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2053km: Udomxai (Laos)

3 days in Laos and totally in love with it!

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Borders are strage phenomenons. you pass a totally artifical line (although in this case a pretty real huge mountain pass) and suddenly the world around you changes completly. Here is what changes when you cycle from Vietnam into Laos at the just opened Dien BIen Phu border:

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  • Tarmac changes to dirt road, or should we say dust road? anyway; losts of deep sand and loose stones; slows you down uphill to a speed so slow that staying on your bike is a major balancing act achievement in itself. Slows you down downhill because you need to hit those brakes occasionally even though you really don't want to.....

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  • Football gives way to petangue. Yes the old fachioned jeu de boules is totally fachionable here. It was the first thing we saw at the Laos border building; 3 guys playing petanque. Obviously in this region it is played for hard cash and no betting is no fun.
  • Rice certainly gets sticky.... grab it, mould it, dip it and eat it.
  • The food anyway changes completely....... suddenly it is more Thai with spices and curies. NICE.
  • Instead of "Hello" we now reply "Sabadiii" to everyone , literally everyone on the road. And yes this does add up to a couple of thousends sabadiiis per day.
  • Instead of vietnamese dong multimilionnaires we are now Laos kip multimilionairs. Kip is by the way the dutch word for chicken and this leeds to interesting conversations: "how many chickens did you pay for that? oh....only 50 000."
  • Dogs are suddenly all chilled and relaxed again. Shame.... we were getting pretty good at stone throwing.
  • We cannot read a word anymore. Laos looks like Thai. Unreadable. We also cycled off our map and are now completely in the dark. very often literally by the way as most villages here are not connected to the powergrid and lights are off at 10pm stricktly but that's another story.
  • We changed our poison from Bia Hanoi to Beer Lao. the product of great national pride. And great taste too by the way.
  • And yes, keeping in touch is going to be difficult. Villages with 3 houses, 5 pigs and a guesthous generally don't have internet connections......don't worry we are probably chilling out in a hammock somewhere on the riverside sipping a beer lao. Life is good. especially in Laos.

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Posted by Whiskey 05:56 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Some cycling statistics

Don't worry; we were not actually neurotic enough to count, these are rough estimations only...

Days away from Hong Kong: 35 (and yes it still hurts and we still miss you all)

Cycling days: 25

Distance by bicycle: 2053km

Distance by bus: about 100km (yes we do cheat occasionally)

Sick days: 3 (so you think that because your stomach survived India without a single hickup now you will be fine where ever you go? Naive)

Rain days:1

bicycle troubles: 0 (we love our Giants. Buy Giant!) (we will revoke this commercial message as soon as we get any trouble; Giant be warned!)

Number of times we were sooo happy we took a mountainbike and not a racing bike: uncountable. Just think of cycling down a huge sanddune with hidden huge rocks under the surface. You need something robust. very robust.

Number of pho ba (vietnamese rice noodle soup with beef) eaten: beyond count but we still enjoy it.

Number of hours after which you feel hungry again after eating a pho ba : less than one if you are cycling.

number of holes with which we have had to tighten our belts to keep from loosing our pants: about 2.

Number of times we yell "hello" (vietnam) or Sabadii (Laos) as an answer to people greeting us along the way: average 2 per minute, makes 120 per hour for about 6 hours per day: 720 times.

Number of times we get yelled "hello" at: more than 3000 per day. But this includes overexcited Vietnames kids shouting an endless string of hellohellohellohellohellos until you are well out of sight.

Maximum number of nights in the same place : 4, this was in sapa and not by choice. Sick.

Number of cars we see per hour these days: here is Laos....maximum 5 and we are actually cycling on a national highway!

Number of days we still want to keep doing this: months and months. it is fabulous to have absolutely no time limit
:-)

Posted by Whiskey 06:20 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

2205km Pak Beng and Tha Xuan

On the bicycle holiday high way

After a well deserved rest day in Udomxai we take off for a two day etappe to Pak Beng on the Mekong river. There we will take the boat in the direction of Luang Prabang.
Udomxai is on the crossroad of 3 highways and the road we want to take is small and relatively unimportant and therefore not signposted. This is not a major problem, we just ask every five minutes: "pak Beng?" and people point us generally in the same direction. One guy is very expressive and points "go straight, don't go left, do not go right, always, always go straight" Nice piece of pantomime and true as well.

Once on the way it is easy. There is only one road and we will be on it for two days. the road leads through beautiful small villages along the Beng river. We see two monks walking in the morning mist, their orange robes seem almost to light up in teh grey surroundings.

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We also meet a lot of cyclists: first 3 Dutch guys going in the oppposite direction. You get this strage moment of doubt....stop and chat? or continue? in the end we just wave. Then a Dutch couple who are going in the opposite direction as well and confirm that the 3 guys before were indeed dutch and they all started cycling in Chiang Mai in Thailand and are now going to Luang prabang via Udomxai. In the evening we meet a German couple, again on the same route...... this one must be described in some guide.

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We spend one night in the small village of Muang Houn where we share some food and beer Lao with some army guys.

The next day only 50km to go to Pak Beng. Pak Beng is the weirdest town....... it is bang on the packpack highway as this is the regular night stop for the boats between Thailand and Luang Prabang. This trip takes two full days and all passengers have to spend the night in Pak Beng. This means an enormous influx of tourists every night at 6pm when the boats from both directions arrive and a total exodus the next morning at 9. We arrive at 12 in a complete ghost town. Everyone is taking it easy until the next boatload of falang (westeners) arrive. This allows us to see what you probably better do not see.....sheets and towels are not actually washed but just hung in the sun for a while, folded and put on the bed again. Just don't think of it......and anyway we are usually so tired after a full day of cycling that the quality or cleanness of the bed really does not matter at all.

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The next morning we take the boat. this goes in usual cattle style: we get pushed onto some boat, someone drags our bikes up the roof and ties them down, no one can confirm where this boat is going until Bunno spots everyone on our boat reading Thailang guidebooks. Ok, so we are on the wrong boat. Mad rush to another boat, same process, bikes on the roof, all luggage on board etc etc.
We are certainly not the only ones. This boat is filled to the brim with about 100 falang. Quite frankly, we are very very happy we are going to leave this boat after one hour while everyone else goes for another 6 hours to Luang Prabang.

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It is just appaling to see that everyone takes exactly the same route, talks about the same things and in generally only complains on how they got ripped off and how everything is so expensive. It is a disgrace in this beautiful country full of really nice people that have very little yet are happy to share. When we try to tip some people on some out of the way beautiful villages we went to we simply get told that they want to meet other travellers so going to remote places is not an option. ok, we'll shut up....... When a couple of them start to discuss the merit of heaving a trip like this on your resume and how it will create great carreer opportunities because it shows your sense of adventure we switch off.........
We are glad to leave the boat after 1.5 hours in Tha Xuang. we are the only ones.........bye bye backpack highway!

Posted by Whiskey 01:26 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

2350 km : The working Elephants of Hongsa

First flat tire.....

From the Mighty Mekong river there was a small and mean dirt road over a mountain range to the other side, where in a beautiful valley there are a couple of villages that together go by the name of Hongsa.

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We were warmly welcomed by a German lady who took over a hostel and is now the only “Falang” in the village. Great to be part of the householdfor a couple fo days, and eat “Sauerkrautz”, “Schwarzwalder Ham”, and home made yoghurt and much more.

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The main reason: working elephants. I was quite fascinated why someone would feed an animal 200 kg of plants, to let him work for it. Well it became clear the next day when we saw them working. We followed one Elephant of 26 years old into the Jungle, amazing to see such a giant animal follow normal little trials. More amazing: that he listens to all the commands of his master like he is a small puppy, and people walk behind him, crawl underneath etc… like it is just a pet. The Elephants are used to carry the huge trees out of the forest once they are logged. One Elephant can carry as much as 4 tonnes – sliding behind him. It was truly an amazing sight……

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In the end we were invited to ride the elephant a bit as well, and I can tell you, even though it looks gigantic it is still quite shaky on top of it… you keep on wondering if he sneezes and shakes his head, I’ll be flying through the air…..

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From there we took a pick up truck over a very basic dirt road to Sanyabuli (provincical capital). Quite neat to see how they fit in 7 people and a child in the cabin and another 6 of us (plus child) out in the back…..and a couple of bags of rice,etc…. I had more muscle pain from this ride then from the cycling days….

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From there we took a better dirt road towards Luang Prabang. We tried to find a waterfall that was mentioned on different locations on different maps. So we asked after lunch, and after about 10 people confirming that we were indeed on the way to the Kuang Si falls, we found ourselves going through some steep mountains. On top we found out that we were actually on another road…… and that I had my first “flat-sih” tire. So a bit disappointed and pumping every 5 km, we stopped for yet another pumping session underneath a sign: Kacham Water Falls and resort….. so we stayed there for a day.

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Now we are in Luabng Prabang and will be meeting up with Sarah and Jeremy from Hong Kong tomorrow!!

Posted by HoYing 02:26 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

2350 km: Luang Prabang, city of Temples

Our first "City" in Laos turned out to be a beautiful and sleepy town dotted with Temples. Since the Unesco has certified as World Heritage the town has seen a fast growing tourism industry.

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We met up with Sarah and Jeremy here and stayed at a lovely place just out of town. Great!

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The owners several times offer us a lift into town in their US Army Jeep that was a leftover from the Vietnam war. It came in quite handy since the road to the hotel is a dirt road and used to have a bridge that was now under re-construction. So add up a day of rain and you can imagine the sate of the road. Tuk-Tuks werent' very keen on going throught the streem, and after the rain, we even made ourselves usefull by helping to push a 2 tonnes lorry out of the creek, and cheerimg. Though I have to admit we left without a result....

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We met a guy who just come from Cambodia and was showing off a bit about his adventures. He told us that a friemd of a friend knew somebody that ate a "Deep Fried Tarantula" in Cambodia, so Wietske asked : "Is that a touristy thing?" He replied: "No a spider"!

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Posted by HoYing 03:58 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

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