Most American folk, if you ask them, couldn’t tell you how many miles are in 45 kilometers (including me). I’d estimate about half of the American population couldn’t even tell you if it was less or more (go ahead and experiment!).
I know that it’s 1.4 km to a mile (thank you CCHS Physics). So the answer is less. How much less? Well, I tend not to bother with the math and just focus on the “less” part. So, today, when we set out on a round-trip 70 kilometer bike trip to Kuang Si Falls, I pedaled happily along. Nicole, however, thought I said the conversion the other way around. Hill by hill she became more convinced that we had a death wish. It wasn’t easy going. When a falls restuarant owner pulled over and practically insisted that he give us a ride the final 20+ km to the falls for “cheap price” (20,000 kip – about $2.50), we caved.
On the way to the top, we pieced together the story of how he and his wife (in the backseat area with their 40 day-old baby) met. He told us about the water levels of the Mekong River, about how sometimes the road is flooded, about the medical problems the new baby had had, and about his two year old daughter. When we arrived at the falls, I got to hold the baby while mom climbed out of the car and got things in order. He was SO CUTE!
The falls were gorgeous, and I slowly became more and more grateful for the ride up as we hiked for hours and hours! First up the right side of the falls to a veritable dead end when we finally pulled out the guide book and read the sentence that said, “up the LEFT side of the falls is a path that leads to a magnificent second tier.” Magnificent it was! No swimming at the upper levels, but we did manage a healthy walk with “S.K.” from Malaysia deep into the park where we didn’t see a single other farang (foreigner). Lots of cattle, though!
After lunch, I couldn’t bear leaving the falls without swimming despite the fact that it was pretty chilly today. It took some encouragement from Nicole, but I splashed into and kicked around the first swimming hole and escaped without hypothermia!
After a change into dry clothes, we were ready for our 35+ km (25 mile) descent. Nicole took the lead, and I was surpised to see her blast so far ahead of me. On our cheap “cruiser” rental bikes, I used my brakes to keep me at a sane speed in case I needed to stop quickly. In the flat lands I caught up with her and discovered that her front brakes had blown out at the top of the hill. She saw the front right brake pad go flying off, which rendered the left one useless. With only cheap back brakes, she was in a world of hurt.
We inched our way along for a few kilometers, me cruzing ahead to deliver a safety forecast back down the line. Finally an empty sangthew (truck with passenger benches in the back) passed us and pulled over to offer a ride. I had been looking forward to the bike ride all day. I was even conflicted about taking the ride in the morning. So, Nicole generously let me continue alone and loaded up with the driver for the stretch back to town.
25 miles of 65% incline and 35% decline was… tough. I am the kind of exhausted that pleasantly consumes your entire body. The best parts of the ride were: 1) the views. It’s harvest time here, so the rice fields are ripe and being cut, backdropped by majestic, jungle covered peaks. 2) the kids. School had just let out, so the road was packed with children on their way home. I got lots of enthusiastic hellos, both “Hello” and “sah-bai-DEE!” 3) the high-fives. When they saw me coming, the children who were walking would turn and face me and stick out their hands for high-fives as I cruised by. It was great! 4) the bike races. The boys on bikes, when they saw me coming would yell to each other “farang! farang!” (foreigner! foreigner!). Then as I pulled even I would get, “sah-bai-DEE”s. Twice I got the glimmer of a challenges and went racing down the road with a school boy. I WON the first time, and pulled a tidy second place the next time around. With many miles to go, I was happy to fall back. 🙂
When I returned, Nicole and I biked (with her new bike – with brakes) to the bus station to get onward tickets for tomorrow. We will probably spend the day seeing different temples and the royal palace museum. I’ll probably need a massage. Then at 7:30 we’re southward bound – me to Vang Vien in Laos and Nicole back to Thailand.
Now it’s on to beer and pizza (hey – after my noodle lunch, I’m ready for some western food! I’ll be sure to have a “Beer Lao”, though!)