Despite of the rapid economical growth, Laos is still one of the least developed countries in the world. One quarter of the population still lives below the national poverty line.
Accordingly, we also experienced in particular the remote mountain villages in Northern Laos as simple and impoverished, however, not of a depressing kind you’d maybe come across in slums in big cities. Certainly they seemed to live on very little, but within an obviously intact community.
After we overcame the struggle with a remote dirt road on the first days in the north (Huaxay to Pakbeng) and the bad cold I developed as a result, the first excitement of entering a new country diminished and a little disappointment slowly took over. It might have been due to the unconscious high expectations nourished by other cyclists, but there were also some ‘hard facts’ accounting for that, especially when contrasting Laos with Thailand or Malaysia. The food was very limited with soup and sticky rice except at touristic places. People were often distant and indifferent to us. Some call it laid-back – we, however, often felt like intruders when, for instance, ordering something in a restaurant. Well, the conditions of the small roads were awful but this didn’t come unexpectedly. And the haze from slash-and-burn practices was still present for the majority of days we spent in Laos.
Enough complaining. There were also plenty of things that made the month in Laos a well-spent time, of course. There were the enthusiastic and cheerful kids who completely contrast with the reserved adults (a lots of shouted ‘sabaidees’, endless waving and giving high-fives). There was the charming town of Luang Prabang. There were some beautiful sceneries provided they were released from the haze (for instance, Nong Khiaw in the north). There were the tasty baguettes at the touristic places, a legacy from the French. And there was the omnipresent Beerlao, Laos’ most popular (and seemingly only) beer brand that is relatively cheap and tasty. It is omnipresent because it is not only drunken and available absolutely everywhere, but also every sign referring to a guesthouse, bar, karaoke, restaurant or whatever is of the same style and advertises Beerlao. Quite handy because it simplified the search for guesthouses considerably. And we actually spent almost every night in guesthouses or hostels (30 nights out of 32 – with an estimated average of 6 Euro per double room).
Since we wasted quite some days struggling to get into Vietnam (see previous post), we were eager to leave Laos quickly, looking forward for a change. Thus we took the bus from Savannathek to the Vietnamese border. The 6-hours ride revealed an interesting facet of a rising country. While loudly squeaking pigs were roughly maneuvered into the bottom of the bus and goats bound to the roof along with loads of rice sacks (and our bikes), few other passengers in the bus fiddled with their smartphones or tablets.