Laos-the northern loop

The time in Laos began with cycling over the border bridge where I noticed that cycling is actually forbidden there. But since the border officers just waved me through I didn’t mind that I entered the country with a long line of trucks behind me. In the morning I had arrived by bus. My half-broken bike was still a little bit able to move and so I had decided to not use the bus for crossing the border, for psychological reasons. In the bike shop in Vientiane everything was as routine as in Germany and just one day later I was mobile again. I stayed some nights in the capital but there was not so much to see. A tourist quarter full of tourists and full of prostitutes in the night. During a twenty minute walk I was approached six times.

The first plan for Laos was a roundtrip to the north. So I started on the 18th of November on the national road 13, with the first destination Vang Vieng. This little town is notorious as one of the main party destinations in Southeast Asia, but actually it wasn’t as bad. I heard about the reason for this from the owner of my hostel. In the past it used to be an important part of a visit to Vang Vieng to do tubing, which means floating down the river on an inflated truck tube. While doing this, people stopped in a lot of bars on the riverside with the aim of coming back to the city in the evening as drunk and/or stoned as possible. But within four years about 20 Australian citizens and a MI-5 agent on vacation drowned in the waist-high river. The governments of Australia and Great Britain demanded that most of the bars were closed after this.
Near to the city are beautiful limestone-hills full of caves. I had to learn they are very suitable for getting lost, because there are no lights or any kinds of waymarks. Five minutes of absolute disorientation just with a little flashlight is absolutely no fun.

After Vang Vieng, the for cyclists notorious, seemingly endless slopes to Luang Prabang began. The first night, lacking alternatives, I wanted, to camp beside the road. I felt a little bit insecure because in the afternoon in a village a man in civil-clothes had crossed my way carrying an AK-47. Just when it became dark five men on motorbikes appeared at my tent, telling me to get my stuff and to leave. Well, there were not a lot of counter-arguments and so I took my stuff and left when it was dark. Just in the next village they waited on the road, stopped me and started to ask (with signs and some English words) whether I am alone and how much money I carry with me. The situation started to get hairy, but that changed when Silakham appeared, a young man from the village who spoke some real good English. He translated for me and told me that the guys are from the police (no uniform, no ID, nothing) and that they had to check my passport. Also, they didn’t want me to stay outside but had no idea where I could sleep. Finally, Silaikham saved me and decided that I’m going to stay in his home. Just when we wanted to leave the policeman said that there is a problem with my passport and that they have to withhold it for the night. My „No Way“ seems to have been so convincing that they didn’t ask again. When we arrived in the house, Silaikahm told me that he was teaching the kids of his family English and asked me to tell them something so that they can improve their skills. So I gave an hour long English-lesson after these eventful evening.
In the next morning, I didn’t meet the state authorities again. In Phou Khoun, the next city, I read on the website of the German ministry of foreign affairs that just in 2016 there was an armed robbery with people killed on that part of the road. Luckily I didn’t knew about this the evening before, as I would have reacted much less sovereign.
After five days and some 40 km long, but luckily not to steep, slopes I reached Luang Prabang. On that part of the road I met about ten other cyclists, a lot when I usually meet maybe one in a month. The first reason for that concentration is the beauty of the landscape, the other is that this road is an important route for all cyclists who want to go South coming from China.

Luang Prabang was very touristic, the old town is very beautiful but basically every building serves touristic purposes, so there is not a lot of Laotian live. After a short break I started again, going back to the South: first to Vientane and then on to Vietnam.

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