Luang Namtha

6th May 2014      Rest day  0km

Yesterday evening I had the idea to get the bike washed again, as it was filthy from the ride to Muang Sing.   There was a bike wash place only 100M away, so I pushed the bike off the stand to head there, but the bike didn’t move.  A flat tyre, this time in the rear.  As it was approaching dusk, and no one likes working on a dirty bike, I decided to address the tyre problem in the morning.  Instead, going for a traditional Lao sauna.

The sauna was a small timber shack on stilts, with a wood fire beneath to steam the rooms.  I was guided to a changing room and handed a sarong. After changing and wrapping the cloth around my waist I headed to the bathing corner, which consisted on two tubs of water, one piping hot and another cold.  There was a scoop and a few buckets, for mixing the water to the desired temperature before washing.   After a thorough wash, disposing of all the road dust from the morning ride, I headed to the sauna room.  There were two small rooms, next to each other, one for women and one for men, although strangely, while I was washing, three women exited the woman’s room and entered the men’s room.  I was instructed to enter the room with the sign for women…  I double checked with the girl sitting outside, and she assured me it was OK to enter, and I gingerly opened the door wondering what I would find inside.  Pushing aside the cloth curtain behind the door, I was hit by the humid air and the scent of the herbal steam, a concoction of many different herbs, the only one I could identify clearly was lemongrass.

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The tiny room was almost pitch black, save for the light that entered through tiny cracks in the timber planks that formed the walls.  I reached out with my hands and felt a plank bench to sit on.  Sitting down as my eyes slowly adjusted, I found I was alone.  Presumably the men’s room was larger, so the girls had moved there and gave me the smaller room.

I soaked up the steam for about 30 minutes before having another wash with the cold water and changing back into my clothes.  Walking out onto the street, I found the normally hot and humid air to be very pleasant and cool. I hoped the herbs help soothe my tired muscles.

On rising in the morning, it was raining.  Not really ideal weather for sitting outdoors fixing punctures on a bike.
I decided to put enough air in the tyre to ride to the bikewash, so I could at least work on a clean bike.  For 20,000kip ($2.5) the bike got a complete soap down and scrubbed clean.  By the time the wash was finished the tyre was flat, so I had the bikewash guy help me push it under a shelter at his store, and set about removing the wheel, while he called 4 of his friends to come around and watch me. Five minutes later, chairs had been setup around the bike, and positions staked out for the show.  I handed my camera to one of the young guys, and asked him to take photos, which he did, although he also took a lot of photos of the ground, his feet or the street behind.


After removing the wheel, I rolled it down the road about 300M to a motorbike shop, where they helped pull the tube out, to discover that the tube had cracked, and the split was 12cm long. A completely unpatchable split.


I managed to flag down a small truck and got the driver to drop me and the wheel back to the bikewash, saving me pushing the wheel up the road again, and pulled out the spare tube to install.  In my haste, I nicked the brand new tube as I was taking it out of the packet, putting a hole in it.  A stupid and careless mistake that now needed patching.  Now I no longer have a spare tube, and I hope to be able to source the right size tube in China, hopefully.

Once the patching was done, I put everything back together and the wheel back on the bike and was complete.  A quick photo with the remaining crowd of three guys, the rest had already left once the wheel was on, and it was time to go.  The audience all got up and left with me on their scooters.

The rest of the day was spent doing admin, a bit of washing, lunch and a nap.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be heading to the Chinese border, and crossing into the Middle Kingdom, China.  I’m very excited about crossing this border, as so much time, effort and finances have gone into this part of the journey. It is a big milestone and I can’t wait to meet the government approved guide, Ken, tomorrow morning and complete the border formalities.


5 Comments on “Luang Namtha

  1. Bit disappointed that there was no twist to the sauna story 🙁

    Must have been hilarious seeing the locals pull up chairs and watch you work 🙂

    • Yeah, it was a bit weird having spectators. I used a fair bit of the guys soap, both washing my hands and as lube for the tyre, so tried to give him 5000kip, but he wouldn’t take it. Later, I found out that the normal price for washing a bike is 5000, and he’d charged me 20,000. Admittedly for a much bigger, and much dirtier bike.

      • So he ripped you off and then got a free show…. at least didn’t accept the “tip” 🙂

    • Thanks Wentao! Lots of fun so far, and some great food.

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