Cycle To The Chinese Border (and back)

Muang Sing Travel Blog

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My travel companion (doesn't say much)

With the river trip to Huay Xai no longer viable, I suddenly had two days to kill before I needed to be at the border. I stopped in at a local school to see if they needed any help for the day, only to be told that it was school holidays! Lazy.

In Luang Prabang I met a French guy who was travelling all over SE Asia on his bike. I didn't have the time or willpower to emulate such a task, but thought it would be nice to at least see some of the northern highlands of Laos on a saddle somehow. So I went to the kid I had already hired a bike from twice already and asked if I could hire one for a couple of days. Successful, the next morning I was heading off on the 60km peddle through the NPA forest to Muang Sing, north west of Luang Nam Tha, near the Chinese border.

Shiny.
It actually turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my trip - on the downhills, anyway.

Of course, being in the mountains - and despite what Lance Armstrong will have you believe (what does he know?!) - it was crucial that my bike could actually handle a hill - not like most of the bikes you see being rode around SE Asia. Fortunately, mine was actually very good.

The scenery was spectacular. I quickly became immersed in deep forest, and fortunately the road seemed to go through the hills, not over them. I saw only villagers on my travels - not a Westerner in sight for the whole journey. As with the rest of Laos, everyone was quick to wish you, "Sabaidee," while the children rushed out to wave you past. If that was England, I wonder if the kids would be waving all the fingers on their hand? When I stopped, the kids treated my bike as if they had just seen the Batmobile pull up.

Muang Sing
I didn't get treated like Batman, though, unfortunately.

About 20km from Muang Sing I saw a sign for a waterfall, so hopped off the saddle and walked through some forest to find it. I wasn't expecting much, but it was actually highly impressive, and even better seen that I didn't see anyone else around while I was there. I had gone from feeling lonely when I arrived in Luang Nam Tha to actually quite enjoying the solitude on my excursion.

The hills were challenging, but not quite exhausting. For the second half of the journey the kilometres seemed to fly by and by lunch time I had arrived. I quickly realised, however, that, other than trekking - which I didn't have the time or the energy for - there really is very little in Muang Sing to see or do.

I had the misfortune of eating lunch with a guy from the Czech Republic who thought Muang Sing had become too commercialised, purely on the basis that he was getting pestered by the old women trying to sell you their handicrafts.

Waterfall
I warned him not to leave the north of Laos, because if he thinks a place with only a few guesthouses and a trekking office is commercialised, he needs to stay away from Vang Vieng - or Thailand and Vietnam, for that matter. After he had told the women to 'Go away,' in a slightly adulterated way, I knew it was time for me to end our relationship. So in a Forest Gump-style moment of madness, I thought I would cycle for the rest of the afternoon, heading up to the Chinese border, seen as it was only a 20km round trip away.

The road took me though a few more villages and up a hill to the border itself. Not really much to see here; I spent a few minutes talking to the guys at immigration who gave me a look of, "So you rode to the border just so you could see China and ride back," and then headed back.

Paddies

That evening I ate dinner with the Spanish couple I had trekked with in Luang Nam Tha. I probably didn't make the best impression when I ate the guy's meal, thinking it was mine, then mine came out and it turned out he didn't like it. They then gave each other sorry looks like they had just been told of a near and dear one's death while I slowly ate my forbidden food.

The next day I headed off early again with hope of avoiding the midday heat. I knew the first 30km would be really hard work, seen as the previous day in the last 30km I had used my brakes more than my pedals. It was hard work and so after about 18km of rarely leaving bottom gear, I stopped off at the only restaurant on the 60km trail I saw. I got invited to a table with some guys half-dressed in military uniform who were eating snacks and taking it in turns to neck shots of Lao Lao.

2k to China
The next thing I know I had joined them for a couple to accompany my Coke, and despite them not speaking any English (and me not speaking Lao), I had managed to explain to them I was cycling from Luang Nam Tha to China and back again, then heading to Thailand to catch a plane to Hong Kong. The plane impression gave them a lot of amusement.

With the energy the Lao Lao gave me(?!), I zoomed up the remaining hills. The second half was actually much more downhill than I remembered from the previous day, so that even with my stop-off at the restaurant, I got back within four hours, a quicker time than the day before.

Almost exhausted, I headed to the bus station to try and get a means of exit for the next day. I was told they only sold tickets for buses that day and I would have to come back two hours before the bus left the next morning to ensure a seat.

No entering China for you.
After much discussion about how flawed the system was, I finally asked them if they knew what a cowboy was and headed back for a much-needed shower.

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My travel companion (doesnt say m…
My travel companion (doesn't say …
Shiny.
Shiny.
Muang Sing
Muang Sing
Waterfall
Waterfall
Paddies
Paddies
2k to China
2k to China
No entering China for you.
No entering China for you.
Deep in the forest
Deep in the forest
Village near Muang Sing
Village near Muang Sing
Stubborn cows
Stubborn cows
Fishermen
Fishermen
Muang Sing
photo by: lrecht