Pak Lay to Sainyabuli (Xaignabouri)
- 9 hours (including breaks)
Todays ride included a bit of a detour to start the day that Jim had programmed into our GPS. He had said it was only a short day of riding and we could potentially be in Sainyabuli by shortly after midday. If we did get there around that time then we had the option to continue onto Luang Prabang and give ourselves a rest day.We were all keen to get off the main road so we decided to do the detour in the hope of a bit of decent riding and would then evaluate at the end whether we push on through for the day or stay the night in Sainyabuli.
The morning started with omelets for breakfast back at the restaurant where we had dinner the night before. Not a bad view while eating.
By about 8am we were on the road and looking forward to the detour. Five minutes out of town the GPS took us from the main dirt road down a tiny little tree-lined track. My instant reaction was that Jarrod was struggling to follow the GPS but when we hit the river at the end of the track we knew we were in for some fun. Sure enough the GPS did lead us down here and across the rather wide and deep river was a clear little track leading back up to what looked like a road.
Looking at the river it was deep enough that we were concerned we might flood the bikes. Vaguely remembering one tip Jim hadn’t given us about the GPS possibly leading us down to the river instead of to a new bridge we got off the bikes and Jarrod and Shaun wandered up-stream to see what was around. In the mean time I got on my bike and went back down the road to a turnoff I’d seen a few hundred meters back. As it happened, the turnoff was the right way to go. Despite still requiring a river crossing it was no more than a foot deep most of the way across. We let Jarrod go first being the more experienced off-road rider and then waited until he’d crossed before I followed him. I must admit it wasn’t a glamorous crossing with my feet flailing everywhere trying to keep the bike upright but I got there. Then off course there was Shaun. Instead of following the same route as Jarrod and myself he had to be different and go his own way. What a laugh! So deep and so close to coming off but somehow he made it without dropping the bike.
Once we got back onto the main track it returned to winding dirt roads. An absolute blast to ride on! We spent the next few hours riding through open country and quaint little villages. One thing that stood out about these little villages compared to those we had seen in Vietnam was that they were all two story structures and nearly all had these brightly coloured roofs.
The roads for the morning were all dirt but just good enough to allow us to push the motorbikes a little and test their limits. As with most riding in Asia there’s always something to keep you on your toes. You’d just get to a comfortable speed and the next thing you’d know you’re locked up going into a creek crossing or muddy ditch.
Well let me be honest here. Sometimes we were caught out by the creek crossings. Others, we turned around and went back through them once or twice for fun.
As you can see dusty dirt roads and creek crossings makes for rather messy riders.
Now we’d already laid in to Shaun a fair bit before this trip about not working the whole time like he did in Vietnam but that didn’t stop him landing a big sale while stopped for a drink in the remote rice fields of Laos.
The scenery along the way was also fairly impressive at times. I couldn’t help but stop for a few “arty” shots along the way.
At about 11:30 we stopped in the small town of Nakang for a cold drink and a snack. We pulled into a little corner store that had some cold drinks and a few packets of chips and immediately drew a bit of a crowd. A few of the young girls had gathered across the street and were getting a good laugh out of the big tall strangers that had stopped in their town. They would sneakily creep across the road inch by inch only to squeal and run away for fear we had spotted them.
I had brought a bunch of little soft toys (kangaroos and koalas ) with me for gifts for the kids who had been so excited by our presence last time, so decided to try to give some to the girls. I gave Jarrod the toys and with my camera in hand to capture the moment we got up and went to walk across the road. Well the girls bolted but for one girl who was grabbed mid-flight by mum (still carrying a baby on her chest) who realised we were only trying to give them a gift. Hesitant at first she eventually took the little stuffed kangaroo on mum’s insistence and instantly her face lit up. One of her friends had snuck back slowly to see what all the fuss was about so we gave her one too. They’re only small gifts but its an interaction with the locals that makes them priceless.
We set off again and by midday we had made it back to the main highway which signalled we had completed half of the loop we had been given to explore. It had taken us the better part of 4 hours and we still had the other half of the loop plus 160km of “highway” to Sainyabuli. We stopped to make a decision on whether to proceed with the other half of the loop or continue straight on to our destination. Given that it gets dark at 5pm and none of us wanted to ride at night I pushed for skipping the other half but lost 2 to 1 on that so on we went with the other half of the loop.
Thankfully it wasn’t really another half. We polished off the other side of the loop in less than an hour (although didn’t stop for nearly as many photos). We were pushing a bit harder to make up time and I went a little two fast through some windy bends and found myself hitting the embankment on the outside of one rather sharp right hander. No damage done but just a nice reminder that just because Jarrod can take the corners at that speed doesn’t mean I can.
The other half of the loop did throw up one other obstacle too with the little log bridges across creeks that you can see in the background of the image above. They looked a little more difficult on approach than they actually were but still lots of fun for an inexperienced rider such as myself.
We were back on the highway and looking for somewhere for lunch by 1pm. The roads for the afternoon were back to bitumen and in good enough shape that we could cruise at about 80km/h without any trouble. It even featured a couple of nice windy sections and the scenery improved dramatically as we got closer to Sainyabuli.
After a couple of hours of riding we stopped for a quick drink and a photo or two clearly just as school was getting out. The sides of the roads were full of kids riding their push bikes home. While a bit of a laugh for the boys, many of the girls would not even walk passed us on the opposite side of the road and waited back until Jarrod put his helmet back on and then passed by without a worry (joking).
We arrived into Sainyabuli at 5pm just as the sun was starting to set. We pulled up at the rivers edge to check our trusty TripAdvisor for a guesthouse recommendation for the evening.
After a bit of fun finding it we eventually checked into the Santiphap Guest House for the night. The rooms are simple and have A/C and if you don’t mind a few stains on the walls you can’t go wrong for 120,000 kip ($17) for a twin room.
I had seen a bunch of food stalls down by the river so we proposed a quick shower to get the mud and dust of and then we would meet and wander down there for a feed. It ultimately took two showers to get most of the dirt off. It turns out the dust over here basically stains your skin. Having washed myself once over with soap I thought I was clean until drying myself with the towel and realising my chest had a white streak where I’d wiped (and the towel was now brown). This would be a theme for most of our time in Laos. Most nights you would use a couple of bars of soap just trying to get the dust off that would go straight through our jackets during the day.
Eventually we made it down to the street stalls and after a gentle nudge the boys agreed to try some street BBQ and a local salad. I set about picking three of each of a range of skewers off the BBQ (having no idea what any of them actually were) and we sat down with a cold beer looking forward to dinner. Needless to say the skewers were a bit hit and miss. Well to be accurate,they were more miss than hit.
Note that the boys are still smiling in the above picture because they haven’t tried any of the food yet. We got down less than half of the meal before it was decided unanimously that we needed to abandon it and try again elsewhere. I’m not sure what any of the meat was on the skewers but the textures were just all wrong and Jarrod was adamant at least on of them may have been testicles.
Me trying one of the “testicle” skewers. I’ll admit I took one bite into the middle and spat it back out. What ever it was it was horrible.
We tried to make it look like we’d made a reasonable attempt at the meal so as to not offend anyone and then set of looking for somewhere for dinner take 2. I found a review for a restaurant on my phone that sounded great and it took quite a bit of convincing to get the boys to follow me up a very dark street along the river looking for it (admittedly it had been my choice to go to the river side stalls for our first attempt at dinner). In fact I had to walk ahead and call them when I found the place just to make it happen. The restaurant was called Saynamhung Restaurant and it didn’t disappoint. Absolutely amazing food! My favourite of all was the chicken Laap which is a famous local dish.
As you can see some of us were more excited about this food than others.
The Laap (Larb as its often known) came out with some small little green chillis on top as a garnish. They were no more than 20mm long but we knew better than to try them. After a beer or five our judgement may have been a little impaired and I suggested a chilli challenge to anyone who was game. All you had to do was get down one of the little green chillis. Shauno was being soft (or sensible depending on how you look at it) and refused the challenge so he got the camera to record while Jarrod and I showed him how real men eat chilli. Now I’m sure everyone reading this can tell where it is going and probably realises it wasn’t the best idea and I’d whole heartedly agree. But isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing!
I wont say any more about it. I’ll let the pictures and video below do the talking.
It took the better part of half an hour before either of us had any feeling back in our mouths and Jarrod was in far worse shape than me having chewed it a few more times where as I’d taken two bites and swallowed it.
After finally being able to sit down again Jarrod moved to another table with all the locals to nurse his pain in peace while watching Laos’ best Soap Operas.