Same, same... but different!
Laos, its adorable and if smiling people its beautiful landscapes... A relatively flat southern part, but on the other hand... mountainous northern part!
Introduction to the mountains
Our few days of rest in Vientiane, we begin the second half of our stay in Laos, towards the mountains. We were told that it is very beautiful, but hard by bike. We know too much what awaits us, the suspense is there.
This second half of stay program: Yes, mountains, and the largest side we have ever made, most beautiful landscapes than others, but mainly a lot, yes many encounters.
The western part of Vientiane that we cross out "reassures us" a little: no Vientiane is not Su' This city with colonial architecture frequented by tourists and expatriates. It also has an Asian face, where teeming thousand people, small markets on the street and crush of scooter.
In short, once out of the capital, driving all day on a route with for one interest we advance easily and quickly. At the end of day appear awaited mountains. We stop for the night just before the first steep: with showers and wc petrol station brand new, a really nice staff that leaves us install us in their hangar/staff room.
We moved to try to work a little on the video of Cambodia... but impossible! Quickly the son of the Manager (5 years) just turn around Thomas, it makes him great speeches, told him secrets à l'Oreille... but in Lao of course! A passionate discussion of deaf begins between them. Me I try to film this great moment, but with great difficulty because taken a beautiful crazy laugh.
For dinner, the staff invites us to share dinner and offers us of Lao - Lao as a digestif ('whisky' local who has in fact absolutely nothing of a whisky; neither taste nor ingredients since made from rice). In short, after that, a night perfect a dodo spot perfect.
The next day, the first kilometres are made of a gradual ascent. It happens in an almost Alpine landscape, going from pretty very authentic villages. All day it has the climbs and descents. We are happy to pedal for a bit of climbing! Vegetation change a little, there are even some ferns, sign of some moisture. And then there are more concrete also houses: they say it must be colder than here...
We arrive in the afternoon to Vang Vieng after 75kms. Vang Vieng resembles what we in were told: a Mecca of consumerism for Westerners, Australian holiday and also a lot of Koreans (who knows why there are so much to Vang Vieng and so little in the rest of the country). Vang Vieng, the city of the free cocktails at €2, vodka shooters, and where opium, mushrooms, marijuana and other substances are almost freely.
The road after Vang Vieng is really beautiful and really worth the bike. The path is fairly flat first but wedges itself between the mountains. It is gorgeous! We often stop for photos.
Then the road begins to climb, 3 or 4 beautiful successive sides. The sun beats. At noon, found a bit of freshness in the tiny grocery store in a tiny village. It was ptetre not a restaurant, but when asked to eat, the Lady serves us sticky rice (which we eat half of its big box bamboo), share home for we cook vegetables and an omelette... and eventually we request any and all 10000kip is €1... There are almost ashamed to pay so inexpensive (time normal AC would have been the price of rice only).
The road continues to climb but it is very beautiful. Turning, seen off 2 riders! It stops and it made the acquaintance of David (Australian) and James (English), who also met on the road recently. We drive together until Kasi after 2 other German riders. At Kasi, after lengthy discussions, reflections, study of the slope, two groups are formed. James, Thomas and I are going to the left, a very groooosse mounted but the suite is more cool. David and the girls leave right to 50 km, and full of climbs/descents that didn't look funny not more. We chose the option of suffering once and for all! This is what lies ahead for the next day: 1200 m in altitude in 10 km, therefore a slope average 12% (one is too strong in calculations!) and areas noted by our good friend openrunner as more than 15%...
The Big Hill
We called it like that, but it was reported later that it is called "the strategic road" and that it is an old military road open to the public 4 years ago.
We are getting closer so closer to this monster the night before, to face it full force in the early morning. For the night, we find a small hut bamboo a little away from the village. We spend a great evening all three around the fire.
In the morning it is gone for adventure! After 8 km, serious things begin. Each self-paced, it ends up there high. James and Dora go to- Dora, who is there? No, it has not yet met someone new; Dora is the name of James bike :-).
With Thomas we are going more slowly. Gradually, more regularly as possible, pedal afterthought of pedal stroke, we advance. Fortunately, the Sun is in the clouds. A few regular breaks, plenty of water and some snacks to nibble. It was half, yes! This is where we pass the area to more than 15%. I push, it's too hard for me. Thomas retrieves my suitcase. I go back a little in the saddle. We see the meters scroll on the counter, it becomes hard. I try a moment to stretch the thumb to pickup: in vain. Okay, need to finish by bike. Physically it is hard, but it's more my patience which no longer follows. Yes I rail. Thomas began to toil also.
Then after a bend, oh miracle... a dish... then a descent! At 1870 m above sea level, 3 h was developed to get to, it sometimes drove at speeds where it was not thought that it was possible to ride in bike without falling (for the slowest of you it makes 3, 5 km/h of average with a few breaks). It is in the clouds, and it's cold! But we did! We find James who welcomes us champions a few hundred metres below, bundled up in a blanket, to expect.
The Big Hill, we did it!
It goes down... or almost!
Set on this climb, we did not saw that subsequently had a few areas still climbs! After a beautiful descent, views off on mountain range... ouch, it goes back again on two occasions, with slopes at 10%. It is really in the middle of the mountains, a few houses scattered, but nothing to stop lunch. Fortunately it is very beautiful, it does help to move forward despite the belly which begins to claim anything other than bananas and cupcakes. We finished on a long descent, the landscapes are less arid, is the forest, then appear a few plantations... and finally a village! It is 15 h 30 at the table! After a short game of petanque's boys (Yes, petanque is hyper-popular here), we'll seek a corner for the night.
We first find a residential building of workers, with a shower nearby. Person? Bon ben it takes a shower history of well is foul up after the stresses of the day!
A few metres away, on the edge of a rice field, a bamboo hut awaits us for the night. Again we spend a wonderful evening around the fire with James, our favorite scout.
Upon awakening, oddly our bodies do not suffer that much. Back more than the legs. It is 65 km without drop major to do today, then still a little drags on in this small tranquil corner. One feels "the day after": after the big hill, after this side that scared us but were defeated. Very happy to have done so, but not ready to redo one similar so early!
Lunch on lunch before a school; once more, it is confirmed: there is often too good and cheap spots to eat before school! The Valley through which it passes for a long time is superb with rice terraces.
Our arrival in the city, it really has a feeling of victory. It seemed so far away and unknown until recently, and now here we are. Luang Prabang, expected so much, it arrived there by our own forces. The joy of having arrived already makes us forget the difficulties of the strategic route.
There is a place in a hostel, where already installed full of french; 4 are the world of the restoration and organize a meal for the same evening. No rest for tonight! Will be a super evening with kebabs and potatoes to the wood fire, chatting with people of all nationalities up to... 4 o'clock in the morning!
In short, in Luang Prabang, we visited a little town: the temples one after the other, the pretty houses of colonial architecture, the night market and its plates of vegetables at will for 15000 kips (€1.5); We will make the bowls on the other side of the Mekong.
But it will be mainly met a lot of different people. Full of Europeans, a Chinese and a Chinese travelling alone, of the Israeli (it's crazy the number of Israelis!) After their 2-4 years of military service (girls and boys), many leave a year travel only in Asia), of Australians, etc. All styles of travellers, with whom one hangs well and others a little less, those who leave three months (this is the average in general) or those traveling for several years. It will be repeated 40 times our project, but also wanted by listening to the projects of others, traveled with them to the Nepal or India. And also some discussion more philosophical (or alcoholic).
And then the 3rd night, given the atmosphere of the place, I thought it was the perfect place to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Thomas, with 4 days in advance. Gently I found him a cupcake with chocolate, a croissant and a pain au chocolat for a Department of the city bakery, and a shirt. And with the complicity of the french, it has been the surprise! A birthday celebrated clientele - then he will remember.
Friday, February 13, it's hard to leave these new friends with whom you feel good. Thomas is sad and tired of 3 days. But after a few hours, are still the pleasure of cycling.
We pass by a (somewhat difficult elsewhere) track which runs along the Mekong to Pak Ou, village at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Ou, the river that you will follow for the next few days. Hey Yes, it is there that said goodbye to the Mekong: bye bye Mekong, a future maybe... but for another trip! Then we find the road 13, paved and Nice.
At the outskirts of a village, there is a field with a bamboo hut not far from a river. We moved there (with the permission of a farmer of the corner), and we're going to wash and do a bit of laundry to the river. Thomas will buy anything to eat in the village. At 6.30 p.m., the camp is ready for the night... and there is a gentleman who, through gestures, invites us to sleep at home! Trying to say don't worry to sleep there, but he insists. Go, hop, it must repack everything!
We share our meals and attempts to discuss with him and his family: we understand that they have 4 children, whose two daughters married, are farmers and have two parcels of rice paddies. At the back of the House, hen, duck and even two turkeys! We spend a good night in a bed they were preparing in the living room. An adorable family!
In the morning, the Valley is in thick fog, each villager warms up with a small fire outside her door. It's crazy to live the awakening of the village gently.
It starts in this mist that rises gradually. It goes up and down gently, as it will for the next 3 days along Nam Ou.
Midi, soup, yet! Oh no now it is different: the ladies explain that in there... the banana flower! You knew that it was eating itself, you? Ben is not bad!
Nong Khiaw / Muang Ngoi: barbarian names for beautiful villages
Nong khiaw, is walking in the forest and waterfalls, discovery of the manufacturing process of Lao - Lao, point of view aloft, a few friendly encounters, and finally a little time for work and finish the video of Cambodia.
Then Thursday, February 19, it's direction Muang Ngoi. It is said that can only get there by boat, but explains the guy from the guesthouse a track which leads there preventing it'll be hard.
I am moderately inspired, and in one of these "off" days where it is not known why it has not too many want to roll. So hard, hard areas of slopes that rise to at least 10%. But the landscape is frankly superb, one is in the mountains. This is where we cross two elephants preparing to go work (wood wear). After lunch, found in the village a boat that takes us through a first time Nam Ou.
On the other side, the sides are severe. It has never been so pushed bicycles (and two!) than that day! Has been wholly 20kms of track when you arrive in a village where we are told that there is more road after; and asked us €10 to take us to Muang Ngoi 4 KMS from there. Impossible to negotiate then trying to see by us even if it is not a small track anyway... but indeed, nothing! A fisherman approaches; asked if he has not a way across the shore. He tells us not, and offers €5 to take us. We ended up cracking, and all aboard our Bazaar on his small boat.
Arrived at the village, not a single place in the guest house, everything is complete. Away village and found a bamboo hut (eh Yes, another one!) in a rice paddies with views 3 stars. One emerges the stove... for the first time since 3 months in Asia!
The next morning, we drive to Ban Na (ban = village; na = rice), village noted in tourist guides to be authentic. Indeed, despite the local tourism, he managed to keep his natural (to accommodate the tourists!). But to go to the village, once more it is a track where you must push bikes regularly. IEA, calves and arms! We enjoy the place to go visit the school and quickly.
Seen the path to come, opting to return for the "biking in the rice fields" option (dry, worry). Ben is sporting also!
Return to Muang Ngoi, there is a guest house. By chance we meet Tim and Dana, two riders that it had crossed in Vientiane. We pass the evening together with a buffet breakfast at will (the paradise for a cyclo). They live in Germany (it is Jordanian), travel a few months in Asia by bike, and were married next August. The topics of discussion are not lacking!
In the direction of the border
Saturday, February 21: again at will for breakfast buffet (€2,5 per person!) before leaving by boat North to Muang Khua. We are 5 inside, it is all comfort! It lasts 4 hours, it is surrounded by mountains.
And then it was even a bit time to roll the afternoon. After 8 km begins a rating of at least 12 kms. The slope is steady but is a bit long. After 2-hour climb, we are at 970 m above sea level, and asked the tent in the courtyard of a village school mini. A super view over the mountains, and without light, the night sky is splendid.
In the morning, it overlooks a sea of cloud. It makes beautiful landscapes when driving! It is often like that morning: clouds in the Valley that dissipate to 10-11 pm.
After spending our last kips to Muang may, we attack the climb towards the border. It lasts almost 20 km, it is a little hard on the end...
At the border, they ask 20000 kips... because it is Sunday. We are trying to negotiate, to say that one has more slots, but they don't want to know anything. Phew it had kept a few dollars of relief and can retrieve our passports.
You enter Viet Nam mile more away. Formalities carried out in 15 minutes, not a dollar, they are well its Viet customs!
Bye bye Laos! 1 month and super memories in mind!
Some more trivia...
-by entering Laos, it was felt that the country is less poor than Cambodia. The facades of the houses are maintained, there are refrigerators in shops (instead of the filled insulated ice box), kettles of hot water in majority guest house...
-warmth and hospitality were very striking.
-In addition to the SabaideeIt was often greeted by big bursts of laughter people amused to see us with all our loading.
-babies: all the time in the arms until they walk looks! And the whole family relays to deal with: the fathers, the brothers and sisters (sometimes 8-9 years), grandparents... Suddenly, sometimes we know more very well if a woman is the mother, sister, or the grand mother...
-It has to be a constant in Asia: dogs are super cool with bikes!
-the roads are cool, traffic is never too dense, and cars roll slowly so it's quiet!
-water: big cans of drinking water delivery spend every day at the people. Suddenly the filter less served, could easily take water in the restaurant, guest house etc.
-full of meetings, as you could see you. And regularly included cross people some time earlier in the country. It was sometimes hard to walk in a city (Luang Prabang for example) without stopping because it crossed a known head! And tourists, many french: Laos has the coast in France looks like.