Vientiane to the China Border.
Our departure from Vientiane coincided with the first day of Pii Mai – the Laos New Year. The Laotians love a good party and Pii Mai is ‘the favourite’ – three days of family fun, frivolity, beer drinking and water fights. As most homes in Laos have no backyard, tables covered with food and beer are set out the front of every home, blaring sound systems pump out Thai pop music and buckets of water line the streets to be thrown at every person who passes by. I can honestly say that I have never cycled through a 160km street party, but that is what we did for the two days from Vientiane to Vang Vieng.
The atmosphere was electric and the good vibes flowed as freely as the beer and water. “Sabaidee Pii Mai” was heard everywhere. Being falang (foreigners) and being on bikes, we were the perfect targets for everyone who had a hose, water pistol or bucket of water. ‘Drenched’ is an understatement on how wet we became. Luckily the water provided much needed air-con in the scorching hot weather. In addition to the soakings, beer was handed to us as we cycled by and despite the impromptu dance & beer parties, we were lucky to make it as far as we did in those days.
Once in Vang Vieng, a bamboo bungalow overlooking rice paddies and limestone karsts became our haven. Lying in our hammocks we drank copious amounts of tea, read books and made plans for our 3-month journey across China. Hours were spent with map and tourism guide in hand, creating a tentative plan of where, when and how we were going to achieve such a massive feat. We escaped our hermit tendencies with a stroll in the countryside and a dip in the river.
Being so caught up in future planning we forgot about the present and made a rookie mistake in our travel plans. Having cycled most of the route from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang previously, we went against our better judgment and caught a bus. Yes it was as bad as we remember backpacking with bikes, and yes there was another road that we could have taken that we hadn’t ridden before. Note to self – always double check all route options, not just those you think you know. That said, we spent some lovely days relaxing in Luang Prabang, eating bakery treats and enjoying the vibe of the city. We also shared a couple of dinners with Kat and Alee (and Kat’s folks Andrew and Ruth) – two amazing Melbournians who are cycling a tandem bike from Holland to Oz. Check out CyclingAbout.com for their biking adventures around the world.
Not tiring of relaxing, it was time to get on the bikes and head north for some more hammock time. Most of the journey was spent cycling alongside the Pu River, providing us with ample opportunity to refresh ourselves in its cool waters. Being accessible only by boat, most of our time in the tranquil village of Muang Ngoi was spent by the river. Having no access to the outside world we slowed our pace further and were content to just be. We could have spent a week swimming, reading and eating, but our visa was soon to expire and China was calling.
Three days of mountain riding stood between the Chinese border and us. Setting out early in the mornings to take advantage of the cool weather, we pedaled all day stopping only to eat, filter water and sleep. Things in the northern regions are changing quickly, and progress here seems to mean mass deforestation and crop burning. The mountains and roads were scarred by human activity and it was sad to spend our last days riding through such an environment. I did a happiness dance when the roadside counters began to incorporate ‘China Border’ in their countdown. Our last night was spent in an overpriced hotel room squashed between the first slum we had seen in Laos and the customs gate before the Chinese border. We have loved our time in Laos, but the excitement of a new country had entered our souls.
All my love,