The route from Luang Prabang south to the capital of Laos, Vientiane, is probably one of the most popular routes for cyclists in Laos.
It is simply a logical route to take mainly due to the lack of serious alternatives for those who are heading south but also owes its popularity to the beautiful scenery along the road; probably passing one of the most beautiful areas in Laos.
And when I am talking about scenic beauty than usually mountains are involved. Consequently, the first two days after we set out in Luang Prabang contained hardly any flat section and we were either steadily climbing to a little pass or descenting. Fortunately, despite the 1,800 m of climbing on one day, for instance, it didn’t feel extraordinary hard thanks to the surprisingly good road and in particular the gentle gradient. Additionally, quite and calm villages in between easily provided us with accommodations, refreshments and food.
The supposed highlight in terms of scenery, however, awaited us in the area of Vang Vieng after we had already overcome the lion’s share of climbs, a 3 days ride south of Luang Prabang. For us it was just of a ‘supposed’ beauty because we were only able to get a little idea of it: yes, unfortunately, the annoying haze of smoke continues to persue us, especially after a week without any rain.
Still, we enjoyed half a day of a rest in Vang Vieng without doing much except having a pleasant dinner with two other lovely cyclists, Simon and Mirna from Britain and the Netherlands who met in Malaysia. The village of Vang Vieng itself is a classic example of a ‘Banana Pancake Trail‘-place – sandwiches, banana nutella pancakes, fruit shakes etc. available everywhere as well as a whole lot of tour operators (trekking, kayaking, hill tribes watching, etc). The majority of the people, however, apparently go tubing. That is, cruising down the river in the inner tube of a tractor with the main purpose to get drunk, easily achieveable with the help of the many bars along the way. There are no rapids and the river is generally not dangerous, yet people are stupid enough to kill themselves as the death of 22 people in 2011 sadly witness. The locals supposedly are afraid of a bad image of their village since years caused by misbehaving backpackers, drug incidents, etc. But for us it seemed like that the situation hasn’t changed much, so far.
After another relatively uneventful 1,5-day-ride we finally reached Vientiane, Laos’ capital. Quite a busy city for Laotian standards – busy enough that even traffic lights are necessary, the first ones we came across in Laos. Here in Vientiane we are about to spend two days of rest before we head towards the Vietnamese border.
Time, we use, for instance, to make further plans. Since there are only about ten days left in Laos and another month in Vietnam to explore its north, it is time to agree on what to do after Vietnam. We did agree and booked a flight from Hanoi – to a destination that you’ll find out in about 1,5 month. Stay tuned! 😉
Furthermore we spent our time in Vientiane visiting the COPE-centre that deals with a recurring topic in Laos we stumbled across either reading or witnessing its legacies: UXO’s and its consequences (mainly missing limbs). The short version: Despite of its neutral status, Laos had been subject to a massive clandestine aerial bombardment by the US during the Vietnam war. With an mind-boggling average of one bomb-load every 8 minutes over a period of time of 10 years it is supposed to be the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world. An estimated 30% of the bombs didn’t explode (UXO’s – unexploded ordnances) and severely contaminate the country to this days, still causing many serious incidents …