Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao
Lao People's Democratic Republic
15/12 We are free! No more fixed itinerary, tons of paperwork or guides with car. The Lao border crossing brings a few surprises. The visa duration has been doubled for the same price. It's relatively quick. Twice we ask for customs, but the officials just wave us on. We enter Lao without completing any formalities for the bikes. The only glitch: the bikes must be pushed 20 m past the check post, not ridden. Luckily it's downhill. Road and weather are perfect, there are pretty thatched villages here and there, almost no traffic, everything is calm and unhurried. We cruise to Luang Namtha and settle into a very nice and comfortable guesthouse. Everything is cheap, the food is good, the place is crawling with backpackers. People speak some English. Perfect. I decide to stay here a few days, get my exhaust fixed and update my web site. This wasn't possible in China due to lack of time and censorship.
18/11 The others leave together to go for a boat trip and will be back in 4 days' time.
19/11 With Kiwis Megan and David I ride to an Akha village. We stop at a stupa on the way. Its predecessor was toppled by a bomb during the Indochina war. The Akha sure live the simple life.
21/11 Another short excursion, this time to the nearby nature reserve with Fiona, a Dutch lady. We explore a roadside village and go for a short walk in the jungle, although the path turns out to be the old road. I note with some surprise the lack of bird life in the forest. We hear a few, but see none. There are lots of different butterflies, though. Big surprise, the others are back a day early. They tried to ship their bikes on a boat down the Mekong, but the boat owner didn't want to take them to Huay Xay, their intended destination (a misunderstanding?) and where he did stop the river bank was too muddy to unload the bikes, so they had to turn back.
You can't sit in a roadside restaurant without being harangued by souvenir sellers all the time.
23/11 I leave for Muang Sing, where there will be a festival this weekend. On the way a small bike wobbles to a stop in front of me and I meet Stephanie from Lausanne and Mathilde from Lyon. They don't have a puncture, as I thought, but Stephanie has never ridden a bike before... The others have booked themselves a room in Muang Sing during their failed loop, but since I don't have a place yet I decide to get there a couple of days earlier. This turns out to be the right decision: I get a room in an empty guesthouse, but it's almost full for the next days and the price goes up, but I can stay at the lower rate. The town is very quiet and small. There is a mildly interesting monastery, but the raucous child monks spoil it a bit.
Another temple on the road to Xieng Kok
When there are no tourists to accost the Akha women produce their wares right on the side of the road.
The cop shop is falling apart, the the revered late leader has an appropriate roof over his bust.
No matter how simply people live, they have a satellite dish
24/11 At breakfast I bump into David, a Swiss cyclist we met on the road in Tibet. Before heading for the festival I ride to Xieng Kok, from where my friends tried in vain to ride a boat to Huay Sai. The road passes through numerous villages, with friendly locals and lots of animals, which I have to dodge. Xieng Kok lies high above the Mekong river. Only a short distance on the other bank lies Myanmar, regrettably off-limits to us. I spot a narrow track going North along the river and I follow it some distance, until it turns rough. There are signs in Chinese only, so I guess from here it's used for logging. Many hillsides here have been clear-felled.
Back to Muang Sing to the Stupa and there are big crowds there. I try one of the snacks on offer. Can't tell what it is, but it's not bad, some kind of bread with chilli on a stick. At the entrance I bump into David yet again and later the two biking girls. The faithful are making offerings of flowers and what not to Buddha or whoever. The distorted music from the loudhailers is pretty horrific. Watch and listen here. (32 MB)