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Training Log Archive: blairtrewin

In the 7 days ending Nov 10:

activity # timemileskm+m
  Run3 1:29:00 9.32(9:33) 15.0(5:56)
  Swimming1 20:00 0.37(53:39) 0.6(33:20)
  Total4 1:49:00 9.69(11:15) 15.6(6:59)

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Sunday Nov 10 #

6 PM

Swimming 20:00 [2] 0.6 km (33:20 / km)

Didn't sleep that well on the train, and after a hot day doing the rounds of the temples, I was feeling pretty tired by the time I eventually checked in properly to the hotel in mid-afternoon. With effectively free nights of accommodation before and after, I decided to splash out (figuratively speaking) in Bangkok, which meant I was staying in a place with an 11th floor infinity pool - which I took to after a hookup with the OA governance working group (the pleasures of sporting administration...). This was great for doing a workout with a view of the sun setting over the city; unfortunately, there was a bit too much sunset and the pool wasn't very well lit (I didn't help matters by bringing my darker goggles), and after banging into the wall a couple of times I decided to cut the session short. Still nice to get into the water.

The temples were indeed impressive, although the Grand Palace and surrounding complex were a bit too overrun by tour groups (a hazard of major tourist sites, I guess). The city generally wasn't as chaotic or as polluted as I was expecting, although I'm aware that it's a Sunday so tomorrow might be more revealing on that front. Managed to avoid any solicitations from tuk-tuk drivers (some visitors feel they need to do it once for the experience, but having already done that in Luang Prabang and Nong Khai where they're the only transport option, I felt no need to do it in Bangkok, which has a decent public transport system, and proper taxis if you want one).

Naturally, this was my session earworm. (Can anyone who was there remember how it came to be the theme song of the 1996 Victorian Schools trip to Tasmania?).

Saturday Nov 9 #

8 AM

Run 41:00 [3] 7.0 km (5:51 / km)

Out to and along the road paralleling the river in Vientiane (not the riverfront as such; there's a few hundred metres of floodplain between the road and the river), a route chosen mainly in the name of minimising road crossings - only had a couple of significant ones to get there and didn't have too many dramas. (Also only saw three stray dogs, all placid). Ended up as a decent run; no issues apart from a bit of early Achilles soreness, and humidity wasn't too bad for the tropics (probably the last time I'll be in a position to say that for the next week).

Left Vientiane today, discovering in the process that some things are the same the world over when the woman across the aisle was keeping her toddler entertained by using her phone to play "the wheels on the bus go round and round" and "Baby Shark". Border crossing was painless. Spent a few hours hanging around the Thai border town of Nong Khai, including some very nice food at a very unpretentious spot near the station (I suspect my tastebuds are going to enjoy the next week), before picking up an overnight train to Bangkok.

Friday Nov 8 #

Note
(rest day)

Another long day in transit - the bus trip from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. It may be less than 400km but it was scheduled for 9 hours, and the word was that this was optimistic. I hadn't been able to get a ticket for the "VIP bus" (i.e. a normal bus) - and haven't yet gone sufficiently native to enquire as to whether there was space available on a stool in the aisle, standing in a stairwell, hanging out a door or on the roof (all of which I've seen here, the first three in vehicles I've been in) - so was booked on a minibus.

My objective was fairly basic - get to the other end in one piece. I thought it was going to fall apart at the first hurdle because I thought the bus left at 8 and the tuk-tuk pick-up circled so many places in the town that we got there at 7.59, but it was actually supposed to be an 8.30 departure (and ended up being more like 8.50). Bags went on the roof (but no motorcycles, something I've also seen here), and there was a substantial crack across the windscreen, but I snaffled a seat and it didn't seem excessively crowded - at first. What I didn't know was that this bus also stopped at random places en route to pick up locals and their assorted goods (including bags of food for markets, although no chickens), and that there always seemed to be room for one more, somewhere - I think we peaked at 31 people on what was nominally a 22-seater bus.

Progress was made, slowly but steadily, through countryside more mountainous than Wednesday - a couple of climbs and descents which must have been in the order of 1000m, and almost continuously winding for the first 150km out of Luang Prabang. Stopped at the bottom of the first big descent to have water sprayed on the bus; I probably could have done without hearing that it was to cool the brakes down (the driver seemed more cautious on the second descent). The numbers gradually thinned out in the second half of the trip, and the terrain got easier, although the overtaking got no less crazy (of the several hundred overtaking manouevres on this trip, the number that I would have done myself could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand). I was almost relieved when we hit a traffic jam coming into Vientiane. Ended up about an hour late.

It's beautiful country, but I'm glad I don't have to do any more long-haul bus trips like this - from Vientiane it's a short hop across the border to pick up the train on the Thai side.

Note

Somewhat to my surprise, Laos's road death rate is actually somewhat below the average for southeast Asia. Thailand's per capita rate is one of the worst in the world (only behind four African countries) - although they fare less badly when counted per 100,000 motor vehicles (which is another way of saying that some countries which have lower death rates also don't have many vehicles). It's probably still as well that almost all of my travel in Thailand will be on trains.

Thursday Nov 7 #

7 AM

Run 24:00 [3] 4.0 km (6:00 / km)

Set out around the peninsula which makes up the Luang Prabang old town. Back was very marginal today and I probably wouldn't have pressed on beyond the opening minutes on another day, but thought I'd at least make an attempt to do some sightseeing. That mission was more or less accomplished. Unsurprisingly, it was a fair bit quieter on the streets than it had been yesterday evening, there weren't too many wandering dogs, and those which were there were placid (something to be aware of in a place where getting bitten means go directly to Bangkok for rabies treatment, do not pass Go). I've heard they're more of a problem in Vientiane.

The morning was spent going to the waterfalls about 30km out of town (as beautiful as expected). I'd expected that getting there might be tricky but in fact there is a dizzying array of minivan operators prepared to offer their services (although the imbalance between the number of people in the vehicle and the number of seats in the vehicle was a bit disconcerting, and provided a strong incentive not to be the last one back). Did some wandering around the old town in the afternoon, and the night markets in the evening - although my view of shopping is as a practical exercise (which is why I was disappointed that none of the large number of very nice pencil cases were big enough to take a 30cm ruler). I did like the idea of the bracelets made out of old bomb casings, though.

Wednesday Nov 6 #

Note
(rest day)

As expected, it was a long bus ride, but not too bad all things considered. While not as plush as their South American equivalents, there was enough space to lie down (as long as you're not too much taller than I am). Judging by the amount of time we seemed to be going up and down I suspect we missed some reasonably scenic country. We also stopped for around three hours between 2 and 5am (which meant the best sleeping opportunity of the trip), perhaps because road improvements on the Chinese side meant that pressing on would mean reaching the border before it opened (why they haven't simply shifted the departure time later is a bit of a mystery).

As is often the case, border arrangements were a bit confusing - we knew we had to get off the bus with our gear but weren't sure whether we got back on it after the Chinese exit point or had to walk up to the Lao entry point (we did the latter, and were pleasantly surprised that the distance was only a few hundred metres and not the 2km I'd read somewhere). Got through in the end, but probably took about 2 hours for the whole process (mostly because the bus was stuck in a truck traffic jam - it's the major trade route from China to Laos and Thailand).

The motorway goes to within a couple of kilometres of the border but it was immediately obvious that we'd crossed the border, as the road became a wide strip of dirt within a few hundred metres of the border post. (Other very large expanses of dirt in the vicinity, along with various buildings under construction, suggest that this will be a very different place soon). It was only like that for a few kilometres, but then the first 200km were relentlessly hilly and winding - reminded me a bit of some of the country out the back of the Gold Coast/Byron Bay (maybe not this year) - and we weren't averaging much over 40 km/h despite some occasionally creative overtaking. There's a drought here too, although you needed to look closely for signs of it because tropical areas will look fairly green at the end of the wet season, even a lousy one.

Made it into Luang Prabang only 90 minutes late, not bad by local standards (although I then added to that by doing some needless wandering trying to find my hotel). Haven't explored much yet but have heard very good things about the place from everyone who's been before. It's definitely much more on the Western tourist track than anywhere I went in China, and English is much more widely spoken than I expected, which makes organising logistics a little less challenging.

In two or three years time it will be perhaps six hours from Kunming on the train (the construction site was frequently visible), and Laos will probably become a very different place - the ultimate plan is to connect southeast Asia through to the Chinese rail network all the way to Singapore (although Malaysia has put their part of the project on hold after a change of government), which will put Laos squarely in the middle of a major trade route.

Tuesday Nov 5 #

8 AM

Run 24:00 [3] 4.0 km (6:00 / km)

Ended up a bit squeezed for time this morning too, so just enough for a quick loop of the southern and central parts of the old town - nice to be out early although it's not quite the same with all the shopfronts closed. Felt reasonable, although I didn't attempt to go up any hills (which is often where altitude issues manifest themselves).

That was the start of the haul south - train to Kunming, then bus south to Luang Prabang. The train trip was smooth, although with cloud and occasional rain the views weren't as good as they were on the way here. I then had three hours to kill around the bus station; to actually go into the waiting room you have to go through security and there didn't seem to be any eating options on the other side, so I stayed outside, sitting on a wall under the railway overpass and spending some time by catching up with some IPCC writing (to the occasional curiosity of the taxi drivers milling around nearby waiting for fares).

Monday Nov 4 #

Note
(rest day)

Second half of the Tiger Leaping Gorge walk, a bit shorter than the first (11km compared with 16) and with no major climbs. The mountains are still stunning but they weren't as photogenic today - wrong side for the morning sun, and a bit more cloud around. I'd been led to believe that today's track was easy, and it was in as much as there were no major climbs, but in fact it was quite a bit more challenging than I expected - much more exposed than yesterday (including a couple of parts of the track on ledges a metre or two wide with 100+m cliffs below), and rough underfoot in places (although generally not on the exposed bits). Was worrying too much about my footing to enjoy this as much as yesterday.

The end of this part of the track is perhaps 300m above the river, at the only feasible crossing point of a side gorge (you can keep going further if you want). It's also possible to descend to the river on a series of ladders, but I know my limitations. (As you might expect, compressing a river the size of the Yangtze into a narrow gorge makes for some intense flow - you can hear the river even 800m above it).

I hadn't finished with my heights issues for the day - the first few kilometres of the road out were as scary as any road I've been on, cut into the side of the cliffs and regularly reduced to one lane by either fallen rocks from above or landslides to below. I was slightly reassured by the fact that the driver of the ancient minibus we were on (which appeared to be missing its first gear) has probably done this hundreds of times before, but was still glad to get to the other end (and similarly glad that I wasn't here for the 1996 earthquake).

Back in Lijiang tonight, in preparation for heading south again.

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