on the edge of the falls, with the Plateau stretching out for miles around beneath. We then cycle the fun downhill bit back to Tat Lo, via the tiny village of Ban Khiang Tad Song, and the rather larger unnamed village of brand new bungalows for the hydro power workers.
Later in the evening we go for a walk over the bridge in Tat Lo and, although it’s dark, it looks and sounds like there’s a whole lot more water flowing under us than there was earlier in the day. So it seems this is another place where the river flow is restricted during the day, then returns to normal at night. Kind of weird, and not much use for tourism, but I guess you’d get used to it. Wonder what the fish make of it all…