Currently sitting in Luang Namtha, northern Laos. 200 odd k’s behind us lays the Thai boarder we crossed 6 days ago, not to mention a fair few thousand meters of hill climbing! So far Laos has most defiantly lived up the hype of a great place to cycle – the roads are impeccable (thank you China), the people are inexhaustibly friendly, and with cheap guesthouses scattered around there’s no need for tenting. Riding through the Nam Ha National Bio-diversity Park was stunning, enjoying a 25km down hill with pristine jungle dripping from the tall surrounding cliffs.
Arriving in this sleepy, yet comparatively highly civilized town we immediately wanted to stop and spend some time here (FYI this means lay in bed for a full day eating and watching movies). Our legs were absolutely spent. Sadly eating tons of Indian sweets and gorging on roti, dhal and masalas does not keep the legs toned… Looking back I think we did the best we could in India. Sooo grateful for all the help and hospitality we received along the way. The days we spent deep in the Himalaya’s were very nice. Waking up each morning and gazing out at the 7000m mountains was bliss. We managed to contribute what we could to the farm, digging out terraced gardens, cooking heaps of tasty food, and tending to the ‘plants’. But eventually had to head back to Delhi… With our hopes of Western Union helping shattered we both knew it was time to leave. Lucky for us we having a myriad of options we picked up some last minute flights to Thailand, and at the click of a mouse our India trip ended. Terrible time to be there, and sad to meet other travels here in Laos who also had to leave India. Hopefully one day we will be to experience it in full.
Yes it’s been a while, but we thought we better get some adventure under our belt before posting another blog entry. Sadly our laptop is completely dead (shattered screen and a constant beeping sound) that will teach us to bring fancy tech on the road. Limited to typing this on the phone, it may not be as comprehensive as before.
So what’s Laos like to ride in?
Hilly! Holy moly is it what. But we openly claim to love the mountains as they provide physical challenge, remoteness, and interaction with small villages.
The roads here are in fairly good nick most of the time. I think we can thank China for that; they have invested tons into northern Laos.
Food wise we often struggle to consume enough calories. Our only option for lunch on the small villages in a nutrient dificint noodle soup. And the only snacks we can get our hands on are heavily processed airy chips and wafers. Needless to say we both consume around 6-10 bananas a day, and have lost a considerable amount of weight…
Ego boosting: some days I feel like a famous person! As we enter a village a swarm of kids will run along side screaming Saibaidees (hellos) and high fives all around. 20 days in and this is still not old.
People wise everyone is so friendly, happy and constantly smiling. The folks we’ve managed to have meaningful interactions with have eagerly welcomed us into their huts or houses; laughed with us; drunk with us; and been very generous considering the relitive poverty. Which brings me to a thought that I’ve been developing:
As we cycle through these tiny remote villages on our fancy colourful bicycles it’s easy to pity or feel sorry for the situation we see these other humans in; living in grass huts alongside animals, dressed in rags etc. But what if they where thinking the same thing about us? What if they see two farangs (foreigners) locked into a battle for individualism and self discovery, being blindly sheperded by a soul crushing, community shattering ideology which is neo-liberalism? Well wouldn’t that just be ironic.
But seriously, I see their community, I see their genuine joy and content, and wonder who has the right of it.
All this aside the biggest impression Laos has had on me is one of hopelessness and depression (sorry if your reading this for positive exotic stimulation). Laos is the front line for Chinese expansion and resources surquestions. As cycle touring takes you on plenty of back roads we’ve had a front row seat to the kind of environmental destruction that makes it into the documentaries. We’ve now ridden 750km in Laos, 700km of which has been surrounded by clear-cut tropical rain Forrest. Obviously the lumber is used, but the land left behind gets some special treatment. Large Chinese companies will plant either rubber trees or bananas. The rubber trees grow very fast and leave zero hope for any other species. Even worse the banana plantations span vast areas, and only produce fruit for the first 5-10 years after which the fields are abandoned and unfertile. From where I sit writing this, atop a 2000m hill mountain, I can see this devistation in all directions.
It’s easy to blame China for this sure, but the blame rests on all our shoulders. We are all blocks of coal feeding the Chinese machine; now more than ever our goods come from china; we eat bananas by the ton; we consume consume consume, and this is who pays the price.