Dusty Mountain

Roberto bei der Arbeit

Roberto at work

Country: Laos
From Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng
Lesson learned: Always watch the exit when you enter a cave without lights
Laughed about: Mama and Papa
Most wonderful miracle: Surprisingly Laos’ most touristic place. We loved it.
Food we ate: plenty of Noodle Soup
Greatest challenge: The dusty and pebbly mountain
Days on the bike: 4
Kilometers cycled: 139.72
Average Kilometers per day: 34.93
Total Kilometers cycled till Vang Vieng: 9456.82
Total days travelled till Vang Vieng: 535

 

Cycling in Laos Part 2, February 2013,

There is no such thing like time pressure in Laos. Everything appears to be calm. Everybody is easy going. You ordered a big coke and not a small ice tea? Never mind. You wanted to do another 30 kilometers but ended up chatting? No problem. You are sweaty? Just take a shower under one of the public tabs.

 

Ruhe am Mekong

Do not understand me wrong. The Laotians are hard working people. They start before sunrise and finish their work late but there is always time for a little chat with the neighbor, a beer with an old friend or a game with the children.

Statue in Luang Prabang

Statue in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang has so far been the touristiest town I have seen on the way. But even here life is easy going. It seems that the entry stamp in the passport takes all worries away. Most visitors were as relaxed as we were.

Die Residenz des letzten Königs

The town’s museum and the last king’s residence

Luang Prabang has the fortune of being busy and easy at the same time. Plenty of restaurants, small and family-run guest houses and touring agencies fill the streets, plenty of blond dreadlocked tourists in colorful pants and a Lonley Planet guidebook in the handmade purse sit in the coffees, search for Wi-Fi, a laundry place or cheap beer. Those who prefer not ne meet other tourists will not like it here too much.

Monks Singing Luang Prabang

The monks are chanting in the temple

We fell in love with Luang Prabang thanks to the great mix of traditional Lao life and culturally interested tourists. There are no big hotel buildings, no fancy night clubs, not a lot of traffic. Actually there is only one place open after 11 pm and it is a bowling alley in the outskirts. Most restaurants have their tables and chairs made out of bamboo, the old French houses were painted and converted in cozy guest houses and children still did not get bored of all those tourists.

Touristin in Luang Prabang

Another tourist in Luang Prabang

We stayed in the Sysomphone Guesthouse where the owners call themselves “Mama” and “Papa”. Papa brought me all his tools when he saw me changing my brake pads and Mama cut fruits for the children and refilled the gratis bananas.

Einzigartiges Luang Prabang

Unique Luang Prabang

We spent some days with our new friends and some others at work before we finally got started. Everything was packed when I saw that the screw hat held my front brake had broken and fallen off. Papa gave me a replacement and at noon we finally rolled out of town. We cycle up and down a couple of hills and after 25 kilometers we left the good old route 13 to test a new route that was not yet shown on many maps.

Wat in Luang Prabang

Temple in Luang Prabang

Papa recommended me to take it and as the “responsible for maps and routes” I did some (unsuccessful) research. This new route was apparently shorter than the main road and it led up to a higher mountain pass. But route 13 was full of shorter but longer climbs.

We had just fought our way through the dirt road when somebody came running after us. “Hey! Heeey!”, he yelled. I turned around and stopped. It was Vong, one of the students from an English class that we had visited the day before.

Blick auf Luang Prabang

View down into Luang Prabang

We were happy to see him and so was he. Vong invited us to stay with him and his family and he told us about the cultures of the Hmong who lived in the mountains and about his dream to live in Canada or the United States and his motivation to learn Korean and English.

By the following morning we started early again. The street surface did not better a bit. In fact it changed from pebbles to big gravel covered by some centimeters of red dust. Every now and then there were some big stones and holes in the street.

Der festgefahrene Dreck schleift die Reifen blank

The wheels don’t move

Some parts of the road were under construction and trucks sprayed plenty of water onto the dust. The result: muddy roads and four completely blocked wheels. We had to stop often and take all baggage and the wheels off in order to clean the hard mud away from the mud guards.

So fern der Hauptverkehrsadern sind die Kinder noch viel neugieriger

Away from the main roads the kids were not yet used to spot a lot of foreigners

We spent more than half day on this street. There were hardly any villages and any traffic in the end and we were happy when we finally spotted the crossroad where we took a left turn onto a properly paved road.

I was happy. What else could I wish for? Only two kilometers later I found myself completely disappointed again. The ascent that I spotted right in front of me was so steep that even walking my bike I had to make several breaks and drink some liters of water. When we finally reached a village I was starving.

Als das Radeln noch Spaß machte

When cycling was still fun

A lady sold soup and we ate as if we had eaten anything in days. With all our water bottles filled we left the small village searching for a place to pitch the tent. We ended up in a field, took a shower in the creek and washed our filthy and sweaty clothes. We tried to sleep as much as possible because today’s effort had only been the warm-up for the real mountains that we yet had to climb.

We got up early but left late. I decided that I would not cycle a single meter until I filled all my water bottles again. There is nothing worse than thirst is what I learned in the desert in Iran. It took me quite a while to search for the water pump, walk back to the creek and slowly convert dirty water into fresh water.

Unser Zeltplatz

Camping spot in the fields

Today we were to cycle from 600 to 1900 meters above sea level. One hard day and we will be done. Unfortunately the pavement ended right behind the village and we had jolted on a gravel road with plenty of dust layers. The first two kilometers were fine. Then I saw the gradient. I could not believe my eyes.

Keine Chance

No way

This was by far worse than any of the other roads on the day before. I cycled in the lowest gear when one of the big rocks came into my way. It was hard to move the handlebar of the packed bike and I had to stop. I knew I would not be able to get back on the bike in this terrain on the gradient so I decided to walk it until the road got better or the gradient got softer. Either of them never happened. I stopped every thirty steps because walking the bike was just too exhausting. Four trucks passed and covered the air around me in yellow and red dust. My nose and eyes were covered in a big layer of dust. I could not even see Roberto anymore. My average speed dropped under 3 km/hour. That was when it hit me: we would never make it to the mountain pass within a day.

Staub und Dreck in allen Ritzen

Dirt and dust everywhere

After fifteen minutes I saw Roberto and made my way towards him. There I stood, angry with myself. Where has all the good training from the Chinese mountains gone? Roberto feels pity with me. “If only I could help you with anything”, he said, but we all have our crosses to bear.

I was disappointed with myself. Roberto looked down to me and offered to get back and find a ride. I knew how much he wanted to cycle and it must feel horrible to capitulate before he even reached his own limits but as a team we were as strong as the weakest part. Today this part was me.

 

Roberto muss immer wieder seine Brille putzen.

Roberto’s eyes were protected from the dust but he had to clean his glasses every couple of minutes

We rolled down for a few meters when my front brake fell off. I jumped down the bike and walked down to the construction zone using only the rear brake. The front rack was connected with the front brake and all the bumps were too much Papas old screw. The new washer had also broken into three parts. I took both brakes to pieces while Roberto searched for another replacement.

The construction workers were confused to see me with black greasy hands doing the “men’s” work. But Roberto and I had decided that in order to avoid fights it was best that everybody was responsible for his own bike.

Die letzte Einklausmöglichkeit unterwegs

The last shop on the way

After a while the brakes were perfectly adjusted and I could even move the rusty small adjustment screw. Roberto spent his time on the street where he tried to stop a pick-up or a truck. The drivers saw him, waved back and carried on without even reducing their speed.

Same Same - But Different. Das trifft in Laos nicht nur auf alle Straßen zu.

Same Same – But Different. Wise words.

What should we do now? We had two options: cycling back the 70 kilometers to the first crossroad and try out the route 13 (long detour) or keep on walking this route no matter what. We just decided for the second option when a truck stopped. The driver offered us a ride over the worst part of the mountain. We threw bikes and bags into the load space and sat down between them. Roberto appeared sad. I know he could have probably made it if he was by himself.

The street led us higher and higher into the mountains. Pebbles and dust were spread behind us and we did not spot a single village anymore. The entire road was under construction. The only manmade spots we saw were the worker’s camps. On the way down we drove on an asphalted road for a moment, and then the bumpy ride continued.

 

Traktor-Tuktuk auf dem Weg nach Vang Vieng

Tractor-Tuktuk on the way to Vang Vieng

Our drivers were heading south as well, but we got off the truck near the town of Kasi. It was the early afternoon and our stomachs were still empty. We found the market and ate a big bowl of noodle soup with fresh coconut milk. After lunch my blood circulation nearly collapsed. I sat down next to the bikes while Roberto went to search for a place to spend the night at.

By the following morning I felt much better. The road was paved, flat and the landscape changed quickly. Lime stones and forested rocks appeared around us. Soon we were surrounded by green rock formations. A young student joined us for some kilometers. He was on his way back home from school and was happy to have somebody to practice his English with.

Kurzzeitiger Mitradler

Shortterm co-cyclist

In the afternoon we arrived in Vang Vieng, Laos’ former party capital. Bars and hostels still filled the town, but fruit shakes with marihuana and mushrooms have disappeared from the menus. Just a few years ago there were said to be stoned adolescent in bikinis running up and down the street in search for the best “Happy” Pizza.

Die Landschaft um Vang Vieng

Die landscape around Vang Vieng

Now most of Vang Vieng’s visitors come for the nature. There are several caves, two waterfalls, a couple of lagoons and subterranean rivers in Vang Vieng’s surroundings. The bars remained, but the big party is over.

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng

We were happy about that fact and discovered the Blue Lagoon right by the following morning. It was a seven kilometer’s walk to get there, but we were more than satisfied with our refreshing day.

Schmetterlinge fliegen um die Lagune herum

Plenty of butterflies in the lagoon

The water was fresh and clear and a big tree was used to tie swings, a big rope and two diving boards on.

Der Baum fungiert als Sprungbrett und Schaukel

Multifunctional tree

Inside the rock next to the lagoon we discovered a cave. There were no paths or lights in it and we managed to get a bit lost inside.

Mönche in der Höhle bei der blauen Lagune

Monks in the cave

Fortunately we ran into a group of lost Koreans and searched for the exit together.

Mönche sind auch manchmal als Touristen unterwegs

Monk-tourists

After another day in front of the laptops we made our way towards the capital. My friend Ann-Cathrin had already reached Thailand and we planned to join her vacation.

Eine liegende Buddhastatue

Inside the cave

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