Gordon:  We spent a night in the Lao border town of Houay Xay to give ourselves time to purchase cellular data service, acquire some Lao money (Kip – about 6,000 to the Canadian dollar) and purchase a new bike seat (mine broke just after we crossed the border.)  Houay Xay is a node on the Southeast Asian tourist circuit – it is the place where tourists get on a slow boat for a two day trip down the Mekong to Luang Prabang.  Not for the likes of us however.  After all the other foreigners got on a boat (including two cycle tourers from California) we turned from the river and headed up into the hills.  Rather than a two day float, we are cycling over 500 kms through the corrugated landscape of northern Laos.  It will take us several weeks to get to Luang Prabang.

The rewards of our approach were quickly evident, as our ride today was amazing.  The road we are taking north towards China has been christened the “Tea Caravan Route” by the Lao tourist authorities, based on a history of horse caravans bringing tea from southern China to the Mekong.  It climbs into the hills, passing small villages on its 200 km journey to China.  Most of the population of Laos is still engaged in subsistence agriculture (the per capita GDP is only about $2,500) and this lifestyle was very much on display in the villages we cycled through.  There are some teak and concrete structures, but most of the homes and outbuildings are built with a light wooden frame and wall panels of woven split bamboo.  Many are constructed on stilts.  There are goats, chickens, pigs, ducks, dogs and cattle wandering through the villages and across the highway.

As foreign cyclists we are sufficiently unusual that we have rock star status, at least with the under-10 set.  Torrents of kids rush towards the the road upon spying us.  We generally face a phalanx of boys that want to High-5 us.  These kids are like pint-size toreadors.  We are bearing down on them at over 20 km per hour, but they insist on placing themselves within their (short) arm’s length for a High-5.  If I veer towards the centre line to give them a bit of space, they move as well.  And they give the High-5 all they’ve got – I’m glad I’m wearing gloves.
Tonight we are staying in the only guesthouse within 30 kms, a rustic three room affair located beside a  beautiful river in the village of Ban Don Chai.  You can see daylight through the wall, but we have a mosquito net to keep the insects at bay.  The shower was a bucket of water and a ladle.  It is sort of like staying at our cabin, but with the exciting possibility of Japanese encephalitis.  Actually, it is quite charming, and our host is preparing us a pasta dinner while we enjoy a Beerlao by the river.

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