Danang to '4000 islands'

We have decided to spend Christmas at '4000 islands' in the very southern part of Laos. So now we have four weeks to get there. This will be the most challenging part of our journey in SE Asia.

The challenge started straight away on the outskirts of Danang. We had breakfast at the foot of the mountain we were going to climb on our bikes. Went across the bridge and started pushing hard. In the distance we could see where the road peaked. So close, yet so far away.

 

I managed to stay on the bike and push myself, Nina and Pim up the hill. Lucy did a good job but had to resort to walking the steepest parts. When she was exhausted enough we had a rest and then continued later. It was a really hot and sunny day.

 

We made it! Fantastic views from the top, some 500 meters above sea level.

 

Going downhill was fun on the winding road. Since most motortraffic use a 4 km long tunnel instead, we had the road almost to ourselves. Nice views, sunny and hot. Could not have been better. We arrived Lang Co after 44 km riding in the afternoon and there was enough time for me to go with Nina for a swim at the beach. We went to a restaurant across the road and then slept well all night.

 

Next day we had breakfast at a place where Nina found some friends to play with. By lunchtime we turned off Highway 1 to a small road closer to the sea.

 

It took us through small villages, a cemetery, and long stretches of rice fields. Sun was shining, a breeze came in from the sea. It was a good day for riding bicycle.

 

Arrived Tuan An after 76 km and stayed overnight at a simple guesthouse where Nina and Pim could play with a small puppy. Continued next day the 16 km to Hue. Found a really good hotel to stay at and decided to take a couple of rest days.

 

Nina has become too heavy now to lift up and down from the bike several times per day. So the first afternoon was spent arranging a pipe on the bike, for her to use as a ladder. With good assistance from hotel staff, a pipe was attached and then Nina tried to climb up to the seat herself. It worked really well. Now she can climb up and down herself.

         

We enjoyed Hue restaurants and cafe's. At the hotel we were treated with good breakfast and then we had lunch and dinner at various places to experience the international cousine offered in Hue. The park next to the river was nice for a stroll.

 

Nina at the park in Hue.

 

We found a supermarket with an indoor playground. Both Nina and Pim enjoyed playing there. I found a new pair of shoes, as the old ones had holes in them.

 

On the way home we had sushi at a japanese restaurant while Nina was sleeping in the trailer at the entrence. She was totally exhausted after playing the whole afternoon at the indoor playground. Following day we left Hue by taking the bridge across the river heading east, towards the coast, on what would be an eventful day.

 

Ít started with beautiful small roads along the rivers and then some straight concrete road along the coast.

 

It however deteriorated more and more. We had to ford through some water and then the road ceased to exist altogether, as there where roadwork ahead. It was tricky at times to navigate with luggage in front, Nina in the back and the trailer behind. Time was not on our side as road condition made us travel at very slow speed.

 

By late afternoon we managed to find a road heading west instead. Before long it became a really good and wide sealed road without any other traffic in sight. A tailwind helped us all the way back to Highway 1 again and there we found an accommodation for the night, just before sunset. It was a long 81 km journey this day. Following day we went on Highway 1 to Dong Ha, some 32 km north. First we went to a backpacker cafe for a nice brunch and then to the supermarket to stock up plenty on food, babyfood, nappies, wet towels, etc. to prepare for the long journey west to Laos and Savannakhet. Found a good hotel to stay at, a restaurant across the road and then shared a watermelon in the hotelroom before bedtime.

 

It was a nice morning when we started our journey with full supplies in the panniers.  The road was good with nice scenery. It went along a river and up the mountains. By early afternoon we had already reached the town we aimed for that day. After a coffeebreak we decided to stretch it by going to the next town that very afternoon.

 

It included some tough riding up the mountains to claim altitude. Really nice views of the river and mountains. It become cooler to ride by late afternoon and we arrived rather exhausted after 65 km riding, just before dark, at a hotel in Khe Sahn.

 

Next day we reached the border after some more climbing and had a look at the cross border activities. They used some basic carts to push the cargo across 'no mans land' to reload again on the other side. We were stamped out of Vietnam and stamped into Laos after a lot of papers to fill in and arguing with the officials about the extra fees they were asking for. It went well and we entered Laos. 

 

The first stop we had in some small village, we were surrounded by many kids and adults that came running from everywhere to have a look at us. A lot of audience for just having a drink. We continued on empty roads and without any difficulties reached Sepon during afternoon. It was a 66 km ride to get there. On our way we also crossed the 'Ho Chi Minh trial', one of the routes used by the viet cong to move supplies from north Vietnam to south Vietnam through Laos during the war.

 

It was a nice guesthouse so we decided to have a rest day. Pim and Nina enjoyed playing with the owners kids that was about the same age. Our room was comfortable and nice and we enjoyed the food in their restaurant. I had a look around Sepon the following day and this was obviously the only decent place to stay at.

The garden was decorated with bomb shells from the war. The americans used thousands and thousands of bombs to try to destroy the 'Ho Chi Minh trial'. The shells are still to be found all over the area, even though thousands of them have been sold as scrap metal by the locals.  

 

We checked out around noon and enjoyed the empty road west. We went through villages and looked at village life. Basic wooden houses and 'Kosovo-Harleys' were popular among the locals.

 

It was an easy 35 km to Mueng Phin were we stayed overnight at a nice guesthouse. We met two other travellers on bicycles going the opposite direction so gave them our map of Vietnam for them to use. They warned us for road works following day.

 

Three kind of flags are popular in Laos. It is the Laos flag, the Vietnam flag, and the Sovjetunion flag. I did not think I would see that one used ever again. Over here it is in common use, only with the symbol made bigger and in the middle. Laos is a communist country and that is also reflected in the kind of trucks being used for moving cargo. Old russian Kamas trucks!

 

We had 94 km on the odometer when we arrived by mid afternoon at a gueshouse in Don Kilo. The road was decent but with a 15 km roadwork which we passed in a clever way. The workers have one hour lunchbreak from 11.30 to 12.30 and that was exactly the time we needed to get through. We avoided a lot of dust by doing it that way. A nice sunset concluded the day.

 

Again we left early in the morning as the sun came up behind us. When Pim started to complain we stopped and he stretched his legs. Nina slept well into the morning. It was a nice day of easy riding and we could feel that we were coming closer to civilisation with shops and houses made of concrete.

 

We made it! Reached Xeno with the intersection of route 13 towards Pakse before noon. We however continued straight another 30 km to Savannakhet. Stopped to take a photo at the roundabout with dinousars just outside town. By the time we found Leena's guesthouse we had done another 82 km. Wow! We have crossed Laos from east to west, as easy as that.

 

Now we deserved some rest and decided to stay a few days. The guesthouse was good and Nina found a puppy to play with. Pim, on the other hand, showed signs of fever. He was not feeling well but were happy anyways. Following day we found some red spots on him and concluded that he probably had 'chicken pox' (vattkoppor). Next day more red dots spread over his body, but no fever. We stayed four days in Savannakhet for Pim to get well again.

 

Nina had a good time playing with the other girls at the guesthouse. We went to some different cafes in town and had a look at the sunset across the Mekong river. One day I went across the bridge into Thailand to stock up on babyfood and nappies for Pim. It all went well and with Pim up and kicking again we felt ready for the next leg of our journey, the long road south.

 

Lucy's panniers and backpack were filled to the limit when we started our journey towards Pakse. First we went the 35 km uphill to get up on route 13, then we headed south. We were greeted with a sign every kilometer, showing the distance to our destination. Good road conditions and almost no traffic at all.

 

Just before Paksong we found a good guesthouse and checked in. Left the luggage there and went into town for dinner. A decent restaurant gave us everything we needed. Took a package of icecream with us back to the room and had for desert. We made altogether 79 km in the saddle.

 

We left early and rode into the rising sun. Cows and waterbuffalos on each side of the road, and sometimes on the road.

 

Crossed a couple of rivers and arrived at Phoung Savan already by lunchtime, after 53 km. Checked in at a guesthouse with wooden bungalows just south of town. Nina found a cat to play with and then had fun with the other girls living there. She had good fun the whole afternoon.

 

Next day we made another 56 km to Kongsedone. Stopped at some different cafes during the day and Nina managed to find cats and dogs to play with all the time. We found a good hotel just north of town where we stayed overnight.

 

Continued south following day, through sleepy villages and next to a long mountain. At one stage a 'Kosovo-Harley' overtook me and I increased the speed to take advantage of them being my windbreaker. I followed close behind them for some 2 km at high speed but when we came to an uphill I could not keep up any more and had to let them go. It was good fun for as long as it lasted!

 

Before noon we reached the narrow bridge taking us across the river into Pakse. It was a beautiful day and it felt good to have accomplished another long leg of bike riding. It was 67 km from Kongsedone to Pakse. 

 

We checked in to a very big room with three nice big beds and spent the afternoon relaxing and watching TV. Pim enjoyed to crawl around back and forth. He can now stand up and balance on his own, without holding hands to anything. He is really proud of it too.

         

We stayed only one day to rest in Pakse. The town was a bit disapointing but had some decent restaurants to enjoy. The evening was spent at some playground for children with a huge 'bumping castle' and other attractions, where Nina had fun.

 

Instead we decided to try our luck in Champasak, just 34 km south of Pakse. Another beautiful, sunny day took us there. We stopped for breakfast at some small cafe and Nina found other children to play with straight away. We met three other bike riders and exchanged some information.

 

By noon we checked in at a riverside guesthouse and had lunch, overlooking the Mekong river. Lucy went for a facial massage at the spa next door. In the evening we went to a restaurant a short bike ride from the guesthouse. Discovered that Champasak is a quite small town and nothing much is going on.

         

Following day we went for a bike ride to see the Wat Phu, the biggest Khmer-structure in Laos. It was a sunny day and we stayed for a while looking at the old stone formations before heading back for a coffee&cake in town. It became a 25 km return trip. Spent the remainder of the day resting at the guesthouse.

 

Next morning we left Champasak by ferry across the Mekong river. Sandy and difficult to get on and off the 'ferry'. We went up and joined route 13 again. Went south to Ban Theng Bang and had a look around for guesthouses. There was only one option, so we checked in to a rather dodgy room there.

 

We then turned left and rode half an hour uphill on a dirtroad to Kiet Ngong. Booked an elephant and had lunch. All four of us could fit on one elephant. His name was Tam and was good at walking. He was waving with his ears a lot. It felt like driving a truck, sitting on the second floor with heavy and slow movements.

 

We went up the Mount Asa and got fantastic views at the top. Stayed around for a while, looking at the elephants and the surroundings. We then went back down again together with the three other elephants. An interesting experience to ride elephant.

 

Back at the dodgy guesthouse we had ploblems getting water for shower and then the television stopped working. Well, we eventually fell asleep. We had done only 50 km on the bikes altogether during the day. At 2.30am Lucy woke up. There where ants in the bed. Thousand of ants in the bed, on the floor, walls, curtains and in the bathroom. We tried fighting them for a while but they bite our feet. They were down in our panniers too. We decided to abandon the house altogether. By 4.30am we were on the road heading south. It was dark and there were no traffic at all. When Pim woke up after sunrise we stopped and had a picknick breakfast by the roadside.

 

We continued riding on an empty road the whole morning and stopped only at some shops to stock up on nappies for Pim. By mid-afternoon we reached our destination after a record distance of 104km. Took a small boat across to Don Det island in the Mekong delta known as '4000 islands'. A beautiful afternoon with many small green islands all around.

 

We went straight to the restaurant next to the ferry landing and enjoyed a big dinner. Found a good guesthouse with a triple room in a big concrete building just a short walk away. We slept well that night. Following day we decided to look for other accommodation at the neighbouring island Don Khon, connected to Don Det with an old railway bridge(!).

 

The accommodation on offer was not up the standards we were looking for, with Pim crawling around on the floor all the time. So we went back to the same guesthouse again on Don Det and booked for three nights. I went swimming with Nina in the Mekong later in the afternoon. Next morning when going for breakfast, Nina found a big waterbuffalo sleeping on the beach. We went to have a closer look.

 

Everyday we had big nice breakfasts overlooking the Mekong river. One day after breakfast I took Nina with me on the bike to the far side of Don Khon. The remaining few 'Irrawaddy dolphins' live there. We did not see any dolphins but we saw Cambodia just across the river on the next island.

 

Went back using a smaller track with sevaral old wooden bridges to cross. Some of the old railway track was still in use to support those bridges. See below on left hand side. Close to the main bridge we spotted the most interesting thing on these islands, an old locomotive from the french colonial times. It was in use to drive across the two islands up until World War II and was abandoned in the jungle until recently. Nina enjoyed playing with it while I read the story on display about railways on these two islands in the Mekong delta. We made 21 slow kilometers on the bike that afternoon.

 

In the evening Nina was invited for a birthday party with the local kids. She had fun the whole evening playing with the others. They were treated food, cake and drinks, and each kid got a baloon with them home too. Next day we just went for a stroll in the village, Nina spent most of the day playing with other kids.

 

Lucy and me have abandoned the previous plan of going back up to Pakse again and into Thailand. Instead we will continue south, into Cambodia again. It is a longer route but probably more rewarding. Why make it easy when you can make it difficult?

24 December we went back by boat to mainland and headed a short distance south to look at a waterfall. The Khone Pha Pheng waterfall was a nice sight, although not so much water this time of year. We then went to a resort nearby and checked in to our pre-booked bungalow, after a total of only 23 km. We wanted to make Christmas eve a bit special by staying at a more luxurious place.

 

The resort was however not up to standards anymore, they had given up maintaining it and started cutting corners here and there. The swimming pool was not working anymore. Luckily the restaurant was still making delicious food and the room we had was big and comfortable even without a TV antenna.

 

After a filling lunch we spent the afternoon in the bungalow. First watching a Walt Disney movie and then Santa Claus had left some christmas presents on the veranda, which Nina found and opened. She and Pim played with their new toys until dinner time. Fishsoup with rice and stir fried vegetables became our Christmas dinner and also last dinner in Laos. Next morning we left for new adventures in Cambodia.

 

The route from Danang to '4000 islands'. Total distance on the bikes was 1100 km.