Bicycle Touring Along the Mekong River

Bicycle Touring SE Asia – Days 8-12

Bicycle touring is the ideal speed for exploring a country. It’s fascinating to watch how things slowly change. The way people dress, what they eat, and everything thing else that’s unique to an area slowly fades in and then fades out as the miles pass.

Greetings are a perfect example. When I first entered Laos the children would shout “hello” as I rode by on my bicycle. Then one day, amongst the barrage of hellos I heard a single “sabaidee.” I didn’t think much of it, but over the next hundred or so miles the hellos slowly disappeared and were replaced entirely with sabaidee. This salutation lasted a few days until I neared Cambodia, then the reverse happened. Throughout the day, the sabaidees gradually vanished and went back to hello.

Southeast Asia Bicycle Tour – Day 8

Savannakhet, Laos to Daokhame, Laos – 70 Miles

As I write this, I can’t remember anything significant about this stretch of the road other than it is long and hot. I do remember my hotel for the night was one of the trips worse. To add to my aggravation the room cost $18. Double what I had been averaging.

As I fell asleep that night, I was not looking forward to the next few days of cycling in Laos. Looking at the map, I had a hundred plus miles of riding down Laos very busy Route 13, before I would reach Pakse, Laos the gateway to the Southern Mekong region.

Southeast Asia Bicycle Tour – Day 9

Daokhame, Laos to Khongxedone, Laos – 40 Miles

Despite being one of the busiest roads in Laos, Route 13 did not have much to offer in accommodation choices. My options for the day were to ride 40 miles, 101 miles, or cowboy camp. I chose 40 miles.

I finished mid-morning and checked into a room in Daokhame, Laos. It was such a short day of riding, but apparently, I needed it. The entire day was spent sleeping, then I woke up briefly to eat, and immediately went back to bed and slept through the night.

Southeast Asia Bicycle Tour – Day 10

Khongxedone, Laos to Champasak, Laos – 61 Miles

Bicycle Champasak Sign

Entering the Champasak World Heritage Site

I got an early start at around 4:00 am. It was dark, but the roads were empty. A car or truck would pass maybe once every ten minutes. To be safe, I’d stop well off the shoulder as they went by.

I was making good time and was on pace to have well over 20 miles behind me before sunrise. Then my chain broke while being chased by a dog. I had never broken a chain in my life. Making this repair for the first time, in the dark, while consistently being taunted by dogs, was not ideal. My frustration was boiling over.

Sunrise was well past by the time I was back on my way. Not entirely confident with my repair, around mid-morning, I pulled over to inspect it. Dammit! Another link had to be removed. I examined everything and couldn’t determine what was causing the breakage. I began to stress. If I didn’t stop losing chain links, my bicycle trip was over.

I delicately pedaled to the large city of Pakse, Laos. I tried to find a spare bike chain, but they didn’t have the right size. The shop owner told me I’d have better luck in Thailand.

Without much choice, I continued to Champasak and found a hotel directly on the banks of the Mekong for $6 a night. It was wonderful.

Southeast Asia Bicycle Tour – Day 11

Champasak, Laos to Don Det, Laos – 76 Miles

Again I was up early. I needed to catch the 6:30 ferry to the other side of the Mekong River. Arriving first, I waited in the dark alone. After awhile, I knew something was wrong. The boat never showed, but I was able to hitch a ride across from a woman in a wooden boat.

The sun rose as I crossed the Mekong River and Buddhist prayers echoed in the distance. It was such a magical moment. I will never forget it.

After crossing the river, I reunited with Route 13 and continued South. In the afternoon, I took another boat to the town of Don Det. The evening was spent at one of the many bars sipping beer among unsavory expats and douchey backpackers. I had been off the beaten path for almost a week. After visiting Don Det, I couldn’t wait to get back to it.

Southeast Asia Bicycle Tour – Day 12

Don Det, Laos to Stung Treng, Cambodia – 51 Miles

Another early morning ferry and I was back on Route 13 cycling towards the border of Cambodia. I arrived just before 9:00 am. It was empty. Again I had chosen the walking route on and it took me through a border checkpoint that didn’t allow vehicles.

After crossing into Cambodia, the roads immediately went to shit. The next 30 miles, were by far the worse. The washboard textured road was dry and dusty. I wondered if this was an example of a typical Cambodian road; more accurately I feared it was a typical road.

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