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It Burns Us!

by Going Slowly


In order to avoid the overpowering, all-consuming Southeast Asian heat, we've taken to rising much earlier. It's 7AM when we pedal out of our hotel this morning—the sun is beginning to rise in a red, smoky way that evokes memories of our summer in forest-fire filled Siberia. Taking to the road, it's cycling as usual, along a flat slip of pavement, following the Mekong.

Paksan Sunrise Lone Trees

Yesterday, the highlight of our ride was finding dried fishy snacks hanging for sale around every corner. Today, the roadsides are dotted with lopsided brick and clay structures, most of which are emitting billowing clouds of smoke. While spinning our legs heading south, we take guesses about what they are for. I am convinced the towers contain the fish we saw for sale yesterday, but further investigation proves Tara's hunch was the better guess: they are actually for drying tobacco leaves.

Tobacco Drying Barn Fire for Tobacco Drying Barn Tobacco Drying Lao Lady & Dried Tobacco Tobacco Field

It's about 10AM, and we've covered forty kilometers—time for a lunch break. So, we wheel into the shade of a small roadside restaurant, plop down onto their colorful plastic chairs, and have a look at the menu. Though we're not feeling adventurous enough to try it, we crack up about the item entitled, "rice with food". We opt for the safe bet of fried rice and chicken, but we're not really looking forward to the meal. It's too hot for food. It's too hot for anything, and the sun is just getting warmed up!

Lao Menu


Back on the road, our resolution to keep a positive attitude is beginning to waver—the sun's heat is reaching truly obscene levels. We're able to keep our composure, feeling like we're pedaling under a broiler, all the way into the village of Vieng Kham. It seems silly to stop while it's still officially morning, but we admit defeat.

Pulling in to the first guest-house in town, we soon become acquainted with the only pushy Lao person we've ever seen. The hotel's swarthy proprietress is crotchety and wierd, and when I ask to see the room (which is an entirely normal thing to do around here), she just scowls, shakes her head, and says "money money moneyyyy!!!" while rubbing her thumb against her fingertips. Does she think I'm trying to swindle her?

Eventually, I get my point across, and she reluctantly gives me the key. Then, I go inspect the room, which I realize is a silly idea in the first place, because it's not like there's anywhere else in town to stay. Oh well. The room is small, there is no air conditioning, and it has a squat toilet, but it will do just fine.

Settled on a home, we wheel our bikes right into the room with us, and then dash to the bathroom where we take showers so alarmingly cold they make it hard to breathe. Immediately, we begin our tooth-chattering gutteral renditions of various spontaneous "holy crap it's really cold!" songs. There's a lot of lamaze-style "HEE HE HE HE HOOO"ing going on, but hyperventilating from shock is definitely preferably to the heat!

It's high noon now, and the sun is taking its fiery wrath out on the dusty town of Vieng Kham. It will be a good four hours before we'll be able to go outside without feeling like wailing and hiding, cringing and screaming "IT BURNS, IT BURNS US!" à la Gollum (man, we've had a lot of Lord of the Rings references recently!). It's simply too hot to move, too hot to talk, too hot to do anything.

Hiding from the blaze, we close the shutters, rendering our room black as night. Then, we flop out on the twin bed, staying as far away from each other as possible (read: roughly 6 inches). I stare at the ceiling, watching the fan twirl 'round and 'round, anticipating with desperation the small portion of the rotation during which a cool breeze falls on my body.

Since we can't turn off the rotation feature of the fan (it goes reallllllly slowly), Tyler rigs up a solution by hanging both of our clothing bags from it using a bungee cord. The tiny motor that makes the fan rotate can't overcome the weight, which grants us a much needed, non-stop breeze.

At the early hour of 7:30 PM we call it a night and decide to go to sleep. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I honestly can't wait to wake up at 4 AM and bike off in total darkness. Hopefully we'll arrive at our destination by breakfast time, and we'll never have to see the evil sun!