Sabaidee Pii Mai!! Happy Laos New Year!

Vientiane to the China Border.

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Sabaidee Pii Mai!

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.

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Fun for all.

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It all involves water.

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Everyone’s a target.

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.

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Free air-con.

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A free beer with a soaking.

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Welcome to Vang Vieng.

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.

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The view from our bungalow.

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And the other direction.

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We love hammock time.

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Despite being hermits we made a friend.

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.

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Introducing the amazing Kat and Alee from Cycling About.

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Most of our time was spent cycling along the Pu river.

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After a refreshing swim.

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We are sometimes joined by school kids on their way home.

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.

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The view from our bungalow.

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The main street of Muang Ngoi.

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More hammock time.

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Muang Ngoi dock.

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.

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There was some nice mountain riding.

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But mostly not so nice, due to human destruction.

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Happy to be in Pak Mong.

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Compared to the rest of the roads in Laos, this one was in terrible condition.

All my love,

Astrid.

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Counting down to the Chinese border.

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Laos border post.

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Exit stage right.

The road to Vientiane

 

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Classic Laos

Reaching Laos again felt good. It had been a push to make it to the border in time and once our visa’s and stamps were received we could finally relax. Borders are strange and interesting places. This one was quite remote, although it was on a major Asian goods route, which links Vietnam to Myanmar, through Thailand and Laos. All around us trucks waited to be let through to Vietnam, carrying cattle and other supplies (probably a lot of Laos natural resources). For the next few days we would see Thai, Lao and Vietnamese trucks heading in both directions. The Vietnamese still drove the worst.

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Happy to be back, waiting to collect our passports at the border.

Dusk was settling on the on the mountains as we left the border, snaking our way a few kilometres down the road, before scrambling down an embankment to make camp. Even after all these months of stealth camping, I still prefer to be hidden well away from people, even when I know the people won’t care or harm me. Somewhere, in the back on my mind, not matter how much I try and block it out, a tiny part of me still feels vulnerable out here at night.  I hate to admit it and I know it’s illogical, for if anything, hasn’t the last 12 months taught me that the world is a much a kinder place then we are often led to believe back home?

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Our tents on our first night back in Laos look kind of eerie..

It was already heating up when we woke at 5am. A taste of what was to come. Thanks to my mum we had rice noodles with vegetarian mince for breakfast, followed by a hefty hit of Ovaltine. Then it was time to hit the road. To our delight, the first part of the day saw us freewheeling down on to the lowlands. The Laos we found at the bottom of the mountains was so different to the one we had left behind a few weeks ago. The villages here were well stocked, almost everyone had fridges and to our joy ice cream made a return to the scene. There was even an ATM, sticking out like the Tardis on the dry baked Laotion plain. The heat drove us underground like trolls in the afternoon, as we cooked our lunch under a bridge. I longed for a river, but it was bone dry, even the buffaloes could only find the smallest, muddiest water holes. We camped in a field that night, watching the sky turn red and laughing at the buffalo family that came to check us out (they make some pretty weird noises and sniffed us in a funny way).

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What’s with this strange, flat Laos?

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And the random ATM?

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There is even ice cream here – good ice cream!

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I was accused of being a ‘bridge troll’ for wanting to have lunch under this bridge

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Collecting water for filter from the village pump. All villages have at least one communal pump

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The Buffalo’s are coming to check us out..

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Preparing dinner and relaxing after a long, hot day.

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Sunset from our camp

Karsts appeared the following day, towering over us on both sides. Our map had told us of a climber’s camp (Green Climbers Home) and it was here that we stopped after 50km. It was an oasis in the otherwise hot and dry landscape. Tents, bungalows and shady sprawling restaurant/bar as well as a swimming hole and cave. Astrid and I camped in the forest and Marita escaped into a more suitable tent. Her $20 kids tent had started to show it’s quality (or lack there of) and she had spent the previous night unable to sleep due to the lack of ventilation and presence of ants. The rest of the day we spent relaxing, swimming and reading. All three of us were very impressed (and slightly intimidated) by the incredible buffed climbers we encountered there. I started doing push ups again that very day…

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mid morning Lao cow going for a casual stroll..

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Beautiful cycling..

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Camping in the forest at ‘Green climbers camp’.

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The swimming hole at Green Climbers

Having decided not to climb this time (but with a plan to return) we cycled the remaining kilometres to Thakhet the next day.  Charming run down (but beginning to be done up) colonial era edifices predominate in this laid back riverside town. Trees offer shade along the riverfront, cows meander down the road at sunset and across the Mekong you can see the glitz and glam of Thailand, which seems a life time away. We found ourselves the most ridiculous 70’s style hotel and sat drinking shakes and making plans for the following day. At sunset we had the good fortune of meeting Fanus, a South African mine consultant (yes, we confirmed that almost all the mines are Chinese owned in Laos) with whom we swapped stories about our homelands and life on the road. He was one of the most kind hearted people we have met.

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I have all the baguette’s! A kind lady got her daughter to buy these for us.. we didn’t expect them to be quite so large!

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Sunset over the Mekong and Thailand

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Sunset Beer Lao

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Casual sunset Lao cow

To avoid some of the heat and try and make it to Kong Lor cave we were up at 4am the following day. Ear splitting karaoke was still going on. We suspected it was the karaoke bar behind our hotel until we ventured outside to load up the bikes. The noise was coming from Thailand across the Mekong, which was still lit up like a Christmas tree! You could tell it was the end of a long night as the singing was slurred and the karaoke duet soon disintegrated into drunken crying. We imagined the couple holding each other, singing and sobbing, ‘I love you,’ ‘no, I love you!’ Drunk people are the same the world over. It makes me smile.

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There are always baloons

While cycling that morning I began thinking about the similarity between drivers all over Asia. Yeah, the Vietnamese are the worst for us cyclist, but all over Asia, the driving leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not uncommon to see heavily overloaded buses, sway dangerously to one side while overtaking at speed, drivers passing on blind corners, vehicles narrowly missing each other, no helmets on motorbikes, no giving way when pulling out, and almost everyone using their mobiles constantly. I don’t know what the road toll is, I only know the hospitals are basic at best, and as a foreigner you are told ‘go to Thailand,’ if you are injured. That morning, unfortunately I was presented proof of the consequences of this disregard for safety, when a motorcyclist crashed into a van behind me. I did not see it, only heard it. The injured man was not wearing a helmet, had a massive skull fracture, and never regained consciousness on scene. At one point Astrid and I thought he was going to arrest on us, and he was showing clear signs of a serious head injury (decelebrate posturing). Without Western standard hospital care (which he would not get, unless he could pay and possessed a passport) I doubt he would have survived. Possibly he wouldn’t anyway. I actually felt quite helpless at this scene, for even though Astrid and I both had all the knowledge and skills to care for him in the pre-hospital setting, without our equipment, all we could do was take his pulse and try and get the locals not drag to him too violently off the road. In the end, the injured man was bundled into the car that he had hit, music still blaring and driven off somewhere.

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Not the accident we attended but perhaps a classic example of the consequences of some of the drivers..

It was a sobering reminder about how far we are from ‘first world’ medical care.

If this accident had been in rural Victoria, this man would have had at least 3 paramedics with a helicopter on the way to airlift him to a trauma hospital. How lucky we are. Even though our health system is far from perfect, to have a system that will take us to a first class hospital (where we don’t have to pay for the services) when we are seriously injured is something very precious. Something worth protecting and fighting for.

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The long hot road to Kong Lor

By 12:30 we had covered 100km and were at the first turn off to Kong Lor Cave. We ate lunch, then threw our bikes on the roof of a tuk tuk that took us over the mountains for 40km. We were dropped at another dusty junction and decided to cycle to remaining 40km into Kong Lor. What a beautiful cycle it was. The light was turning golden and it reflected against the karsts and the stark beauty of the bare fields. Kong Lor is a small village, with a scattering of guesthouses and primarily exists because of the cave. We found a delightful place to call home for the night and cooked our food on the back porch, watching darkness come over the valley.

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Back on a tuk tuk..

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Boat ride anyone? It must be wet here when it rains..

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On the way into Kong Lor

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So dry but so beautiful

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Such beautiful light

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Dry rice paddies

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Kong Lor valley

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Dinner after another epic 140km day in the heat

Kong Lor cave was worth the trek. It’s a 7.5km boat ride into the heart of the mountain, through vast caverns with towering stalagmites and stalactites. You get to walk one section and occasionally go over rapids and have to get out of the boat, while the driver and guide expertly maneuver it through the shallow water. At the end you get spat out on the other side of the mountain, surrounded by dripping rain forest (well for us, because it was raining). After this early morning adventure, with thunderstorms rolling in over the valley, we decided it was a perfect opportunity for a rest day.  So while the thunder clapped and the rain fell we relaxed and read books. I may have had an afternoon nap.

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Ready to cave!!

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The entrance to the cave

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Photos inside caves never do them justice.. It was awesome.

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More cave action

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Coming out the other end was pretty special

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Trying to eat ‘local style’ ice cream. It was ice cream, literally between 2 frozen pieces of bread. Fail.

Our bikes were loaded back on to the tuk tuk roof the next day and we crammed on with a small bunch of travellers and locals. Kong Lor is just that little bit harder to get to then your average tourist attraction (especially without a tour) and we found the other westerners to be an interesting bunch of people, many of them long term travelers like us. Soon we were joined by more local kids, women with babies, chickens, bags of produce, and by the time we were back at the main highway, there were people hanging off the back of the tuk tuk. It still amazes me how many people can fit in to one vehicle.

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On the road again with a hat, courtesy of the road!

Arriving later than hoped for at the crossroads, we still managed 90km to Paxsan, where thanks to some travellers on motorbikes we found a charming bungalow by a lake. Another storm rolled in that night and it delayed our departure somewhat, although we still managed to leave before 6am. It was 150km to Vientiane and our pedaling was interspersed by noodles, drinks, ice creams and chocolate and by 5pm we had made it to the capital. Exhausted but happy, we celebrated with pizza.

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150km day to Vientiane deserves pizza and beer!

The sixth of April, one year after our departure from Melbourne. How fitting that it was the day my sister also arrived. I cannot really describe how amazing it was to see her after a year of separation. What followed was one of the loveliest and most relaxing weeks. We started our days with delicious Pho, followed by meandering around the city, having coffee, checking out temples, going to museums, a trip to a Buddha park and generally enjoying the Lao capital. In the afternoons, when it got really hot, we hung out in our lovely room, chatting, reading, and laughing. Mish treated us to picnics and dinner, mum again provided us with joys (cheese) from home as well as supplies (dehydrated food) for the road ahead.

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12 month living on a bike, we couldn’t be happier!

 

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So happy to have Mish visit!

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Morning Pho

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Some temples..

 

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A picnic in our room..

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Checking out some sites – the ‘vertical runway’ as it was built with American concrete allocated for the airport…

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Lunch time pool..

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And beers..

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A ride in a tuk tuk

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To see some crazy stuff

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The Buddha park really was weird!

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There lot of laughter (Astrid has the best laugh ever!)

Most of our time in Vientiane was about spending time with Mish, but we also applied for our Chinese Visa. We had been quite nervous as we had heard of people being rejected and of how difficult it was. Luckily all our internet research and careful planning paid off and we were rewarded with a 30 day visa (not possible to get longer) with minimal fuss. It felt like a real victory, if we had been denied entry, it would have really stuffed our plans.

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China visa win!

Soon, after a week of laughter and fun, the goodbyes started. First was Marita, off to Vietnam to meet a friend and then home for her brother’s wedding. We have plans to meet again in China. Then Mish, back to Melbourne and her PhD. All I can say is, I cried like a baby. It was such a wonderful week and I was reminded how awesome and precious my sister is. Family visiting is a little bittersweet. It reminds you how much you miss and love them.

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Saying goodbye to these two was hard

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Best sister ever

We have been traveling with Marita on and off since Malaysia, as well as having other friends, backpackers and family join us. Now it’s back to just Astrid and I. It feels a little strange, but also good. Our time in SE Asia is drawing to a close; the vastness of China and the mountains of Central Asia beckon us.

love

Jude

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Our time in SE Asia is drawing to a close

 

 

Mountain Life

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The mountains begin

Laos. The most bombed country in the world. A place where a secret war played itself out more than 40 years ago between those on the payroll of the CIA and the forces of communist Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese army. Every week the Lao people still suffer from the consequences of unexploded ordinances (UXO’s) dropped by the American’s. Since the end of the war, more than 20,000 people have been maimed and killed, and it’s still a major contributing factor to ongoing poverty, as land affected by the ‘bombies’ is effectively locked away from being able to farmed or developed for infrastructure.

Image It was the three of us that left Luang Prabang early, to head east towards Vietnam to meet Astrid’s mum. Viktoria had taken ill and we planned to meet her again in a few days time. Our panniers were full of food from the market as we had heard that there is not much to eat in the mountains towards which we were heading. This was to prove true, as village after village contained only the smallest store, selling sweet biscuits and soft drinks, and if we were really lucky, eggs. The mountain people in Laos seem to mainly subsistence farm on ground that appears impossibly steep. It did not take us long to appreciate how mountainous Laos really was. Soon our poor lungs and legs, having not climbed since the Cameron Highlands were burning. We did get a 15km down hill after a 15km ascent, but the joy was short lived as we were soon climbing again. Just before sunset we limped into some scrub on the side of the road and made camp. It felt wonderful to be self sufficient again.

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The nutritious food available in the mountains

 

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Cycling through a typical village

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The huts seem to cling to the side of the mountain, in between the road and the edge.

The climbing continued, we were often cycling through areas that would have once been forested but had been subjected to ‘slash and burn’ to make room for agriculture. When there was forest, it was very beautiful, but overall there was more deforestation than I expected. The villages we passed through consisted of neat clusters of mainly wooden houses, often appearing to cling to the side of the mountain. Cows, buffalo, chickens and pigs meandered around freely, kids played and called out shy ‘sabaidees’ from the shadows of doorways. Women washed by the communal tap, or scrubbed children in buckets. Although poor by our standards, these villages all appeared to have some form of running water and electricity. The roads are quiet compared to what we are used to with only semi frequent trucks and buses during the day. We met quite a few cycle tourists, some on SE Asian tours, and one couple on a tandem who had cycled from Poland.

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Villagers washing clothes in the river

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Washing wherever possible on the side of the road

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Old man Buffalo

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The end of the day in near

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Curious village kids watch us collect water

In the afternoon of the second day in the hills we chanced upon what seemed like a rather random guesthouse in a small village. We had planned to go further, but not used to the climbing, we were all pretty exhausted. It seemed like too good an opportunity to bypass. Furthermore, another cyclist, Peter was already staying there. He was a lovely guy from Austria on a tour around SE Asia and we swapped stories and shared dinner and hot chocolate.

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Being a bit immature..

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Peter, from Austria

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Making ovaltine for everyone

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Outside the random guesthouse we found in a mountain village

It seemed that the hills would never stop. While not unrideable, or even crazy steep, they were unrelenting. We stopped frequently for snacks, which unfortunately often translated to sweet biscuits and soft drinks. That night we made our camp in a banana plantation and were visited by ‘the night cow’ a few times; a curious cow that kept checking us out, as it is normal to find livestock roaming around free on the roads and in the villages. I always wonder how they know which animal belongs to whom.

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A pig family on the side of the road

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These girls watched us shyly as we drank a dirty green soft drink in their village

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Collecting water to filter at the village tap

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In the Banana plantation where we were visited by the ‘night cow.’

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morning tea happiness

Finally we found ourselves on a rather desolate plain. The flat cycling was a relief. We were to learn later that the landscape had been dramatically changed from the intense bombing raids in the 70’s. The area surrounding the plain of jars was one of the hardest hit, due to its proximity to Vietnam. Exhausted, we finally rolled into Phonsovan, slightly shocked by the amount of people, shops and produce. After having been in the mountains for four days, it felt like a big city, not a small provincial capital. That night we met up again with Viktoria (who had taken the bus from Luang Prabang) and were treated to a lovely dinner by some Canadian motorcyclists who had seen us on the road. What lovely chaps, we really are lucky.

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Lao cow

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Yep!

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The plain of jars; burial ritual or to hold beer for giant’s?

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Plain of jars

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As it was back out to the mountains the following day, we stocked up for the next few days at the market (so much food!) before heading out to the ‘Plain of Jars’. What a strange place. Like the name suggests, it’s a vast plain, which was heavily bombed but has been cleared by MAG (mind advisory group). What makes it so bizarre though is the presence of large, megalithic jars. They are scattered in groups throughout this plain and look very mysterious and odd. Apparently they were used as burial jars by some ancient people, although not much is really know about them. I like the myth that they were used by giants to brew beer better. After our site seeing side trip, it was back on the loaded bikes and heading east. We had a pleasant afternoon, cycling mainly downhill, surrounded by mountains, rice paddies and the occasional village. Reaching a small cross roads town we tried to find some accommodation. We shouldn’t have bothered. There was only one room in one hotel, and although we were happy to all share it, once they realised there were four of us they wanted to heavily over charge us (and not provide any bedding). So we left, picked up some water and made camp outside of town. This is one of the reasons I like having a tent, even in a place like SE Asia where many people tour without them. I like having the choice to walk away, and really camping is so much nicer. Especially in Laos where no one bothers you. Of course, UXO’s are a concern (although fairly unlikely), but we made sure always to camp on well trodden land.

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They are huge!

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Many UXO’s were found on around the plain of jars, luckily it’s been cleared by MAG

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Beautiful scenery as we head out of Phonsovan

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Much better than an overpriced guesthouse

 

It was back to climbing now and we ascended steadily for most of the next day. Not so much deforestation in these parts, which was a nice change. That night, instead of finding somewhere to stealth camp we asked if we could camp in a small mountain village. They villagers, almost all women (we are thinking the men are off working somewhere) readily agreed and we pitched our tents in the centre of town and even got to have a shower (local style) at the communal tap. Everyone was so friendly, very curious and also quite shy. We had quite a large audience as we cooked dinner. One elderly lady was particularly impressed by our aubergine, and when Astrid gave her one, she was delighted. We decided to call her aubergine grandma. It was a really wonderful experience getting to observe village life at the end of the day – the boys playing soccer in a small field, kids carrying chickens back to their cages, a lady hand feeding a buffalo in a pen, women washing, kids being called to dinner. Our experience in this village made us feel like we will definitely ask to do this again.

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Cooking lunch with the eggs we found to buy

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Beautiful scenery, quiet roads.

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The village we camped in

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Curious locals watch us cook

Like the village, we were up early and soon pedalling. The mornings were cool with a light mist blanketing the mountains. After a few hours we had descended into a valley and village that actually had a restaurant. Over some soup (the only thing you can get in these parts) we realised we were exhausted. After 7 days of cycling, mainly in the mountains, Marita, Astrid and I were in need of a day off. After some discussion and weighing up options we decided to hitch on a truck or see if there was a bus. We asked around, there was a bus in an hour. None of the trucks heading our way were empty, so at 12pm we loaded our bikes onto the roof of a small bus and squished inside with the locals and 4 other foreigners. Laos is one of the only countries where putting your bike on a bus is not an issue and you are unlikely to get ripped off. Ah buses. Blasting Thai music videos (men in pink shirts, crying about girls), inching down the winding roads (much slower then we would cycle) and taking four hours to cover 88km. Although I was grateful for the break, we were all reminded why we choose to cycle.

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Morning mist

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Nicest part of the day to cycle

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Typical Lao noodle soup.

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Tired, waiting for the bus

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On to the bus they go

The bus stopped in Xam Neua, another provincial capital. This town had a palatable soviet feel, with big boulevards, statues and huge public buildings. I liked it a lot and we secured a great guesthouse with a big balcony looking over the rooftops. There weren’t many tourists, and the ones that we met were mainly traveling by motorbike. It was good to get some information about the road ahead in Vietnam. Apparently it was shit.

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Xam Neua

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Xam Neua, heading to get Vietnamese currency

Early the next morning we headed to the market to buy food and then to the gold shop to change some of our Laoation Kip into Vietnamese Dong. Sadly the gold shop wasn’t nearly as black market and secretive as we had hoped it would be. We then cycled the 35km to Vieng Xai, the old headquarters of the Pathet Lao. What a fascinating place. It’s in a large valley, surrounded by karsts and rice paddies. During the secret war, while the American’s dropped bombs on Laos, the Pathet Lao and the people from around Vieng Xai lived in the caves of the karst mountains. At one point up to 20,000 people resided in the caves. They had a school, bakery, hospital and also housed the army. The caves were altered by blasting, to fashion rooms and passageways, and it was from here that the Lao resistance ran its entire operation. It was certainly quite amazing walking through the caves and trying to imagine what it would have been like as the bombs fell outside.

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Bright colours are popular in Asia!

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On the road to Vieng Xai

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Nearly at Vieng Xai

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Vieng Xai also feels very Soviet

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Our cute guesthouse, opposite a Karaoke bar..

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Heading into the caves

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In the caves

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Soviet air pump

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Checking out the reading material in the cave

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After falling to sleep to the sound of bad karaoke the following day it was time to split up. Astrid needed to be in Hanoi the following day to meet her mum and Viktoria had decided she would also take the bus. Marita and I were not quite ready to stop cycling and opted for the open road. It was very sad to say goodbye to Astrid, as we had not spent a night apart for almost a year. The morning’s cycling was stunning, and mostly flat. We reached the border at just after 1pm and it was very casual, men with underpants showing crowding around the official, who was unhurriedly inspecting passports. The town on the other side of the border was not particularly pleasant, so we had some lunch and continued on our way. The road was indeed awful, but not as bad for cyclists as it would be for other traffic. Lots of mud and pot holes. After having cycled though some very dry country on the Lao side, we were amazed to find bright green rice paddies on the Vietnamese side. It also looked like it had rained not so long ago. We made camp on the side of the road, cooked a delicious curry and went to bed early.

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Goodbye Astro!

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On the road to Vietnam

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Everyone loves the hair!

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Goodbye Laos! We will meet again soon

I woke up feeling over it. The previous day had been fun but I now wanted to be in Hanoi. I missed Astrid and was tired from the mountains and no real rest days. We headed off early, cycling through villages and bamboo plantation. The kids of Vietnam were not shy like the Laotian kids. They screamed ‘hellos ‘ with all their might. In one village, as we stopped to buy snacks, I was randomly handed a baby to hold by a smiling villager. Marita thought it was hilarious. I felt sorry for the baby, I was not at my most cleanest. We cycled and cycled, ascending, descending, but never really appearing to make it that far. In the afternoon we hailed down a truck and got a lift for 20km – the roads are definitely worse in a vehicle! The truck dropped us in a village with a slightly ‘crack den-ish’ hotel. We were filthy, tired and then it began to rain so we took it. I was feeling really down at this point, Marita cheered me up with chocolate and we discussed trying to make it to Hanoi the following day by cycling and hitching.

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The crack den was a little gross

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It did have an Avril Levine table though! Which was odd and typical Asian in it’a apparent randomness

The town we were in had felt deserted the previous night but in the morning it was much more alive and we were excited to ‘smash’ two Vietnamese rolls. As we were eating breakfast and discussing our options, a bus with ‘Hanoi’ written on it passed us. We kind of looked at each other and went, ‘fuck it, lets do it’. I raced after the bus, hoping it had stopped further up in town, it hadn’t but some locals told us another bus would come at 9am.

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Waiting for the bus

So began our long and frustrating trek to Hanoi. We hailed a bus at 9am, heaved our bikes onto the roof and making sure several times that they were indeed going to Hanoi. Yes, yes we were assured. Somehow neither of us were convinced. After an hour or so we managed to find out that we were on a bus full of teachers heading on a shopping trip to Thanh Hoa and not actually to Hanoi. It was okay as we knew we could get a bus from Thanh Hoa to Hanoi. Once we were dropped at the bus station we got our first real taste of how pushy the Vietnamese can be. We were immediately surrounded by men hassling us. The bus clearly market ‘Hanoi’ would not take us because of the bikes and a very annoying guy kept at us to take another bus. A lot of the other buses were too small and eventually we took the bus the annoying man wanted us to. It was a rip off, although we did get the price down somewhat. Backpacking with bikes, not fun. The bus ride sucked, overcrowding, constant blaring of the horn and taking hours and hours to go only about 150km. The bus didn’t actually go into Hanoi, but dropped us at a petrol station about 16km out.

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The first bus

It was getting dark but the end was near. We loaded the bikes and carefully negotiated the crazy traffic into the old quarter in Hanoi. It was cold – like a Melbourne winter night. I actually loved it, after months of hot weather, the cold was refreshing. We found the hostel, showered and were then reunited with Astrid, her mum and Ben. It felt great to have arrived.

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Till next time

love

Jude