Both Anders and me left China with mixed feelings. Though we were excited to get to Laos we were also sad to leave China where I think we easily could have spent a lifetime without feeling that we had seen and experience enough. When crossing the Chinese border I said to Anders via Intercom, I am definitely coming back to this mystifying and beautiful country again.
Crossing the border into Laos didn’t take that long and again the people at the border were very nice to us. We had one problem though and that was that we didn’t have any money. The Chinese guide had told us when leaving China it was only possible to withdraw money from an ATM machine down in Vientiane, which was about 600 km away. At this moment we didn’t even have money to pay for the petrol to get to Vientiane. However, I wasn’t that worried as the guide had been wrong so many times before and he had never even been to Laos. Luckily for us he was wrong this time too. We stopped in a little town called Udomxai, only 100 km from the border and do you know what? We went straight into a bank and took out some money on my visa card, no problem what so ever. After we got the money we checked into a quite nice hotel in Udomxai, which we only paid £9 (100SEK) for and that included a very large room and breakfast for two. Luckily the hotel also had secure parking which also was included in the price…. Not sure how I ever will afford to come back to Europe again.
We were just supposed to stay in that town for a couple of nights but we ended up staying there for five nights. We did a lot of walking and visited a couple of temples but on the whole we were just very very lazy. In the evenings we had a few delicious dinners at a tiny restaurant ‘Suphailin Restaurant’ owned by a lovely woman who made us feel very welcome. I can really recommend this super nice restaurant. In Udomxai we also met a group of bikers from Holland, which we spent one evening with. They were a great bunch of people, which I easily could have spent more time with. During the time in Udomxai I also managed to make one photograph for an art project I have been working on for quite a while so overall we had a really good and relaxing time.
After these extremely lazy days in Udomxai we rode on very nice winding roads through beautiful rainforest to Nong Khiaw, which is a quite touristy place but we were lucky, as the tourist season hadn’t really kicked in yet. We stayed in this village for a few days and had some delicious Indian food.
One day we climbed the mountain next to the village and that was a challenge for me considering that I hadn’t really used my legs a lot since we left England five months back. After about an hour of steep ‘climbing’ through rainforest and clouds we reached the peak and we were met by an absolutely stunning view. As we started early in the morning the clouds were still there beneath us, but after about an hour it started to clear up and it changed to another breathtaking and beautiful view. Before the clouds disappeared we managed to take a couple of fun photographs when jumping over the clouds. It was a bit risky to do these photographs, as there were just a tiny cliff on the edge of the mountain to jump on and a very very long way to fall down, gulp….
Ouch ouch ouch, I woke up the morning after full of aches in my legs. It was the worst ‘after training ache’ I’d experienced in my entire life and I ended up taking a couple of painkillers to ease the pain. Anders wasn’t in any pain so I am pretty sure he must have been cheating but I have no idea how he did that.
After Nong Khiaw we were heading towards the town Vieng Xai, in the northeast of Laos to visit the caves where Lao PDR once started. Due to the long ride we decided to make a stop over night in Vieng Thong. We ended up in a guesthouse in a very dirty room and with bed linen that clearly had been used by someone else. We made a quick decision to use our own sleeping bags, pillows and even our mattresses on top of the bed. The bathroom was disgusting with…. no I’ll spare you the details. Luckily I didn’t wake up with bedbug bites, which was something I did once in Russia and that was not a pleasant experience. The man in the guesthouse kindly promised us a secure parking in a shed behind the house but when Anders parked his bike in the shed the floor collapsed. I guess the owner didn’t realise how heavy our bikes are. We ended up parking the bikes behind the house, which was ok as they were still there the morning after.
This day was not the best for Anders as he had earlier in the day run over a chicken. This happened in a village with very poor people so we both felt really bad. However, within a minute we saw a young child picking up the chicken and run off to a house, which was really only a shed. Anders got off his bike and followed the child to see if he at least could pay for the chicken. The man in the house was just laughing and refused to take any money for it. I guess he was probably happy, as he and his family would be able to have a meal with chicken that day. The bad day didn’t end here as we had a meal in the evening that wasn’t edible, not even the rice, so honestly we were quite happy to leave this place early the morning after.
After Vieng Thong we headed of to Vieng Xai again on winding but nice tarmac roads. As every other biker I love winding roads but honestly sometimes there can be too many bends. In the end I just wanted to have five minutes without a bloody bend. Why isn’t that roads can vary a bit more often. Some roads that we have been riding on, for example in Russia, there weren’t a single bend for days and days. It went so far that we even became excited when we could stop at the petrol station as we then could turn a little bit…. this can really bore the hell out of you. I guess, as a human being we always find something to complain about, never completely satisfied. However, I am only a tiny little bit from being completely satisfied as travelling around the world on a motorcycle is pretty amazing ☺
In Vieng Xai we visited the caves that provided sanctuary for more than 23 000 people during the secret war. The caves provided bakery, hospital, schools, factory etc. This was the first time I heard about the history of Laos and I was completely chocked and very ashamed, as I had until this moment been totally unaware that Laos is the most bombed country in the world. The Americans bombed Laos every 8 minutes (24/7) for nine years (1964 – 1973) in something called ‘The Secrete War’. This of course killed and injured completely innocent people who sometimes didn’t even know what America was. Still today there are an averages of four accidents per week with injuries and casualties in Laos caused by American cluster bombs or ‘bombies’ as they call them.
In Vieng Xai we met two really nice bikers, Harald and Ingrid, from Germany, which we travel with for a few days. One evening we were walking around in a big market in Sam Neua where they were selling cooked dog heads, yuk, and other weird stuff to eat. We also had a lovely day with them riding on dirt roads visiting the Plain of Jars, a silk manufactory and a spoon maker.
The Plain of Jars is one of the most mysterious places in the world, as I understand no one really knows what they were made for though some speculate that they were graves. It is by far the most dangerous archaeological sites in the world as jars are often close to craters and unexploded US ordnance.
At Mulberries Organic Silk Farm we saw the silk making process, all the way from how they raises silk worms to the thread is spun and ladies weaving beautiful scarves and fabrics. It was a lady called Miss Kommaly who started this environmental-friendly cooperative 20 years ago. She aim to empower local women and ethnic minority groups by raising their incomes through weaving and in 2005 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The highlight of the day, except riding on dirt roads, were definitely when we visited a spoon maker. It was a ‘one man factory’ in a tiny village that made spoons out of aluminium, which comes from the American bombs that still, after 40 years, can be found in large quantities in Laos. We were sitting at his workplace and saw how he made one spoon after another. His family were there too and the lovely kids showed us all sorts of stuff he had made. Of course they wanted us to buy some spoons but they were not pushy at all. Just a few meters away was a bomb placed in a tree and I was just hoping that it was not one that could explode, especially as we were in the in the line of fire.
The day after, we took off riding towards Luang Prabang together with the German couple but after noon we unfortunately had to go in different directions. Though we would have loved to spend some more time with them, their holiday was nearly over and they were heading back to Germany. However, I have a feeling that we will meet up again in the future.
We arrived late to Luang Prabang, which was very touristy town but still a quite nice place. There were an enormous market but luckily they didn’t sell this cheap rubbish you usually could find instead it was a lot of handcraft that was of high quality.
On the last day we visited a waterfall just outside Luang Prabang. It was actually one of the better we had seen on the trip. We climbed up to the top of the waterfall, which was a bit of hard work and which also resulted in me getting another really bad ‘after training ache’ but this time Anders got one too which felt so much better ;). We were also lucky to meet Polly and Chelsea from America, which made the climb so much more fun. Polly told us that she was a yoga teacher and Chelsea is a photographer that makes a documentary about her. We had a great time with these two women and I manage to take a few photographs of them in action.
After visiting the waterfall we left Laung Prabang but only after riding about 20 km Anders got a flat rear tyre. Again he sorted it out in a blink…. I thought, but the problem was that he had missed a couple of other holes that the nail had done.
It was after about 30 minutes hard work with a hand pump we realised that something was not right as we could hear a hissing sound from the tyre. Ok, so now we had more holes to fix. The reasons for missing these holes were that, instead of using a bowl of water (we didn’t have one) we only used saliva and due to the heat and lack of water, the saliva we managed to spit on the tube (yes I was helping him with that 😉 wasn’t enough and far too thick because of us being dehydrated. I said that we should use the spare tube we had with us and try to sort out the multiple puncture later on, but NO Anders was stubborn as usual. It took ages especially as we only had some useless patches he bought earlier in Mongolia, which did not vulcanize properly. After quite some time when we had struggled with the tube I just told him, NOW we are going to use the spare tube and at last he actually listened to me. It only took a short while and we had put in the new tube, filed it with air and we were ready to go. Unfortunately it had now started to get late so we decided to go back to Luang Prabang to stay for another night.
The next day we were riding towards Vientiane on some amazing roads thanks to the recommendation we got from the German couple earlier (thanks a lot, Harald and Ingrid). The roads were perfect winding road (yes I’ve started to like winding roads again 🙂 and in a very good condition, except from one part where a landslide had wiped away the road. We had to bypass this part on a muddy dirt road and now it was Anders turn to drop his bike.
We arrived to Vientiane the day after and stayed at a guesthouse called Lao Heritage Hotel. The guy, Ding, working at the hotel had just bought a motorcycle and he didn’t know anything about how to fix things such checking the chain, oil levels etc. so Anders ended up showing him how to do that. Ding was such a nice guy, and he together with all other nice people we have met makes all the hard work on the road worthwhile doing.
In Vientiane we sorted out the visas to Thailand. We really looking forward to go Thailand but first we will continue our trip through Laos and then spend a month in Cambodia… it is such a stressful life we have nowadays lol.
We also visited COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) which was a very interesting place but also another reminder of how many people that actually were and still are affected by the American bombs. “Cope is a locally run non-profit organisation working with the Center of Medical Rehabilitation (CMR), Lao Ministry of Health and four provincial rehabilitation centres in an innovative partnership to provide comprehensive rehabilitation services for Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) survivors and other people with disabilities across Lao PDR”….. read more about this on their website.
Anders had a tiny little ‘free-rider’ on his motorcycle
When we left Vientiane Anders tied a bag of bananas on the back of his motorbike. After a few hours we stopped at a petrol station and Anders wanted to have a banana. When he opened the bag a tiny little lizard without a tail run out. This poor little gecko lizard had been travelling on his motorbike for several hours so he probably lost his tail in pure fright. Anders told me the tail will grow out again but I was still a bit upset about it, I didn’t cry, I promise.
Si Phan Don – Four Thousand Islands
When we were heading towards Cambodia we still had a few days left before our Laos’ visas run out so we decided to visit the Four Thousand Islands. I love the feeling of being able to just decide, on the spot, where to go and what to do. I do really love this life… what, have I mentioned that before? These islets are in the middle of the Mekong River between Laos and Cambodia and we took a ‘ferry’ over to the biggest Island, Don Khong, which where a very sleepy place and not very touristy. We spent a lovely day with Angela and Dave from England when we took a boat to another Island called Don Det where we rented two pushbikes and were cycling to another Island called Don Khon (there was a bridge between these two Island) From Don Khon we took another little boat to see the rare Irrawaddy dolphins. Because of that the Dolphins were in the Cambodian water we had to go ashore in Cambodia and pay some money to a man. We ended up visit Cambodia without visas and though it was only for a few moments I could feel that excitement of doing something I wasn’t suppose to do. Maybe it was legal but I prefer to think it wasn’t as it makes me look more adventures 😉
When coming back to Don Khong we met three overland bikers from France and it was quite funny as they stopped and said, aren’t you the guys from Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. It is really a small world we live in. We were just visiting these Islands for a few days and we had been travelling from the north heading towards Cambodia while they were coming from Cambodia going north to Laos and we manage to meet unknowingly of each other on an Island in Cambodia, how cool isn’t that? We spent a couple of evenings together exchanging info about Laos and Cambodia.
In the guesthouse where we stayed we were lucky to have a balcony and it was lovely to sneak up early while Anders was still asleep and just sit and watch the sun rise over the Mekong River. It is also fascinating to see a village with its people come to life. Sometime I feel sorry for people who are very sleepy in the morning who miss moments like these. On the other hand I have probably missed quite a few fun party nights in the past as I am very tired in the evenings, but would I like to change? Not a chance.
To sum up about the month we spent in Laos. Though Laos is a beautiful country, especially in the north with the rain forest, mountains and the winding roads I think it was the people who impressed both Anders and me the most. They were very relaxed and never tried to sell you things by being pushy. They were also very honest and never tried to scam you. When travelling through the villages, especially in the north, there where children everywhere but not that many adults and hardly any elderly people. To be honest I have never seen that many kids in my whole life. They were the most gorgeous children, always with a big smile on their face no matter of their life situation. They were always waving at us and said Sabaai-dii, which means hello, when we where passing by. The villages were not only full of children but also with puppies, chicken and piglets running around on the streets, I promise you they were absolutely everywhere.
When it was time to leave Laos after about a month I didn’t do this happily, as I would like to know more about this country and its people. I seem to have an urge to come back to every country I’m leaving behind so I guess I have to do another around the world tour when finish this one off… just wonder if Anders is up for another tour around the world 😉
Next blog post – How we after an accident escaped from a mob and the police in Cambodia
Photographs from our journey through Laos
Photographs of Laos people
Photographs of monks we met in Laos
Random photographs from Laos