After typical hassles, we finally crossed a border to Laos on 10th December. First impression? A lot of dust, a lot of kids and driving on the right side after more then 3 years driving on the left. We hadn’t seen many differences between Laos and Thailand. Yet.
We wanted to slow down and relax a little bit so we chose to take a slowboat. Two days trip from Huay Xai down to Luang Prabang. The slowboat is 30m long and 4m wide boat, or better to say a houseboat, because the family, who own the boat, actually lives in the boat. Despite the fact, that travelling by the slowboat is getting very popular for tourists, it is still a great experience to see a rural laotian life. We had plenty of time to watch people and especially kids playing, having a bath in the river or doing laundry. Travelling by boat is for most people the only way to travel and visit another villages so we stopped many times and people just hopped in and out. We sit in the middle of the boat. Locals sit in the front, backpackers on the back. At the first sight we would say there cannot be two more distinct groups. But actually, we were all the same – we all tried to find the most comfortable position, we ate when we were hungry, we drank when we were thirsty and we just were enjoying the scenery…
After two days on the boat we landed in Luang Prabang more tired and broken then before so we decided to stay 4 more days there. We didn’t rush anywhere, no sightseeing, no „must-see“. We got very quickly that most of the atractions there (and all the way from Huay Xai) are just for tourists. We relaxed a lot, ate delicious food and walked around the town and the night bazaar in the evening.
But we didn’t want to miss one thing – Kuang Si Waterfall. The more when we checked maps and found a hiking track which we might be able to bike and then follow a road down to South. Fully loaded on Saturday we left Luang Prabang together with two Danish boys, who we met on the boat. The waterfall is beautiful and we spent some time there. Around midday we left the nearby village and headed into a jungle. First 4km was pretty easy, then the road disappeared and there was only a path. Some rocks and roots but nothing too difficult. We let the boys go ahead, they needed to get back to Luang Prabang that day and they were much faster without bags.
We pushed the bikes most of the times but sometimes we were able to bike an amazing single trail right in the jungle… There is only one small hill ahead… Yes, it was really a small one. If you hike it, it would take 20 minutes. But not with 30kg heavy bikes. We were struggling more then an hour, we were running out of energy… „Bang!“ A sudden explosive noise came from somewhere above us. It was a shooting. I quickly realized that we are somewhere in the forrest, in mountains, in a foreign country. There was no time to wait. I shouted that there were people. Two faces appeared on the top of the hill. They didn’t look surprised or angry. Or actually I couldn’t say how they look or what they could think. We said hello, smiled a little, they helped us with the bikes and we carried on. I didn’t know what to think about it. So I didn’t think. The way down the hill was even worse but it was almost over. One more hill and after more then 3 hours we got out of the jungle. Yey! And I knew I could start to cry to release all the stress. And as quickly tears came, as quickly they were gone. We needed to move. We biked back to main road and were looking for a place to stay overnight but we couldn’t find any. So we decided to bike back towards Luang Prabang. After a full day of biking and 55km we were only 4km away from the place were we started in the morning. But we had a hot shower and a clean bed. We couldn’t be happier. And the most important – now we know how to read laotian maps. Roads, which in Thailand would be nice wide roads, are just rocky paths and we can expect dirts roads everywhere.
Next days we followed the road no 13 connecting Luang Prabang with Vientiane, the capital of Laos. There aren’t many roads in Laos so actually we didn’t have a choice. Despite the road is very hilly, it is popular among cycleturists. So we met another cyclists soon: Carolyn from U.S. and Wily and Wendy from Holland. We all had quite the same plan for next couple of days. And even we all had different bikes, set-ups and approaches, we met in the end of the day in guesthouses and enjoyed a dinner.
Luckily, these long climbs were made special not only for amazing views but also thanks kids enthusiastically calling Sabaidee!! everytime we were passing through a village. Some villages high in the mountains celebrated their New Year called Nor Phe Chao. Kids were dressed in traditional costumes and played games along the roads.
In Vang Vieng we had to say good bye to Carolyn, Wily and Wendy. They continued on down to Vientiane and we took a rest day. We had to do a laundry, filled our bellies and get ready for another day in the jungle…