Wednesday, 22 June 2005

Lai Chai to Tam Duong, 106 km, 990m ascent

Wednesday 22 June 2005

Had a bad night. Was woken at about 3am by teeth on my big toe. Was very dark. Jumped up and switched on light. Looked around, checked the bed but could see nothing. For a moment thought it might have been a vivid dream, but remembered sequence of distinct feelings. Knew it was a rat, as that is the only creature capable of attacking in this way. Left bedside light on with eye-shades but could not sleep. The power went off, causing the air-conditioner to stop. Heard a movement. Found my torch and saw a medium-sized rat disappearing through a hole in the bathroom. Lay down with torch on my head, and the light on. Felt uncomfortable and stayed awake till I arose at 5:15am.

Had been wondering what had attracted the rat, and with the power was now on, saw a hole chewed in my Vegemite tube.

Showered and was first person to breakfast at 6am. Had noodles with beef (10,000D0, a bread roll and omelette (10,000D), and coffee (5,000D).

Had rained during the night and outside mist was hanging low all around. My glasses kept fogging up.

Left the hotel at 7:30am, delayed only by a New Zealand couple chatting to me. Followed the right hand (eastern) bank of the Na River. 4 km out of Lai Chai crossed a great suspension bridge provided by China few years ago. The countryside was very rugged, with the river valley a narrow gorge for most of the time. There was a small population, with only tiny scattered villages. Not a lot of traffic. Saw evidence of deforestation, with the high slopes denuded. Because of the terrain the road undulated, making it strenuous work in the heat and humidity. Fortunately had occasional shade from the jungle rising steeply from the road.

Continued this way for 60 km to Pa Tam where I stopped for a Buffalo energy drink, a Coke and a bottle of cold water. Then on another 14km to Pa So, the only town of any size between Lai Chai and Tam Duong. The town was a mess of mud washed across the roads. Stopped at 12:30pm at the the Lan Anh 2 Hotel for lunch (the proprietor of the hotel of the same name in Lai Chau had given me a map). Started with a 1.5 litre bottle of cold water and ordered the 40,000D set menu: spring rolls, steamed pork with tomato, mixed fried noodles, teamed rice, fried pork wrapped with herbs and fried vegetable (cabbage). It was a substantial and tasty meal.

Left the restaurant at 1:15pm and headed out into the heat - the sun was shining brightly. Continued to follow the Na River for 5 km until the start of the climb out of the valley. The heat and humidity affected me quickly, with sweat pouring off me. Stopped several times, panting heavily. Took my time but the km markers moved slowly. Eventually the noticed a distinct drop in temperature and even though was feeling tired, rode more easily. Passed many water buffalo with black Dao children and women tending them. The women wore black clothes with a large black hat tied tightly around their heads. The young women were wary of me, not responding to my smiles or waves. The children generally did so, and older women also.

It took an hour 25 minutes to get to the pass out of the valley and was pleased to start descending. Took another 20 minutes before I reached the outskirts of Tam Duong. Rode slowly making sure I didn't miss the centre of town and hotels. Found one hotel, then saw immediately the Wes Hotel opposite: it had been recommended by the New Zealand travellers this morning.

Was given a room at the back, but the air conditioning was not connected. The room only was 150,000D, with breakfast an additional 20,000D. Called Carolyne. Felt very weary. Had a shower and washed my cycling clothes. At 4:45pm a terrific storm hit, with strong winds and heavy rain. The wind eased but lightning and tremendous thunder followed. The power went off several times but only for 10-15 minutes at a time. Could do little but enjoy the storm through my large open window.

Went for an early dinner, in the rain, to the Tuan Anh restaurant, recommended by both Lonely Planet and the guide, Kien, last night and very close to the hotel. Had two Ha Noi beers (12,000D each), vegetarian springs (20,000D) that were superb, tofu in tomato and chive sauce (15,000D), a long, green vegetable (8,000D), noodles and beef (25,000D), steamed rice (5,000D) and 2 bananas for dessert. Though expensive it was a huge meal and excellent. An international volleyball match with Vietnam and Kazakhstan was showing on the TV. I was the first customer but many more arrived before I left at 7pm. The proprietor looked at my legs and indicated that I was a cyclist - this has happened several times while I've been riding. Left restaurant at 6:50pm.

Bought two 1.5 litre bottles of water (14,000D) and went to an ADSL Internet joint. Spent a fruitful two hours there before heading back to the hotel to bed.


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