We land on the Lao side after half hour of terrific barge ride. Here the unloading procedure is the same as on the Thai side. That means for me to ride few meters through the Mekong and for Jane to wade through once again.
I have no idea why the barge can’t come any closer to shore. Is the area around the pier to shallow or is it just the typical rush?!
Anyway, we’re happy to reach the Lao side safely…
arriving in Laos
After decades of ploughing through mud and gravel, the route ¹3 is finally rebuild and sealed by the Chinese. Now, the 200km to Luang Namtha can be done in 3 hrs instead of the former 10 hrs at least! The construction on this stretch of road just finished yet its deteriorating again. Landslides taking its toll, covering the new string of asphalt with mud or, even worse, sending it down the slope. No question, Laos has severe deforestation problems. Logging, wrong planning and budgeting during the construction will be the reason for the quick damage. The road is likely to “regain” its former state pretty soon…
good day Laos
From the first day on in Laos we’re in love with this beautiful and so unspoilt country. During the stretch to Luang Namtha we encounter no more than 10 vehicles; we’re passing through villages with bamboo houses on stilts, the children are screaming and waving at us and all kind of animals walking in herds along the new asphalt band.
As soon as we stop, we’re surrounded by curious kids, their parents observing us rather from a distance. With no electricity, no running water and no means of personal transportation, there must be a different definition of happiness in the mountains of northern Laos… and we’ve seldom seen so many happy faces!
Spoiled by the first 200km of great asphalt we’re not really looking forward to encounter the worst stretch of “highway” in Laos, the No. 13 connecting Luang Namtha with Pak Mong. Right at the intersection to Boten the road conditions change dramatically. How I would love to follow the smooth road north to China instead. No, China isn’t on our schedule yet. So, turning my head to the right I can see what appears to be the road – few hundred meters of black mud! At this time I only can hope that these aren’t going to be the general road conditions in Laos.
The permanent mud disappears pretty soon and now we actually can make out some pieces and bits of asphalt in between the gravel, mud, potholes and stagnant water. There is some big mud holes where most of the cars instantly getting bogged. These places are “guarded” by village men, who are very willing to push the car through for several thousand Kip. To me it looks like the guys are helping themselves and watering the hole every now and then because it’s always just one special wet hole around and the boys are just waiting for the next victim.
For the trucks it is a bit harder. Manpower alone doesn’t help and the truck is stuck for hours if not days.
210km today and 7 hours, that makes it to 30km/h in average, not too bad!
Pak Mong is a special kind of destination. Forced by the darkness and the oncoming rain we have to stay overnight in this place.
Well, out of the 3 guesthouses in town only 1 is operating, not much of a choice. Not much of a choice for dinner as well. We could possibly try to eat some of the local delicacies like filled frog, lizard, bugs, snake but my stomach isn’t ready for it yet. Taking some shots of the menu is quite enough. For dinner we’re having yummy oreo biscuits and beer instead.
From here on, the road condition is improving with every kilometre. That’s very good because we can’t wait to reach Luang Prabang, the World Heritage-listed former capital with its 32 magnificent temples and easygoing traveller scene.
wat in huay xai
landslide on route 3
village encounters in northern Laos
roads in northern Laos
our menue in Pak Mong
yummy bugs for lunch....
fun in the dirt
luang prabang impressions
jane in the plain of jars
We’re visiting some of the temples, strolling around the beautiful city and enjoying the outstanding menus in several restaurants.
The next on our itinerary is Phonsavan and its Plain of Jars.
The jars are quite impressive and shouldn’t be missed out but so is the MAG centre in Phonsavan, where we’re confronted with recent history. During the Secret War (1966 – 1973) Laos became (and remains) the most heavily bombed country per head of population in the history of warfare. Unexploded ordnance (UXO) still remains a problem along the old Ho Chi Minh Trail, and people, especially children, are still being killed and injured. MAG (Mines Advisory Group), a British organisation, is involved in clearing UXO in the provinces and is a good source of information about the bombings.
From Phonsavan to Vang Vieng we’re encountering hundreds of hairpin curves, several passes, beautiful asphalt and excellent views – a biker’s wet dream!
Then, in Vang Vieng, we’re back on the backpackers mainstream… it seems to us, that the stunningly beautiful limestone karst terrain does play only a secondary role on a visit to this little town. The main reason to come to Vang Vieng must be, for most of the backpackers, the Tubing and the drugs! The short tubing experience is more about drinking than tubing anyway and one can see the stoned and drunk tourists walking up and down the main street in bikinis hardly knowing where is their guesthouse…
remains of the secret war
bomb boats in tha bak
little brother is watching you
Vientiane, the capitol of Laos, has a surprise for us. It must be one of the quietest capitol cities in the world, almost no traffic, big streets and clean air! Just gorgeous!
Less inspiring is the Thai Consulate, where we need to apply for new visas. Already at 8AM there is a long cue waiting just for the submission of the visa applications, 2 hours for that one. The applications are collected together with the passports, pictures and photocopies of the passports. Then another line, this time we’re waiting for our name to be whispered by the lady-officer. There is no rush or whatsoever behind the glass, most of the time there would be only one lady working and this pretty slow. Another 3 hours for that one. Eventually, I hardly can believe it, it’s our turn. For 1000 Baht I receive a receipt and I’m told to come back the next day to collect the passport. Same story for Jane. The “only” disturbance is that the visa for Jane, as for a member of the ASEAN countries, should be free of charge. Knowing this, Jane refuses to pay the fee and, on the other side of the glass, the incredible unfriendly clerk, is refusing to talk to us anymore.
Well, eventually we’re told to wait, not knowing for what and for how long. Several attempts later, the clerk spits it out that we have to wait for the boss, who is currently busy, doing who knows what…
Back in the Consulate after the lunch break Jane gets her passport back without talking to the “boss” but also without a visa. The Thai Consulate in Vientiane must be the worst organized and the most unfriendly consulate I’ve ever encountered.
Me, I have to come back the next day and spend another few hours watching the useless office clerk searching for the passports of every applicant. I just can’t stop swearing.
us on the road again
Leaving Vientiane I almost fall asleep. Only the large amount of cows, goats and dogs keeps me awake. Flat landscape, no view and straight road no. 13 is surely not the pick of the crop for us bikers. But turning off towards Khun Kham let us forget the boring stretch of road pretty quick.
The reason for our visit to Khun Kham is the nearby Tham Kong Lo, a river disappearing at the edge of a monolithic limestone mountain and running 7km through pitch-black, winding cave. Our motorised canoe needs about 1 hour to pass through the cave and we need the same amount of time to relax in the absolute darkness.
tham kong lo cave
loaded with energy
gravel at its best
tat fan waterfalls
crossing the mekong....
jane at the wat phu champasak
impressions at the wat phu temple
some interesting guest house rules
On the way South, we’re visiting some waterfalls close to Pakse and the Wat Phu in Champasak. To reach Champasak we have to cross the Mekong. Nothing wrong with this we think, well, until we see the actual “ferry”.
The “ferry” consists of 2 wooden canoes which are connected by a 2m*2m wooden platform and driven by a little Honda pump boat engine. The boatman is kind of sure what he is doing (me not really) and directs me on the platform. I have to cross another 3 similar boats first before finally reaching our ferry, which is not an easy task either. As soon as the front wheel reaches the joint section of the 2 catamarans, it tries to push both boats down and apart… my adrenalin level shoots up.
Somehow it works and we reach dry land safely!!!!
Our plan is to stay over night in the border town but there is no border town… so, we find ourselves crossing the Cambodian border unintentionally today.
Good bye Laos!
Posted by Darius Skrzypiec at August 25, 2008 04:47 AM GMT
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