The Loop: Day IV

Day 4 now had a new plan. The original idea was to bike 50km down to a junction. Turn off and go 20km to the Blue Lagoon. After a swim do the 20km journey back and then another 50km down taking us back to Thakek.

The new plan was for Sinead and Abbie to break off and join the Israelis to travel down to the Blue Lagoon. Camille and I would hang back and get Celine’s bike fixed, get Celine  and the bike on a bus to Thakek, then bike the rest of the 100km down to Thakek. If we had time we would do the 40km detour to the blue lagoon meeting up with the Israelis and the English girls.

Everyone was up for breakfast at 7am except Celine, understandably.

Camille and I wasted no time. We asked around and found where the nearest garage was. Fortunately it was really close by, about 5 minutes walk. As we finished breakfast Celine was up. She was very sore and in a lot of pain. She took another dose of Neurofen and Paracetamol and ordered breakfast. We left our stuff with her and set off to the garage.

Camille and I pushed the bikes; Camille near the front steering and me pushing the back of the bike. The bike surprisingly wasn’t too bad considering the speed at which it went down. We needed to get the left indicator cover replaced, the front tyre replaced and the front break cable replaced and reattached. Celine’s helmet had also disappeared, none of us were sure how or where as there was nothing left on the road when left the crash site, so we needed to find a really cheap helmet.

We found the two garages adjacent to each other. We stopped at the first. The mechanic was a very young man who looked to be struggling to change a tyre on the bike he was working on. We showed him the three parts of the bike that needed repairing. He simply smiled and nodded at as us. We asked and gestured how much the repair would be. He nodded again. We asked and gestured three more times in different ways before he brought a calculator out and typed in the total cost. It came to 60k KIP and we negotiated him down to 50k KIP. Once again he smiled, walked off and ignored us.

We went both had the same thought. We walked over and beckoned the mechanic from the garage next door to come over. He looked more competent than his neighbour. As he approached our incompetent mechanic shot him a sharp look. He approached nervously, we reassured him that it’s okay. He looked at the damage and said it would cost 50k KIP. We negotiated him down to 45k KIP and he help us to roll the bike into his garage. The other mechanic was treated with laughter from everyone around for letting his custom get stolen. He learnt some basic business that morning.

Whilst the mechanic went to work, Camille and I tried to shop around for a helmet. Helmets, as it turned out are a lot more expensive than bike repairs. At about $20-25 minimum it was a lot of Celine’s budget. We held off buying anything without Celine’s approval, after all it was her money.

20 minutes later the mechanic was done. I noticed the left wing mirror was completely bent out of shape. A little bit of muscle and it looked as close to the right side as we were going to get it.

I volunteered to take the bike for a test drive. Before I set off I did a quick check. Lights and indicators worked, the breaks appeared to work and the gears shifted. I drove off speeding down the road bringing the bike up to 60kph, testing all the gears in turn, slowed tested all the gears went down then brought the bike back to the shop. Gears worked, engine worked, steering worked and electrics worked. We paid the man then drove the bike back.

Celine had just finished washing her wounds her room. We told her we had everything fixed for 45k KIP but couldn’t find a cheap helmet. She had found the helmet, the staff at the hotel had taken it and looked after it when they helped Celine and the bike off the pick up truck the night before.

Celine jumped on a bike with Camille. I put her backpack on my back and her day pack around my front and rode on her now fixed bike. The bus stop wasn’t obvious. It was just a place on the side of the road, unmarked. Within a minute of us finding the bus stop the bus arrived. We told them we need a one-way ticket to Thakek and they need to transport the bike. This wasn’t a problem for them, they loaded Celine’s backpack and the bike onto the bus. Celine wished us a safe journey then disappeared into the bus.

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With the cost of repairs, breakfast and the petrol from the previous night, Camille and I had about 50k KIP (£4) between us and a full tank of petrol. There wasn’t an ATM in town. Getting money was a priority.

We rode back on Camille’s bike to the hotel. By that time the clouds had gathered and greyed. The beautiful morning was over. I put my rain coat in the boot of my bike, and put my day bag’s waterproof cover on. We were both ready for lots of rain.
As soon as we started, it started to drizzle. We put our raincoats on. 10 minutes later it was raining hard and 20 minutes after that we were riding through heavy downpour. I removed my sunglasses; without a visor the rain drops uncomfortably slapped my eyes. We decided to keep riding as we didn’t think the rain would just pass. For an hour we rode through heavy thunderstorms. Every part of my body not covered by the rain coat was completely soaked. We kept going. Driving required intense concentration. Deep focus in trying to look more than 5 metres ahead through the rain, checking the wing mirrors regularly for any cars attempting to overtake and trying to change gears and control our speed every time we turned.

We stopped at a town for a comfort break. The rain didn’t let up and continued to get worse. About a minute after we set off I spotted an ATM. I hooted frantically for Camille to stop but she couldn’t hear. I pulled over and ran to take cover in the ATM booth to take out money. After taking out a million KIP I set off again. I was driving down the road when I saw Camille coming back up the road. We flashed and waved each other down, she turned her bike around. She shouted at me through the rain “What happened? Are you okay” I explained I stopped to take out cash. We both looked relieved. She was worried that I had crashed in the rain; under these treacherous conditions she was wondering how she’d deal with another crash by herself in the rain.

After another half an hour we were over taking the rain clouds. We sped up even more despite the roads being wet so we can out run the rain. It was working. It worked, we were through into sunshine and had rapidly started to dry off. Camille started to slow but I saw her slow to late. I slammed on back breaks. Error! My back tyre started skidding left and right. I almost lost the bike completely. As soon as the skidding started I took my foot off the break and rode the bike out till I stabilised. Then I started tapping on the breaks trying to create a makeshift ABS.

We were at the junction for the Blue Lagoon. The road was dry clay. If the rain catches up to us those could be the most difficult 20km we’d do. We started down the road. We had driven for no more than 15 minutes before we let spatters of rain hit our face. After everything we’d been through we erred on the side of caution and drove back to the main road. The rain had picked up and we increased our pace to out run it. It was no use though. The cloud emptied themselves on us for the next 45 minutes all the way back to Thakek.

We arrived back at the Travel Lodge, as soon as we parked the bikes the clouds cleared and the sun was out.

We laid out our clothes to dry after which Celine reappeared. She didn’t envy us as she watched the rain from the window of the bus. As more and more people arrived back having completed the loop everyone commented that they had zero rain all day, and if they did it was a really light shower for two minutes. When the Israelis and English girls got back they said they didn’t get any rain all day. Somehow Camille and I had driven the entire journey with the rain clouds which had affected nobody else.

For everything that was said and done we all made it back in one piece and had a really lucky escape. How Celine didn’t end up with stitches, broken bones, or anything more serious still baffles me.

We used the rest of the day to chill out and plan our next stop. We would take a bus down to Don Det to experience the 4000 Islands. With so many of us wanting to go (11 of us) we wanted to book a private minivan taxi to take us down. It would work out marginally more expensive than the local bus but would be less hassle as you can’t book the local bus in advance. We thought we’d ask at Wang Wang to see if he can arrange one.

On the way, Celine’s tyre popped once again. Fortunately she rode it out and all was fine. Mr Lu at Wang Wang explained the tyre on that bike had popped 7 times for one person in their trip. We were baffled why he didn’t just get the tyre changed! He arranged a bus for us, we would have 14 seats so we just needed to recruit 3 more people to bring the cost down even more

Whilst we ate dinner two Americans were walking around looking for a place to eat. I beckoned them over and asked if they’d be interested in going to the 4000 islands on a private bus the following day. Jeff and Greg were interested but needed to think about it. They reappeared 5 minutes later and said they’d join us for dinner, then announced that they’d be coming with us.

We all headed back to the Travel Lounge. Sat around a large fire, Nati, one of the Israelis shouted “We have one seat on a private bus to Don Det tomorrow, anyone interested?” A familiar face from Vang Vieng piped up and said “Me!”. With that we found our last person, Lisa, and had filled the bus.

At midnight the town came alive with fireworks as all of Asia welcomed in the Chinese New Year. A perfect end to an adventurous 4 days.

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