Thursday, December 25, 2008

Cycling in Laos, wow!

We are in Luang Prabang, the Loas historic capital, a world heritage site, extremely quaint and the first time we've seen significant numbers of European and American tourists since entering Laos 5 days ago. I am uploading some photos taken each day. In sum, we crossed into Laos on small boats, had a wonderful slow boat trip from Chaing Khong to Pakbeng, rode about 50 miles to a small village, Ban Faen, about 60 miles to Oudomxay , another 60 in the rain (including a 18 mile descent in clouds, brrrr) to Pakmong, then another 60 to Luang Prabang, which I skipped since I have food poisoning, instead riding in a "taxi", actually a small truck, where I sat up near the stick shift crammed in with the driver and another sick trip mate (with about 10 additional passengers behind in the truck bed). More on food poisoning in a bit.

Riding in Laos is an incredible way to see the countryside. The rural villagers are incredibly friendly, and little kids line the street yelling ("sabaidee!") and demanding high-fives as we ride through the villages. I've tried to capture this on a video with limited success. It is simply extraordinary to ride into a town and be greeted by screaming children! Wow!

Not to mention that the village life is conducted largely in their yards or under their stilted houses. Limited electricity, reserved only for the nights, means that folks are outside their homes during daylight. So it's a bit like riding through their living room. Folks are eating, cutting/braiding hair, bathing and working-- threshing, weaving, chopping wood, preparing food, spinning, basket weaving and the like. We even had a couple of rest stops inside Hmong village houses (memories of west Philadelphia, of all things, where significant numbers of Hmong refugees were resettled in the late 70s).

So, the food poisoning. Pretty mild as these things go, but enough to get me off of the bike and into a taxi for the 100 k to Luang Prabang). This took over three hours due to poor road conditions -- k after k of single lane mud, there were some incredible truck truck passes, sliding tractor trailers passing within a foot of our small truck, passing kids, dogs, motor bikes and the like. Driving within the lane is optional, and the driver tended to stay right in the middle unless passing or yielding to larger oncoming traffic. I was cracking up the driver when I involuntarily gasped at several near misses (mostly animals, sometimes motorbikes).

I feel a lot better today, though still not eating much, and I plan to ride tomorrow, but may not make it through the entire day which features a 3000 foot vertical climb at the end of nearly 50 miles of hilly riding. Dan has a mild cold, and is quite fatigued but has been riding. Quite a lot of the group has caught this cold, one guy opting to fly out early today rather than continue.

OK, here are some photos. The computer is slow so I've only uploaded a couple of shots.

Map of our trip, prepared by Peter.

Our first rest stop in Thailand was at a gorgeous temple complex up on a hill over looking the river. there were dozens of these statues, and several wat as well.

Dan and Sue on the prow of the boat. The pilot of the boat let us sit out there, even though it is apparently less than legal. It was a terrific view! The slow boat was really scenic, and we passed numerous villages, observing fishing, farming, washing and other village activities on the shore. I spent most of the 7 hour trip looking at the view.

Kids running to see us in Ban Faen. Our tour company has provided charitable support to this village,including aid in building the school structure in the rear of the photo. We were treated to some Lao dancing by adorable little girls and given flowers.

Kids at the school.

Young monks cycling. The monk on the right was leaping aside to avoid getting hit by oncoming traffic, but the the left hand monk hung in for the photos. They spoke decent English and we chatted a bit.

Getting warm during a long rest stop in the rain. We had quite a wait for the slower riders and for our support truck, so joined these villagers around their fire. Peter in our group helped saw some wood.

Bamboo bridge across one of the two rivers that surround Luang Prabang. It seemed terribly fragile and I tried to keep my feet over the supporting bamboo bits.

Dan in the day market. He bought a big bag of what he thought was persimmons (orange things) but turned out to be something inedible and hard that is meant to use to brew a medicinal tonic. As he was crunching into the first one, a women advised us that they were inedible. ooop!

OK, must have dinner. next post possibly in Vientiane.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

wow, indeed! great story and pictures! hope you feel better.