A night in the jungle

Country: China and Laos
From Mengla to Luang Prabang
Lesson learned: There is no such thing as puncture proof tyres
Laughed about: “Mama” and “Papa”, the nice guesthouse owners
Most wonderful miracle: Feeling how our 32 souls returned to our bodies
Food we ate: The most disgusting fruit ever, Mexican style Jicamas and sticky rice
Greatest challenge: Falling asleep in the middle of the jungle
Days on the bike: 6
Kilometers cycled: 370.97
Average Kilometers per day: 61.83
Total Kilometers cycled till Luang Prabang: 9317.10
Total days travelled till Luang Prabang: 524

February 2013. Cycling in Laos part 1

Finally it was warm. I could not believe that I was able to wander the streets without a jacket. Then the rain started. We left Mengla in the rain but just a few kilometers later it was sunny again and we started sweating in our rain gear. Green bananas grew from towards the sun, I spotted palm trees on each village entry. We cycled fast because we wanted to make it to the border before it would close for the night. When we saw artificial new houses and found ourselves in a big road we knew that the border could not be far.

 

Bananenplantage

Bananas

We had spent nearly three months in China and I had had big plans. I wanted to cycle half the country, learn Tai Chi, Ma-Jong and Kung Fu, walk the Great Wall, cycle the rice paddies and learn at least 100 Chinese words. Instead we spent plenty of time in visa extensions, Roberto’s new passport and various reparations.

We were not able to cycle much more than 1000 kilometers and spent a total of 150 hours in buses and trains – that makes six entire days and nights! I promised myself: “From now on we will cycle every single kilometer ourselves”.

I was sad to leave China but at the same time I was very curious on Laos, the country that I hardly knew anything about. There were no problems at all on the border. The officer was fine with Roberto’s visa for China in the invalid passport since he brought another valid one.

Ab nach Oudomxay

The best kilometerstones ever!

We cycled a few minutes through towards the Laotian side of the border and immediately everything changed. Instead of a new white and wheelchair-friendly building we found ourselves in front of two bamboo huts. In one of them we asked for the visa on arrival. While we were still filling out our forms the officer already started to paste the visas into a new page. One hut further we gave the passports to another officer who stamped the visas. His keyboard was so old that only F8 and F 9 remained visible. Nearby the two border huts there was an outdoor toilet. To reach it people had to cross a wooden board that was situated above a small creek.

The entry stamp was still wet when we got our passports back. Roberto smiled. We made it.

Hängebauchschwein

Pig

Just a few kilometers further I stopped again. I had been hungry all day and got a big portion of food. For the last time I asked myself through the available ingredients using the few Chinese words that I had learned. We changed Chinese Yuans into Laotian Kips and were quite surprised when we nearly got a million of them.

Hier werden Bambusspitzen verkauft

Bamboo salesmen

We had been in a constant rush for the fast week in transit. Now I wanted to relax. The first motel with free beds was ours. It just opened on this very same day and we even helped carrying the mattress into the room. We enjoyed the night with a cool Beerlao (the Laotian beer) on the parking lot while we observed the jungle on the other side of the road.

We slept till late, cleaned our bikes, clothes and ourselves properly, checked all screws and left the border village Boten in the early afternoon.

Auf dem Weg

On the way

We had the best cycling conditions I could ever imagine. We were healthy, the bikes were fine as well, there was hardly any traffic, the asphalt was fine, temperatures warm but not too hot, the street was hilly and curvy but not too steep and people waved towards us all the time.

We stopped at a street market where Roberto bought something he had been missing for two years already: Yam beans! In Mexico this vegetable is called Jicama and eaten with lime, chili powder and salt. The ladies also sold bamboo, roasted mice, nuts and the world’s most disgusting fruit. The bitter-sour taste stayed inside my mouth for hours and it felt as if there was a furry cat on my tongue.

 

Unser Schlafplatz

Doesn’t it look cozy?

Shortly before sunset we found ourselves in the middle of the jungle. We had planned to ask permission on the side of a street restaurant but failed in finding one. Now it was getting dark quickly. When we switched on our lights we knew there was no way we could spot a camping place in the dark. We were constantly climbing and all stars were shining brightly when we finally found a place to sleep: an abandoned bamboo hut in the middle of nowhere. The roof had two big holes, two sides where open, the other two sides were constructed with dried banana leaves. Since we could not find any people nearby we decided to rent the hut for the night. On our isolation mattresses we enjoyed the view into a perfect sky with plenty of stars.

Schlafplatz

At first the jungle noises frightened me. But the chirping, rustling, grunting and growling soon helped me to fall asleep. At least our “home” had been situated on poles and was harder to reach for some of the animals.

Wolkenmeer

Sea of clouds

We woke up before sunrise and spotted a beautiful sea of clouds down in the valley. A tiny piece of wire was stuck inside Roberto’s puncture proof tyres and we had to fix the inner tube twice until we found it. After 35 kilometers we reached a nice restaurant where we had an enormous breakfast. Our bodies asked for calories and we gave them what they needed.

Pannenfreie Reifen gibt es einfach nicht

There is no such thing as puncture proof tyres

Since there was no street stand on the way to have a cheaper breakfast (even cheaper than cooking our own meal) we ate three dishes and a big bunch of Jicamas.

Roberto liebt Jicama

Roberto loves Jicama

Just a few minutes further we spotted a tourist information. We had planned to just cycle through but now we changed our plans. Indeed we stayed for three entire nights because we found a guest house with Wi-Fi and had a lot of work to do.

Lebensbaum vor dem Watt von Oudomxay

In Oudomxay’s temple

On the fourth day we left the small town of Oudomxay and headed south.

Stupa in Oudomxay

Stupa in Oudomxay

After 11 kilometers we wanted to stop at a waterfall with the creative name “Tad Lak 11” (waterfall kilometer 11). It was quite a hard way up there and we had the small cascade all for ourselves. We watched numerous butterflies and enjoyed the view.

Erstmal ausruhen

Break

The road was only partly covered with asphalt and we bumped up and down on dirt roads. I clean my sweaty face under a small waterfall and cannot believe that just two weeks ago I had been wearing a scarf and gloves against the cold.

Im Wasserfall 11

Tad Lak 11 (Waterfall at kilometer 11)

It was early afternoon when we finally made it up the mountain. The way down was not as relaxing as I expected it to be since the surface of the street did not better in any way. We cycled slowly and spotted plenty of small villages. Women and children constructed brooms, men took a shower under a public tap, children swam in the river and women washed their clothes in them. Everybody shouted “Sabaidee”, the Laotian word for “Hello”.

Roberto erkundet das Dorf

City tour

Most houses were bamboo- and banana-leave based just as the one we had been sleeping in on the way to Oudomxay. Pigs, cows and chicken walked through the street followed by plenty of young children.

Laotisches Dorf. Wo sind denn alle?

Where has everyone gone?

We have learned our lesson: The time between sunset and complete darkness is short in Laos. So we asked a family for a camping spot right before sunset, prepared the last instant soup from China and slept early.

Fortunately it was cloudy all the following day. By the early afternoon we had climbed another mountain and finally on the way down the surface of the street got a lot better.

Kleiner Abstecher auf einen noch schlimmeren Weg

Most of the way was in far better condition

We found the perfect camping spot near some caves but two men with harpoons told us it was too dangerous to camp there. We have felt very safe in Laos so far. But it was probably a good idea to do what people with harpoons suggest so we continued to the next village where we wanted to pitch the tent.

Unsere "Autobahn"

Our “freeway”

Suddenly everybody came towards us trying to push us towards a house. “So they have a guesthouse here” I thought. I wanted to save the money but apparently they wanted us to sleep there.

I was mistaken. It was the head of the village who lived in this house. He had hosted a Belgian cyclist a few years ago and now he was curious to get to know us too. Two other habitants of the village stayed with us while Chang Sock and his wife prepared dinner.

Unser Gastgeber Chang Sok und unser englisch sprechender Freund und Vong

Our host Chang Sock, Vong, his friends and Roberto in Chang Sock’s house

One of them, Vong, spoke English. He had a private scholarship for Luang Prabang’s University and helped us with translations.

 

He showed us how to form sticky rice into little balls and dip it into the different dishes. We did not even need to roll out our isolation mattresses because Chang Sock had already prepared two mattresses under a big mosquito net.

Tractor-Tuktuk

Tractor-Tuktuk

By the following morning our hosts prepared a little ceremony for us. They murmured a prayer and blessings while they put some bread and sticky rice onto our heads and a cord around our wrists. In Lao Buddhist believes a human has 32 souls that wander in rivers, trees, animals and people. These blessings helped us to get all our 32 souls back because we would need them to continue our journey. And indeed we felt more powerful.

High Five

High Five

There were no more mountains but we still had a couple of hard hills to climb. Our hosts got up early and we decided cycle all the way to the town of Luang Prabang. We stopped a couple of times for bananas, melons and a spicy papaya salad and in the afternoon we spotted the first guest houses.

Unterwegs gibt es immer etwas zu Essen

Street market

It was Chinese New Year and the streets were full of Chinese cars. It was not easy to find a guest house with free rooms but we were lucky enough get the last room in Sysomphone guesthouse next to the river Khan. The owners who called themselves Mama and Papa were wonderful and we ate as many bananas as we could since they were free and delicious. We made friends with Juan from Agrentina, Enni and Vesa from Finland and Tang from France and met Martina and Tim from Germany that we knew from Oudomxay.

Wasserfall

Martina, Tim, Roberto, Annika, Vesa, Enni and Tang at the waterfall

We cycled to the Tad Se waterfall together, ate in the night market, visited another yet more impressive waterfall and visit the town’s museum. Days passed so quickly and in the end we stayed for an entire week in order to finish all the work we had not done yet.

Es gibt so viel zu entdecken in Luang Prabang

So much to discover in Luang Prabang

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