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Towards the jewel of the Orient

Day 7, Thursday Mar 26th – it’s rained heavily overnight and that puts my route rescheduling of last night under question. We need to find whether the backroad to Muang Sing will actually be passable. But nobody knows so we set off anyway. Not long into it and we hit the dirt. Pretty rutty and last night’s rain has left plenty of mud to navigate. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain again otherwise we’ll be in the poo. At first we’re passing through tribal villages – very basic houses made of timber, thatch and matting, not much concrete here at all. At one point the road is blocked by a slip with a loader working to clear it. Not long after he gives us a track through, so all good. Then as we hit the Mekong again further north than where we crossed at Houay Xay – the road becomes pretty much a little used forest track, or jungle track. The big deciduous leaves lying on the track are unbroken, testimony to how little traffic. We’re starting to wonder whether the track will actually be open for much further – and there’s still another 100kms yet to Muang Sing. Then we’re into banana country and the villagers are loading the trucks – so we know there’s a way out. Let’s hope it’s not the way we’ve come from. Across one more river and then we’re at Xiang Kok. Time for a Coca Cola to celebrate before the 75kms run east to Muang Sing – at least now the road has some metal on it.

Accoms for the night is an elevated bungalow – not flash but with hot water at least. The camp has more than its share of roosters and we soon realise why. The local lads are all heavily into cock fighting and their prized birds are going at each other around and under our bungalows much to the delight of the locals who are not shy to place plenty of bets. Dinners for us is in a Chinese restaurant, we’re the only non-chinese, not a Laotian in sight.

Day 8, Friday Mar 27th – to Oudomsay today, a larger town than the last few but just a transit stop before we hit Luang Prebang, the so-called jewel of the Orient. It’s all sealed road today so an easy 173kms. But first we hit the famed dawn market at Muang Sing – which is why we came here. Yesterdays trailroad was just a bonus.  The market is as buoyant and colourful as promised and within no time we’re hassled by locals offering us grass and more. This once was the most vibrant opium market in Asia and old habits clearly die hard. Drugs plus the delicacies of wild meats gathered from the jungle are the order of the day but photos of the catch are strictly forbidden – they know it’s illegal.

The run to Oudomsay is uneventful but pleasant with a nice stop off in Luang Namtha at the Bamboo Eco lodge for coffee, eggs on toast and some wifi before resuming the run through to Oudomsay.

Day 9 Saturday Mar 28th – 200k run to Luang Prabang, “the jewel of the Orient” on what was supposed to be nice tarmac. Fat chance – the first 90 kms was roadworks as the Chinese are here and rebuilding roads on a grand scale. Lots of hold ups as machinery has the road closed and a fair battle with mud for the rest. For sure, bush tracks are easier than continual roadworks of the Chinese sort. Final 100 km run into town was potholded but sealed without roadworks so a bit of a relief. Very glad to have a day off tomorrow. The Cold River Guesthouse in Luang Prabang is a beauty and a nice respite from the torists traps on the Mekong Peninsula in town.

Day 10, Sunday Mar 29th – World Cup Cricket Final day and there’s an Aussie Bar down the road that will be playing it – albeit on an internet link. A smattering of Kiwis in attendance but no matter, the Aussies are all over us from the fall of MacCalum with the score only at 1 we’re looking down the barrel. Our 187 score is not to defendable and we’re thrashed. The Phoenix also lose 3-0 to Sydney so we’re looking forward to getting back to Laos in the morning and forgetting sport which we know is the beginning and end of life in NZ much of the time. Congrats to the BlackCaps however – a wonderful display in the World Cup, that’s for sure. We’re all proud – just not a great place to watch it, An Aussie Bar.