LAOS: 18.12.04 - 25.01.05
Route: Huang Xai, Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Paxe, Si Phan Don
Distance Bike: 818 Km Distance Boot: 900 Km
|Preface: Laos is an unexpectad
interesting country: In the North der Mekong river is flowing through
fascinating mountains covered with primary forest and in the South
the Mokong is becoming a romantic river with small islands a la Robinson
Cruso. Everything seems to be still very original. Inspite of this,
Laos couldnīt win our hearts. The prices for tourists are always twice
as high as for locals (but it is still cheap) and the kindness seemed
us to be more like a mask. But for normal tourists (packagetourists
as well as backpackers) we really would recommend Laos. In Laos it
is possible to make some adventures without giving up with comfort.
But if you are planning to visit Laos, you should not wait too long,
because the weel of time is turning quite fast.
|Touristboat: In Huang Xai, the
Mekong River marks the border between Thailand and Laos. Because this
region is also quite close to Myarmar and China, we expected this
area to be quite sensitive. So we decided to use for the first 150
Km on the Mekong river the normal Riverboat. Together with nearly
40 other tourists we travelled down the Mekong River to Pakpeng, as
small riverside village. We really enjoyed the nice 6 hours trip on
the Mekong, flowing trough mountains and primary forest.
|Mekong; fascinating landscape and
good current: After having built up our canoe during the dawn,
we left Pakpeng very early. The current on the Mekong River was really
strong, and so we travelled really fast. We also had to paddle through
some nice rapids. Nadine was a little bit arfaid of the rapids and
whirlpools, and so I was really happy that we bought some livejackts
in Bangkok. After we found out, that our canoe was stable enough for
all the rapids and whirlpools I really enjoied the "Wild Mekong".
With some nice curves the Mekong flew through the junglemountains
of Northern Laos. Perfect for a lunchbreak of for camping were all
the picturesque white sandbeaches. Quite often we also found some
realy great small island with a small beach between some nice rocks;
a perfect spot for camping!
|Speedboats: Especially in Northern
Laos, there are only a couple of roads and so the only oppertunety
to travel between some villages is by boat. It seems, that the locals
donīt have enough time and so they travel with so called speedboats.
The small only 5m long boats have a 40 HP outboard engine which makes
them roaring really loud and really fast. The passengers normally
have to wear a motorcycle helmet, but after a 6 hours trip from Huang
Xai to Luang Prabang you must feals completely crazy in your head.
To travel with a speedboat is also quite dangerous, because they quite
often flip after hitting a small rock or things floating on the river.
The result: many injured and some dead passengers eachs year. For
us the sppedboats were no problem, because they didnīt come to close
|Luang Prabang: Luang Prabang is a lovely small town
on the east bank of the Mekong River, surrounded by jungle and mountains,
with nice buddhist temples and some French colonial achitecture. Although
many western Tourist make their pilgramage to this small town, it
still seems to be a quite and relaxing place.
|Christmas 2005: If you are abroad
for are long time, the traditional feasts, and especially Christmas,
are getting more important to you (at least for us). Last year we
were really lucky and had the chance to spend Christmas in a church
in Jordan (with Christmas songs played through speakers). This year
we did not realy get the Christmas felling, because with more than
25° C it was much to warm for us; funny, that the temperature has
such an important emotional infuence on a religious feast. But at
least the businessman in Laos recogniced, that Christmas in an important
feast for the Europeans, and so many restaurants were decorated with
Santa Claus ans Christmas trees.
|Christmas Eve: We spent our Christmas
Eve together with Beth from Denmark, her husband from London and Sven
and Simona from Switzerland (we met them on the Tourist Boat). All
of us were not really crazy about celebratging in one of the party-restaurants
with waiters dressed up as Santa Claus, and so we went to a small
riverside restaurant. Although they also had a small Christmas tree
but it was still ok. Beth and her husband even invited us for the
dinner. We also had not to do without a distribution of chistmas presents
(in German we have for this the nice word "Bescherung", for me the
english translation sounds like words stolen from a meeting of businessmen).
Beth and her husband had some very beautiful silk scarfs, and we had
at least a nice picture from us for them.
|Boattrip with Sven und Simona: We heard
that the nearby Nam Ou River should have the most beautiful river
scenery of Laos, and so we decided to explore this river. We left
our bicycles in Luang Prabang and together with Sven and Simona we
travelled 130 Km by bus to the starting point. Wtih Seven and Sinona
sitting in the middle of our boat we started our tour. The first day
we paddled on the slow flowing river through a scenic landscape with
a lot of bushes in the water and some small rocks on the banks. We
spent the night in our tent and on the next morning, we went back
to the river. In the late afternoon, we came into some bigger rapids,
hit a big stone below the water surface and fell into the water. At
the end of the rapids we managed to swim to a small sandy beach. From
some local people we borrowed a bucket to get the water out of the
boat (it was completely full). When the boat was empty, we crossed
to a beach on the other side (the sunny side) of the river. Although
our panniers are waterproof for cycling, they are not waterproof for
swimming, and so nearly all our equipment was totally wet. Here the
official damages: all cookies destroyed!!! water inside our milkpowder,
bow from Svens sunglasses lost, underwear from Nadine and Simona lost
(they had it on the boat for drying). After three days we again arrived
in Luang Prabang, a good place for drying our equipment :-))
|Protection clothing for motorcyclists:
This ist the Lao version of protection clothing for motorcyclists.
It is really helpful to protect you from sunstroke, and rain. It is
also helpful if you fear (like the chief in "Asterix and Oberlix")
that the heaven might fall on your head! Fortunately the most motorcyclists
in Loas drive very slow and careful; sometimes even we overtook some
|Gold!!! On nearly all the sandy
beaches along the Mekong river you can see some glittering dust. First
we thought, that it must be some Pryrit dust, but very often we saw
some woman, standing in the river with big bowls. No, they did not
wash their clothes, they tried to wash gold out of the Mekong water.
It seems that it is a very hard business, because the women had to
stay up to their hips in the cold water all day long. Washing gold
is also nothing to become rich, because the huts, the women used for
living, were nothing more than some peaces of bambo, covered with
a plastic awnig.
|Rapids: The Mekong River between Lunang
Prabang and Vientiane is quite famousfor its rapids. Of course, they
are different depending on the water level, but because we had dry
season they were not so tough. Much more difficult were all the whirlpools.
Most of the time they suddenly appeared directly in front of us and
we had big problems to avoid them. Quite often they had a diameter
of 1,5 m und were about 1m deep (size of the airhole), but there were
also bigger ones. We were not always able to avoid them. While Nadine
managed to pass throug the whirlpool, I got stuck in it. Most of the
time, I immediatly got quite a lot of water inside the boat. Because
the back of the boat hang in theairhole of the whirlpool it was quite
deep in the water. The surface of the water was just some centimeters
below the upper edger of the canoe. But somehow we always managed
to escape from the whirlpool, instead of falling into the water (sometimes
we were really lucky).
|Vientiane, problably the quitest
capital of the world! After all the quite days on the Mekong river,
we were really looking forward to arrive in Vientiane, (we expected
a busy and vivid city). We didnīt found what we were looking for.
Vientiane with its 50.000 citizens (we heard this from a traveller),
although the capital and biggest city of Laos, seemed for use to be
more like a small provicial town (like our hometown Limburg in Germany).
Vientiane has its own slow pace. Cycling, normally in the capitals
(like Cairo, New Delhi or Bangkok) quite adventerous and sometimes
even dangerous, was here pure fun. There were only a few cars on the
roads, driving not much faster than we. Also the normally quite scaring
mortorcyclists were totaly harmless in Vientiane. They drove really
careful and slow (we were able to overtake some of them!). So it was
very easy for us to make all our office trips, shopping trips and
sightseeing trips on our bicycles or on foot. Because Vientiane is
so "big and dangerous" all the guesthouse take care about the tourists
and close their doors at 22:30pm! But this is ok., because there is
no nightlive at all in Vientiane.
|Morning offerings: Each morning at dawn, you can see
the buddhist monks with their orange robes wandering through the streets.
Different to Europe, where the priests get a monthly salery, the monks
in souteastasia are dependend on donations from the local population.
So each morning, they are wandering in small groups with thei bowl
(for begging) on beaten tracks through their village or city, while
the local people are waiting with some food on the roads. By the way,
woman are only allowed to make their offering while knelling. After
only half a hour (in Vientiane the just walked around the block) they
already returen to they monestarys with completely filled bowls. No
wonder, that the average monke looks better feeded than the
average normal Lao.
|N13: On the Mekong river we hardly
had some contact to the local people. In all the places we stayed
so far in Laos, most of the Lao just saw and treated the tourists
as walking Dollar notes. To get a better impression about Laos, we
decided to cycle at least a bit. So we changed from the Mekong river
to the National Highway N13. The N13, connecting the very North with
the far south, is one of the most important roads in Laos. Famous
ist the road for a section north of Vientiane, especially for the
section between Vang Vien and Luang Prabang. During the last years
it happend sometimes, that rebels fired with guns on busses and governmet
cars, and in summer 2004 also some tourists died. The south part of
the N13 seems more likely to bee a quiet secondary road. There are
only a few cars in Laos and except of some rich people which prefer
to drive with more than 100km/h trough small villages, the traffic
is very slow. It was even possible for us to cycle next to each other.
The most famous means of transport is a smal agricultural machine,
fixed to a trailer (you can also use this machine also to pump water,
as a mower, as a plough, ....). Wtih this vehicle nearly everything
can be transported: the children to scool, the buffalo to the vet
or the family for shopping.
|Sabbaidee, Sabbaidee! "Sabaidee"
is the Lao word for "hello", and as soon as some children saw us,
they immediatly strated to welcome us with crying and waving. Especialy
the small children between 2 and 5 years were really happy with us,
the strange looking cyclists. Some of them became totally crazy and
we had the feeling, that they are going to fall in a shock. If the
children are 1,5 years or younger, than normally the mother is crying
"Sabbaidee" while waving with the arm of her child. The only thing
beeing able to stop the children seemed to bee my camera. As soon
as I took out my camera to take a picture they all immediatly dissapered
(even after they were alredy following us for severel hundred meters).
But as soon as the camera is back in his box, they again start their
welcome procedure. We never had the chance to find out why the children
were so afraid of the camera, because it was impossible to find someone
speaking good enough English. Laos is a buddhist country with still
a strong superstition. We think, that many Lao people are just affraid
of something happening to their soul, while beeing photographed.
|Broken Trailer: After nearly
5000 Km, our bicycle trailer was not stong enough to carry the boat
and broke. Of course this happened in the middle of nowhere. There
was no village and especially no repair shop with someone beeing able
to make an aluminium welding. So we packed the boat on our bicycles
and cycled the last 200 Km until Paxe with an empty trailer. In Paxe
I had really good luck and found a mechanik with knowlege about aluminium
welding, and after 45 minutes the trailer was propper repaired.
|Si Phan Don: In the very south
of Laos, close to Cambodia, the Mekong suddenly fans out creating
a big lake with 4000 islands. Si Phan Don (Lao for 4000 islands) is
an amazing landscape with great islands, chanals, rocks und lonely
beaches. Althoug especially the big islands are densely populated,
we found some small island a la Robinson Cruso. A small paradise for
swimming and relaxing!
|Mekong Falls: On the south tip of Si Phan Don are
the two famous Mekong Falls. With the Khon Phapheng Falls beeing the
waterfall with the most water in Asia, we decided to visit the dramatic
Sophamit Falls. Between two islands the Mekong is falling into the
deepth between to rocks and then flows through a narrow cannyon. We
also wanted to visit the Mekong Falls,and so we tried to come quite
close to the falls with our boat. But still 1 Km before the falls,
the river became very shallow and the current became quite strong.
After we hit some sharp stones, we decided to visit the falls by bicycle.
So we went back to the village on the last island, took our bicycles
out of the canoe and cycled to the falls.
|Packing the boat: After 900 Km on the Mekong
River and the Nam Ou River, we finished our third boat trip. Because
of some small sharp stones, our boat was a bit damaged and we had
to repair it with our repair kit. Also the aluminium poles wer a bit
twisted. Most of the weight was in the back of the boat (water, 4
panniers and Martin!!!) and always when we got chought by a whirlpool,
the back fell inside the small whole in its middle (sometimes nearly
50cm deep), and so the canoe was twisted. But after about 2,5 hours,
everything was cleaned, our bicycles already packed. The next trip
with our canoe will hopefully be in South America on the Amazon River.
|A jungle bordercrossing: Officially the
border between Laos and Cambodia is closed for tourists, but in realaty,
nobody realy cares about this. Normally all tourists use the border
on the Mekong river, an travel from the border to Stung Treng, the
first town in Cambodia, by speedboat. We decided to use the landborder
about 10 Kmīs south of the Mekong-border. We were quite surprised,
when the road to the boarder left the paved road and became a gravel
road (which was blocked by a still burning tree, brurning from the
last bushfire). After 10 Km, still in the middle of the jungle, we
arrived at a lonely checkpoint. First the officer wrote all our datas
in a big book and after a short bargain, we had to pay a service charge
of 1 US$ each, to get the exit stamp.
50pages, 80 b/w photos, background
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