Saturday, January 3, 2009

Easing into Angkor and more Laos photos

We said farewell to the group (and Sue) last night and flew out super early to Siem Reap, Cambodia, the gateway to Angkor Wat and oodles of other temples. Unfortunately, Dan has a touch of food poisoning, possibly from a smoothie, so he's napping in our hotel room right now :(. Sue also got the bug, more acutely, but was well enough to get on her flight to Bangkok this morning.

I've spent the day napping in our B&B (the Golden Banana, quite pleasant), and walking around and eating in Siem Reap, which is a major tourist destination and is thus bustling with American and European and Asian tourists. It's a little shocking after the relative sleepiness of the Laos tourist scene, where for much of the trip we were the only european/american tourists in town. But, there are a ton of french bakeries and ice cream places and I am enjoying eating flavorful food after a relatively monotonous diet in Laos (more on this later). It's feeling nice to just do nothing after 12 days of riding and touristing each day. Hopefully Dan will be up for a temple frenzy tomorrow!

As I have a good internet connection, here are a couple more shots from the second half of the trip.

Temple at the national museum in Luang Prabang. I didn't actually go in the temple, just stared weakly at it from the sidewalk as I was still quite feeble from food poisoning (Dan went in). Across from the temple is the Phousi hill, which had over 400 steps to the top and quite a nice view (and lots of buddhas and a giant buddha footprint in a cave). I managed to climb up to the top even in my impaired state. We were in Luang Prabang for about a day and half, our only rest day on the trip. Our two hardest days of riding were to follow.

The next two days were in higher mountains south of Luang Prabang and it was amazing epic riding. The first day featured two significant climbs-- 20 and 25 k long, with tremendous long descents in between the climbs. There were huge sweeping views, hard to capture in photos. Ripply green mountains as far as you could see. Quite often we were up on ridges and you could see huge segments of the road that you'd just climbed or the road to come! The road surface was pretty poor and there were fairly long unpaved, rocky, pot-holed segments in between paved sections. I made the most of the mountain bike by hammering right through these sections. Otherwise, I was riding pretty slowly, as I hadn't eaten much of anything for the two previous days. I was very proud of myself for making it through a hard day under the circumstances, but would have loved to do this section while feeling good.

We stayed the night in a mountain village, Kiu Kachan, at the top of one of our long climbs. This is the view from the "backyard" (ie, garden, farm, chicken yard, outdoor cooking facility) of the guest house when we awoke-- we were above the clouds and it was really cool.

The next day was also quite hard, featuring several shorter (but still long-- 8-10 mile) climbs and descents. I was even slower because I hadn't eaten much, had been up sick all night, and I was tired from the previous hard day. I was literally creeping up the hills in an embarassingly slow gear. As I rode slowly through a very hilly village, a group of kids started running along side me, laughing and shouting and obviously marveling at how slowly I was riding! I finally stopped and took their photo, then dropped them as the road leveled out. It was hilarious!

Fast forward a couple of days, and we were kayaking into Vang Vieng on New Year's eve. It's quite a tourist destination, tons of college-aged backpackers, and lots of bars overlooking the river, bars in town, etc. The town is in an incredible setting, ringed by mountains. Otherwise, nothing special, and we (Dan, Sue and me) horrified our British traveling companions by going to bed at 9 pm on New Year's eve. The rest of the group stayed up at least to midnight, some to 3 am! About half of the group was hungover for the next day's 60 mile hot ride.

Sunrise as seen from our guest house in Vang Vieng.

We spent the next night at a guest house overlooking a reservoir created by a massive dam and hydroelectric project, in Na Nam. The ride was pretty flat and we encountered increasingly heavy traffic until we turned off on a rural road which took us to the pictured reservoir and our guest house. We passed the dam and the hydroelectric facility, then had a steep hump of a climb to get up to the level of the reservoir. The view over the water was sweeping, but I couldn't help wondering how many villages were displaced to create the dam/reservoir, which is massive, over 40 k wide. The little bumps in the picture are islands (formerly hilltops), which used to hold penal colonies.

Our last day of riding was pretty flat, a straight shot into Vientiane. We stopped for lunch at a floating restaurant, where we tried fried locusts. Nothing much to the flavor-- tasted like grease and the lime/lemongrass seasoning in which it was cooked. The texture was crunchy, like soft shell crab. Here is Sue with a big one in her mouth. After lunch, the traffic steadily increased until we hit the hustle of the sprawling city. We had a farewell dinner with the group, and that was that for Vientiane.

Dan and our little plane this morning in Vientiane.

OK, must go see how Dan is doing. Wish him well!

1 comment:

Nathan said...

Wow. Just stunning pictures. I'm so jealous (not of the food poisoning, though). Hope you all are feeling better and can completely enjoy the end of your trip!