Bicycle touring in Laos brought us back to familiar places because both of us had visited Laos before on separate occasions. This time we would see more of the places in between and some off the beaten path villages. We were reunited with the Mekong and enjoyed the tropical scenery. We entered Laos on the 9th of October and left the country on the 16th of November. We have cycled 1021 km and ascended 8776 meters.
cycled in Laos
Our impressions of Laos
Laos is green, bicycle touring Laos is very green. Outside of the towns and cities it feels like a jungle with plants, trees, birds and bugs. Many mosquitoes fly around. You don’t have to go far to find villages, pigs scuttling around and chickens waking you up in the morning with their call. The first impression of Lao people is very welcoming. Children are very active and run towards us while we cycle past and shout Sabaidee and wave frantically. When connecting with adults they usually greet. It is great when coming across children that are heading to school on their bicycles with parasols. They often greet very politely and sometimes just by laughing really hard.
Finding rest and relaxation is one of Lao strongest points with their local saying: ‘Please Don’t Rush’. We found this in a hammock in Nong Khiaw and the village of Nola guesthouse. Buffalo’s wander the streets. Markets line the streets with veggies and fruits although often they would be empty when we were passing through. Temples are active and monks are a frequent part of the streetscape. On the road it is not easy to find food in the smallest villages, they often only have a shop with sweets and maybe Vitamilk. This became a trustworthy snack for us because it contained the most energy of what was available. Sticky rice is a constant in Laos and tasty. Roadside fuel was quite consistent because of the number of motor bikes. In villages the houses are made from wood and bamboo. IN some villages they have started to use concrete. Often we would see smoke coming out of the wooden houses on stilts. The Lao people cook on open fires in their wooden houses without exhaust. there are initiatives to improve this (we have seen some improved stoves at markets) but it is a slow process.
Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang are geared towards tourism. Many tourists visit these places in tank tops and ultra shorts. Temples are visited and money is spent on hikes, visiting waterfalls and indulging in the western array of food. It has been the first time on our entire journey that we have encountered these amounts of tourists. It comes with some good features: easy accommodation, variety of food, but it also distances us from our usual experience because there is money involved (and we are seen as the money machine).
Practical words: Hello = Sabaidee, Goodbye = Chok Dee, Thank you = Khap Jai, Water = Nam, Food = Kow
Laos is the country until now where we have felt most strange. We feel this is because there is a distance, a gap between the locals and us which is not easily bridged. This is not in a bad way because everybody has been friendly to us, it is just that the feeling of connection has been less than previous experiences. In other countries people have mostly showed an interest in us but in Laos everybody is doing their own everyday business. In most villages people are not so active and we felt that many children were not in school. The frantic waving and reaction to us as foreigners also gives us mixed feelings. Tourism has a strong influence on a developing country and not always in a good way. This is also highlighted by NGO’s with big shiny white cars blasting through villages and the many signs we have seen along the way of villages being supported and schools having been built by NGO’s.
We were eligible for a visa on arrival at the Boten border with China. In total Martin had to pay 34$ and Susanne had to pay 39$ for 30 days in the country. We decided to extend our visa in Vientiane. It could be wise to just hop over the border and come back to extend depending on how much longer you would be planning to stay. Read more about our extension here.
We really want to share our story, our journey with you. We have thought about this new dimension for a while. If you enjoy our story consider receiving one of our postcards from the road. We cycle through many small towns and cities with their own story and often there is a postcard to be found. This postcard can be sent to you.
After crossing the easy Mohan-Boten border in the north of China we made our way on highway 13, which had a lot of roadworks at the time. We passed through Oudomxai and took a turn-off at Pakmong towards Nong Khiaw. From Nong Khiaw we headed east towards Luang Prabang (although everybody will tell you to head the other way). After Vieng Kham there is a pass and at the top of this pass there is a side road which we followed along the ridge of the mountain through small villages (really worth the detour!). There is a steep downhill back to the river and the village of Muang Pakxeng. From here we made it to Luang Prabang. Leaving This city we took the old main road (apparently they have built a new one). We cycled through Phoukoun, Kasi, and went to Nola guesthouse in a village on the 4502. We came through Vang Vieng and ended up in Vientiane after a flat stretch. From Vientiane we headed west towards Ban Vang, Paklay and the remote border Phudoo with Thailand (make sure you have your visa beforehand).
Martin and Susanne are the crazy cyclists behind TwistingSpokes. We enjoy taking you along on our adventure while we are traveling by bicycle from the Netherlands to Nepal. What occupies us while cycling are the interactions with people on the road, culture, scenery and meaningful encounters. You can read more about us on our About page or on G+.