90.1km (including 5km to visit waterfall), av. 16.2 km/hr, max 43.5km/hr, time on bikes: 5hr 24 mins
We leave Tat Lo just after 8am, armed with sardine baguettes freshly made by Mr Tim’s wife. Despite it being overcast, it’s already very hot, and we’re full of trepidation as we know we have a tough 8km climb to start the day, as we did it yesterday (doh!)
This time though, despite carrying all the extra weight, we manage it with only one breather stop, and after that first hill it’s relatively plain sailing. Lots of up and down, but it feels like there’s a lot more down than up. The only annoyance is the Laos habit of putting a bridge at the bottom of every downhill, and then making that bridge so rickety that you have to slow right down, losing any momentum that might have taken you at least partway up the next hill. Give me a Vietnamese road bridge any day.
After about 50km on Route 20 we hit Tat Pha Suam, another waterfall conveniently located for a lunchtime stop. Here, the falls are pretty spectacular and the waters much clearer. A perfect place for a sardine sandwich, basically. We can’t resist a quick, cool dip in some of the pools above the falls either.
The next 10km or so are a bit of a slog. It’s not especially uphill or anything, but the sun is beating down and the landscape is bone dry. In fact sometimes it’s hard to tell whether we’re going uphill or downhill… we call this “deceptive Laos”. We’re revived by our first experience of a roadside sugar cane juice – super tasty, as it turns out, and much more local than buying a bottle of imported Coke.
With 21km to go, we hit Route 16 (the road from Paksong), where there are a couple of guesthouses called ’21km Guesthouse’ (just in case you weren’t sure how far you still have to go), as well as the Dao Coffee Factory. We’ve read online that these last 21km into Pakse are almost all downhill, and we’re not disappointed; we virtually roll all the way into town, which is a bit of a relief given how far we’ve already pedalled today. The road is busier, and inexplicably covered in sand in parts but, hey, this is Laos, we’re used to it by now!
Once in Pakse, we head for the guesthouse/backpacker area, and check in at one near the Mekong called Phonesavanh for 50,000 kip, where our room is comfortable but sadly full of mozzies. They seem to be coming in via the bathroom so, after killing about 20, we block off the gap beneath the bathroom door with a towel and a bungee cord, to stop any more coming through during the night. There’s no mozzie net, but luckily this seems to just about do the job.
We have a tasty Indian meal at Hasan, then walk it off with an evening stroll to check out our old friend the Mekong, which is still there, as huge and powerful as ever.
Back at our guesthouse, we make a last minute booking for a minibus to take us and the bikes on the next leg down to 4,000 islands – another long stretch that appears to have little in the way of accommodation along the way.