Saturday, March 3, 2012

Riding the Crazy 8 to Ban Na Hin

Colin at the overlook on the crazy 8
Since there really wasn't anything else that we wanted to do or see in Vientiane, we took off the following morning for Ban Na Hin, which is a small town in the mountains of eastern Laos, and the nearest town of any size to the Kong Lor Cave. We left Vientiane, which is the capital of Laos, rode past the Patuxai, a replica of the Arc de Triomphe (I wanted to get a photo but couldn't as we zipped around it), and made our way through the heavy (for Laos anyway) city traffic and onto Highway 13. The ride was pretty boring, but at least the pavement was smooth and new. We did see glimpses of the Mekong at times, but for the most part, the scenery consisted of small towns and dry fields in flat land. 

Scenic overlook on Highway 8 to Ban Na Hin
Several hours into the trip, we finally turned off the 13 and onto Highway 8, which was a much more delightful ride through very rural villages and into higher elevation. The road curved and climbed upward, following a small and nearly dry river for a while, through the trees, leading finally, to some views that made me loudly exclaim, “Wow,” in my helmet. We pulled off at one of the rare, posted scenic overlooks to survey the area, both of us amazed by the landscape of jagged, bare stone heaved out of the ground in the distance. It was a dramatic sight, even more so when we realized we were only at about 1600 ft of elevation. After admiring it for a while, we continued a few more miles back down and around the mountain to Ban Na Hin. 

Colin taking the low road 'just for fun'
We pulled into town in the late afternoon, got a room at the Inthapanya Guesthouse, and met Jimmy, the owner. Originally from northern Laos, he became a Canadian citizen in the early 80s after attending university, being basically forgotten by the Laos government at the time, and staying to work. He's since retired and divides his time between Canada and Laos. Riding into Ban Na Hin, we were surprised to see how relatively prosperous it looked, since it is just a small town between the Mekong and the Vietnam border. But there are plenty of new pickup trucks and what looked like company housing around the town. Jimmy explained that a new hydroelectric dam and power generation station had recently been built here. Not only do they generate power for this part of Laos, they also sell the surplus to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. 

Beautiful scenery on Highway 8 to Ban Na Hin
We then walked out through town in our continuing search for batteries and shaving cream. No shaving cream, only ridiculously expensive batteries, but at least we found a watermelon. Oh well, we took our watermelon back to the room, where we ate it and hid out in the A/C until dinner. After the sun went down, the temperature also dropped quickly, so we enjoyed another outdoor dinner at the Inthapanya restaurant. After dinner, we picked up some cookies and beer and hit the bed early.

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