12 January 2012
Here's what the rest of the day looks like, aside from bike time, starting with rolling into a destination town:
Last few kilometre markers, I get a fix on exactly what my bike computer will be reading when I'm right at my destination. If possible, I like to overshoot the centre to get a simpler roll out in the morning.
Arriving in town, I scan for signs for guesthouses, and keep an eye out for restaurants. In Laos, this process was helped by the Lao Brewery Company, which has supplied restaurants and guesthouses with signs, complete with a large picture of a Beerlao bottle, of course. The signs are both predominantly yellow, with the guesthouse signs being shorter and wider. This really helps you measure up a town fast.
Guesthouse found, it's usually straightforward, as rooms are pretty much all the same all over, unless in a tourist centre. Rarely have I skipped around searching for a better deal; it's hardly worth the time. When you've cycled for several hours, you just want to get on with cleaning up and getting fed, watered and rested.
I'm not a total aircon junkie, fan will do, I can't understand local TV, and I'm not precious about toilet style. I did find it a little odd to do without a washbasin a few times in Laos. It's nice to get a towel, but I can manage if it's absent.
If it's convenient, I try to bring the bike into the room. Rooms are often upstairs, so the bike gets piled up somewhere downstairs. On highways, motel style places are more common, with rooms that give straight onto a yard. No problems there.
Room secured, I sometimes lie down on a patch of cool tiled floor for a bit of a stretch and cool down. The cool down especially helps if the shower has no hot water. Alternatively, raiding the room's fridge for drinks can be fun.
Power outlets are the next issue. I usually need a couple, as I'm usually charging my phone plus iPod or camera or laptop. In Lao rooms the sockets tend to be all grouped together on a wooden block which also has circuit breakers and light switches - it takes a bit of balancing to get things to stay up there.
Shower time, a.k.a. laundry time. After experimenting on prior trips, I've found the most effective multi-day riding gear management strategy is to wash socks, shorts and jersey through at the end of each day. To this end, I go into the shower fully clothed.
Kit gets wrung out and draped over whatever hanging apparatus can be found or improvised. Even if kit remains a little damp, it dries after wearing it a short time in the morning. In China, when it was cooler, I'd often put my fleece hoodie on over damp kit until I'd roasted it dry.
After shower, unguents: mosquito repellent is something that it took effort to get into the habit of, but I seem to have managed. Dengue and malaria don't sound pleasant. I've probably ingested too much of it after rubbing it on and then using my hands to eat. Life is all a big game of probabilities. I don't have any specialist cycling cream for my rear, but I do have a general moisturising antiseptic cream which has proved handy.
If I'm not hungry, and there's still daylight, I usually hit the road to explore on foot. It seems to be a good way to stretch the legs, and have a quick look at whatever place I've pulled into. Often this is combined with a search for a place to eat dinner.
Food: If I'm in a touristy place, I'll go for pizza or some other calorie-rich Western dish. Double dinners are a favourite of mine. Vang Vieng was a key point in the development of this strategy: pizza and a beer followed by falafel, salad, chips and a beer. I need the fuel.
Outside tourist places it's a question of tracking down the most substantial local dishes. In Laos I'd get fried rice or a Chinese-style wok dish with sticky rice. Both work, with the fried rice tending to be better value for money. Lao tables are burdened with condiments. A full set would be something like: soy, vinegar, fish sauce, sambal, salt, pepper, sugar, MSG, sweet chilli sauce, chilli paste, chilli flakes. Fortunately, these things seem to usually be manufactured by companies founded by emigré Chinese, so there's Chinese on all the labels, and I can work out what I'm getting myself into.
In Vietnam it's been rice plus pre-cooked toppings or noodles, with the latter far more widely available.
Drink: Beerlao is pretty much the only beer worth drinking in Laos. Compared to Chinese beer, it's great. It's a relatively heavy lager, much like Carlsberg or Harp. Chinese beer is all forgettable insipid water-beer, so Beerlao is a massive step up.
The beer selection is wider in Vietnam, but not necessarily better. Again, drinkable middle-of-the-road lager is everywhere, and none of it stands out, flavour-wise. Bigger places in Vietnam also have bia hoi which is a very weak brew (1-2%) that is produced daily. It tastes very fresh and bright, and is a refreshing change that doesn't dehydrate you too much.
After dinner, back to digs. If there's no WiFi, I read for a while until I conk out. This can happen anytime between 8pm and 1am. Before bed, I often give the knees a rub with zhenggushui or Trat yellow oil (thanks Catherine!), both muscle soothers. I often fall asleep with the light on and wake in the middle of the night to turn it off.
Morning is often a mental battle. I'm occasionally fully rested and feeling fresh, but these days are in the minority. Days where there's a clear strategy are easier, making it very clear what time I need to be rolling by if I'm to be in a sensible place for lunch or to beat sundown.
If there's Western breakfast to be had nearby I often put on my civvies and then return to my guesthouse after breakfast to get ready to ride. If there isn't Western breakfast, I find it best to hit the road and eat after wiping some kilometres off the slate.
In Vietnam, breakfasts and brunches have been pretty heavy on the baguettes. I'm finding it best to get them unfilled for an unadulterated carbohydrate dose.
I whack on some sunblock and sunblocking lip balm. Some days I wear a longsleeve jersey, so sunblock is only needed a little on legs and face. I've built up a fair resilience to the sun in Kunming and I've not had any problem burns on this trip. I have silly cyclist tan lines, especially on my hands, as I wear short-fingered gloves.