Entering Laos was quite relaxed. I had forgotten to bring a passport photo for the visa, so popped into the emigration office where one of the police shot a picture, gave me 4 copies and charged just 2$. The pictures were pretty poor and certainly wouldn’t have passed any European quality control. At the border we met a convoy of various European overlanders who had entered China from Mongolia and then whizzed through the country in order to keep down the number of days and their expensive guide fee. People cannot travel through China in their own vehicle without a guide.
Laos was warm and seemed even hotter and more humid than China had been. The only road from the border at Boten was quiet and had reasonable asphalt and soon I reached Nateuy which was a perfect lunch stop with a local restaurant overlooking the small river.
The evening brings me to Oudomxay where I book a room at the only 4* hotel in the whole province. For only 31$ it was suitably nice and was a good change from the standard Chinese hotel.
Laos was notably poorer than China and it was rare to find a house that wasn’t constructed from wood or bamboo. The people however were just as friendly and I soon got used to the shouts of ‘Saibadee’ from the children. There also seemed to be a local delicacy – dried rat which were visible on many roadside stalls:
Houses were pretty basic:
Kids were friendly and fun:
The scenery was beautiful and up in the hills it was pleasantly cool – indeed sometimes even a light jacket was needed before sunset. Larger villages offered some kind of basic guesthouse and restaurant, so the basics were also taken care of allowing me to enjoy the riding. I got particularly lucky one morning when looking for a breakfast stop as I came across one of the most spectacular views in the crisp early morning light:
Laos is perhaps most famous for the UNESCO world heritage site of Luang Prabang. Entering the town, you are suddenly met with hundreds of tourists and a collection of refined western orientated restaurants lining the main street. Banana pancakes, pizza and other such goodies are the order of the day here. The town has retained its charm however and it was a treat to have a wide selection of different cuisines and to relax a little whilst watching the sun go down over the Mekong:
One of the most famous ‘Wats’ in Luang Prabang:
The road to Kasi is also quiet and offers more hills. Back in 1999 when I passed through here with my bike, this stretch was particularly dangerous with bus drivers carrying guns to defend themselves and their passengers against the bandits. 16 years on and the area was at least to my eyes very peaceful and I had no fear of trouble despite the relative isolation. Indeed this time around the only guns I saw were plastic ones.
Vang Vieng had spent time as a backpacker paradise with drugs and alcohol, but after a crackdown by the authorities was now transformed back again to a relatively peaceful riverside town – as it had been in 1999. It was clear many people were suffering from the drop in tourist numbers and rip offs and scams seemed to be the order of the day. This is a shame as the nature there is particularly attractive despite being out of the mountains:
From here Laos becomes flatter and any excursion outside brings the body to a sweat. At least cycling generates a half cooling wind. It was time for a last few races with the locals, before passing quickly through the capital Vientiane:
The non cyclists mostly had umbrellas:
Just an hour later I had reached the nearby Thai border at Nong khai. No visa was required to Thailand and I was granted a 30 day stay.