It's the unexpected meetings that are making this trip so special. Robert and Kung and later Martin and Goi in Thailand. Paulo in Huay Xai, Ron and Maaike in Nong Keuw and Emma, Cynthia and Graham on the boat to Luang Prabang. Mandy and Jacques, a south African couple of cyclists I met in Paksan. All have tales to tell about their travels and their plans. Some you meet once, some you share a route with and some you will bump into again in the most unlikely of places later on your travels. I also met a Dutch blonde that made me fall head over heels. Unfortunately the blonde was a guy and the fall was from my bike. I had been playing cards the evening before with his friends and when they caught up with me the next morning on the road Bram offered me a tow. Normally I wouldn't have accepted but the day was as hot as any I have experienced so far and the road was long, straight and featureless so I decided to grab the pillion hand rail and save some time. Acceleration was smooth but it didn't stop me veering towards his back wheel. I could see what was going to happen but unable to stop it. My front wheel made contact with the scooters rear wheel and before I knew it I was tumbling along the road.
I landed with a thud, I heard something break with a glass-like splintering noise and rolled to a stop. I have wondered a number of times how a fall on rough tarmac would feel. If I could escape with minimal injuries I would consider myself fortunate. The thought of gravel rash is not nice especially when on a long trip. Thank goodness I was only traveling at about 10 mph. I knew the sound of the break wasn't from my body but couldn't figure out what it could have been until I righted the bike. I suffered the tiniest grazing to one shoulder, one elbow, one ankle and one knee. The only real pain was from my right thigh. It felt like someone had given me the worst deadleg ever. As it's so hot here at the moment I can't wear a helmet while riding. Shaken to think of the possible outcome of this type of accident I counted myself very lucky indeed. The splintering noise I found out was my rear brake lever. Snapped off at the root. There was no way I would be able to get any leverage on that again. The Dutch guys waited around with me and once I was ready to continue they stopped ahead and waited again to make sure I was okay. When we parted again we agreed to meet up at the guest house in Thaekek later. My leg was okay to cycle with but I was sure it would make me suffer in the morning.
Luckily this was not the case. I was able to ride around town looking for a bike shop to replace the brake lever. I managed to find one in a shop that was stocked high with Chinese manufactured goods. Made completely of plastic, it flexes around the clamp every time I pull on the lever. Still, at 45 pence for the whole assembly I can't expect too much from it. It will be interesting to see how long it lasts though. Once fixed I set off south once more. Next stop Seno/Xeno. I decided that the next day was going to be a rest as the buses run along this road. I was going to take the easy option for a day and avoid the boredom of two days riding an endlessly flat and straight road with nothing of interest along the way.

I turned up just before 8am to get the bus. 8 oclock came and went. The bus apparently had done the same. When I asked a few of the tuktuk drivers about the bus south they told me that I had to go to the bus station. How stupid of me. Apparently the place where information and tickets were obtained and where the buses pick up and set down passengers isn't the bus station. Another one was due at 10 oclock though so I waited for that one. 10 oclock came and went too. No bus. 12 noon I was told. At 12.30 I gave up and started riding again. Straight into the hottest part of the day. Luckily for me the clouds started to form about an hour later. Looking ominously dark though they threatened to open at any time. I pulled into a guest house car park just in time only to find that the guest house wasn't open yet. There was nothing for it. Get back on the bike and ride fast through the rain. Just my luck that when I reached the next guest house fifteen minutes later the rain stopped just as I did. Still, I was warm despite being soaked and I was going to have a shower anyway.
Plodding south I got to Pakse about 5pm the next day. It had been a long two days riding to get there but I had decided to stay a couple of nights and have a rest day. I spent the evening talking and eating with a young South Korean man who had just got in that day too. It was interesting to hear his thoughts as South Korea is vastly more developed than South East Asia. He also told me a lot about China. Everyone that has been there seems to have a different opinion about the country, but considering the size of China it's quite possible that every one of them are correct. Their opinions may just have been formed in different places and from hugely different perspecives. Unfortunately apart from a very large market and some very tasty and cheap icecream the town of Pakse didn't seem to have much else to offer and so I decided to continue further south the next day and take a rest somewhere else. I crossed the river Mekhong and headed for Champasac and the ancient Angkor era temple that is close by. The temple was a disappointment as there are only ruins there but while there I met up with Peter and Nicky Murphy from New Zealand who were on a cycling tour of Laos ( They also told me of an Irish/German (Cormac and Anne) couple that were just around the corner who I met with a few minutes later. That evening we all met up for a meal and to swap stories about our tours and life on the road.
Cormac and Anne have been on the road since October and are heading south with the hope of a work permit/residence visa for Australia ( Peter and Nicky head home in about a week but for a short time at least our paths run together. It's the first time I've had company on the road for more than a one day ride. We are all heading for Si Pan Don or Four thousand islands. Peter and Nicky can't afford to stay long as their flight home leaves from Pnom Phen within the week. A brief encounter but a good one all the same. If I am lucky enough to go to New Zealand again they will definitely be on my list of people to visit. Cormac and Anne will be crossing into Cambodia about the same time as me, which gives us 4 days to enjoy the area and take in a few islands and sights before we make the short journey to the border. From there their ride takes them south to Pnom Phen, while mine will take me west towards Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.
he next morning Anne, Cormac and I headed for the ferry point to take us back across the Mekhong so that we could join up with highway 13 once more. The 'ferry' was made up of two small boats lashed together with a planking across them to allow a more stable platform. I don't know why but everytime I take my bike onto a boat I am grinning from ear to ear at the thought of where I will be going next. I already knew what highway 13 would be like; flat, straight and practically featureless, so it must be the water that is making me smile. Peter and Nicky were behind us, having made a later start but soon caught us up when we stopped for a drink and to let Annes stomach settle. Then we were all riding together. Lots of pictures were taken on and off the bikes of the five of us. Highway 13 is the only feasible north/south route in the country so it was no surpise to see other cyclists there too. Nunu and Joanna from Portugal were heading north and we stopped to chat for about 15 minutes before swapping email addresses and promising to get in touch later as they are also heading for the same area of China as myself.
A turn off onto a dusty side road and we were soon at our second ferry of the day. Another two boats lashed together with a wooden platform across them. We had reached the 4000 islands and crossed to the largest of them Don Khong. The village called Muang Khong was the landing point with a short string of guest house/restaurants along the water front. We found some cheap accomodation and met up again for a meal. There's very little to lure tourists but once here it's hard to understand why anyone would want to leave. After three hours I could quite happily see myself living here. As long as the internet access is improved and the plans for a bridge are scrapped.

It's going to be a few days island hopping and visiting the rapids before leaving for Cambodia. The 4000 islands have a reputation for being laid back and slow. Considering that Laos has a reputation for being the most laid back country in South East Asia so the time spent here is no doubt going to be very chilled out. Don Det and Don Khon are the other two islands with guest houses

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