Tuesday, 21 June 2005

Dien Bien Phu to Lai Chau 90km, 815m ascent

Tuesday 21 June 2005

Awoke 5:30am. Showered, packed and ate the same breakfast as yesterday. Left the hotel at 7:30am, my earliest start yet. A good four lane road led out of the town but ended in a wet clay ditch 20 metres wide that I had to cross to get to the road north.

The countryside was flat for several kilometres, with hills to the left and rice paddies to the right. The paddies were being worked hard for planting, some with only human labour, others with water buffalo. Some paddies were sprouting young, green shoots. Stopped to call Carolyne before losing coverage in the hills.

The first hill of the day was 3km long, with road work the whole length. My cycle guide advised that the sealed road became gravel and dirt at this point: thankfully it didn't. Through the pass and a pleasant descent into the next valley, joining the Na river. The road was undulating through small villages of stilt houses, interspersed with a lush landscape of ferns, bananas and bamboo.

The raod showed a lot of damage through the day. It was washed away completely by the river at one spot and had to ride over mud and rocks for 30m. At other spots it was partly washed away, and there were many lanslides, maybe 30-40 through the day.

Reached the small town of Muong Lay at 10:45am. Stopped for lunch at a basic, family-run com pho. As I sat down a heavy rain shower hit - fine timing. The choice was limited - I ate fried tofu with tomato and chives, and a bowl of noodles with chives and finely sliced pork. There was no vegie dish. Washed down this tasty food with a can of Coke and tea. While I ate the family watched TV comprising 1940s and 1950s Disney cartoons. The cost was 20,000D.

Out of Muong Lay the road rose, gradually getting steeper. The nature of both the environment and the people changed. Noticed immediately that people stopped calling out hello, and were not waving at me. The women were dressed even more strikingly than had seen previously, but could not get any to agree to being photographed. The countryside became extremely rugged, with thick rain forest coming down to the road, interspersed with occasional banana trees. By the time I'd reached the pass, after 13km, felt that this would be country to see Vietnam's remaining endangered animals - puma, bear, and so on.

The descent was long and pleasantly cool. Soon the hellos started again, along with waving from people on the road-side, scooter riders and local cyclists. There was a huge landslide, maybe 100 metres long. Although the worst of it had been cleared, there was mud and logs washed a couple of km down the road.

As I rode into Lai Chau, my destination for the day, a motor-cyclist came up behind and yelled How are going, mate? It was a young Australian, Ben, was riding with a pommie friend, Woody, along the same route as me. They'd noticed me leaving Dien Bien Phu, not expecting to see me again. They'd settled into the same hotel as I planned to stay at, and were out exploring the area. It was good to have opportunity to speak to a native English speaker for the first time in more than a week.

The Lan Anh Hotel is spread over a large area with landscaped grounds, and several buildings with guest rooms. As soon as I arrived about 3pm the heavens opened up with a very heavy tropical downpour that continued for more than an hour - fine timing again. Was given a room with air-conditioning and fridge for US$12, but there was no electricity for about 30 minutes. Once it started I showered and washed my cycling gear. Could not get the air-conditioning to work effectively, so arranged for a new room.

Rode with Ben and Woody to the only Internet joint in town (they'd checked it out) attached to the post office. Unfortunately it was not broadband, so slow, but was able to type this. Back at the hotel met a young Sydney couple - Peter and Bec - who were travelling with a guide, Kien, in a jeep (US$280 for 7 days). Went with the five of them to a small local restaurant for several tiger beers, cheap at 9,000D, and a feed ordered by Kien. Back at the hotel chatted with Peter and Bec till 10pm. Really enjoyed the evening, talking with English speakers for the first time in over a week.


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