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Laos (26)

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Guten Tag zusammen,


Yeah I know it's only been ten days since my last email but I've left

Thailand and I always like to do a bit of summing up so here goes.


My last email was written from the town of Lampang in Northern Thailand. On

our last day in town we rented a motorbike and headed out to the Elephant

Conservation Centre which is on the road between Lampang and Chiang Mai.

I've never ridden a motorcycle but I assumed I'd get one with automatic

gears so it'd be no different to riding a motorised Bessie. My assumption

turned out to be wide of the mark but once the helpful Thai lady gave me a 2

second summary on how the gears worked I hoped I could figure the rest out

for myself. She neglected to mention the whole clutch thing to me which

made for an interesting couple of hours but it's a rented bike so I wasn't

too concerned. The elephant place was pretty cool. We just went for the

elephant shows which is a couple of hours with the elephants doing tricks

like playing musical instruments and painting pictures. Afterwards we fed

them sugar cane which they go mental for. The place also did elephant rides

but it was just an amble round the park and I figured I'd rather do it as a



We left Lampang the next day with big plans to do 150kms but things didn't

quite turn out that way. By 10 pm I reckon it was easily 40C and getting

hotter. To add to the fun we also hit some serious hills. The minute

you're going up hills you lose speed so bang goes that bit of wind that

makes cycling in 40C heat bearable. We dragged ourselves over the hills for

80kms and then stopped in a road side minimart to ask if there was any

accommodation up ahead. The guy working in the minimart said he had a

bungalow for rent just next door and we could come check it out when we'd

finished eating. We said sure and off he dashed. I could see the place

from the minimart and I was watching this guy doing what looked like

cleaning things up. We went round to have a look and the bungalow was

fantastic but I reckon it was actually his house and I kind of felt bad

about turfing him out for the night even if we were paying money. It really

was great though with a verandah over a pond he'd built although he seemed

to think we needed a romantic setting so he kept playing rubbish music by

Phil Collins. Still we had a great time and the guy was a fantastic host.


Next day we headed for the town of Phayao. It'd rained for the whole

morning which made for a much cooler ride. The town of Phayao is located on

a lake of the same name. We cycled along the lake and were looked forward

to finding a great place to stay lakeside. Amazingly although the town is

built around the lake there isn't any accommodation actually near the lake.

Ironically we ended up in this strange guesthouse in he middle of town were

the beds were surrounded by curtains just like you get in hospital wards.

As a bonus we got our own pet cockroaches for the night and cockroaches are

one of the few things in the world I'm scared of so a fun night was had.


After Phayao we headed for Chiang Rai. On the way I saw one of the more

amazing Wats I've seen so far. In a country with thousands of temples it

takes something special to stop you in your tracks. I'd try to describe it

but it's one of those things you just have to see so you'll have to wait for

the photos. We arrived in Chiang Rai in the late afternoon with plans for a

day off but the previous days hadn't been too taxing so we skipped the day

off and headed for the Laos border which is two days ride from Chiang Rai.


The ride to the border is pretty sweet as you're cycling large parts along

the Mekong River. It'd be a lot sweeter if it wasn't for the steep hills

for the last 20kms or so. They really were nasty hills probably as steep as

any of the passes I climbed in Kiwiland but obviously the heat just destroys

you. We eventually arrived in the town of Chiang Kong which is the border

town on the Thailand side. From there you catch a boat over to Houei Xay in

Laos. We were stamped out of Thailand and then made our way over the river.

Once on the other side we noticed there were a fair few people waiting for

the boat to take them over to Thailand but what worried me was that it was

the same people who'd just left Thailand before us. Turned out the

immigration officer and stamped the wrong date in our passports so we either

had to get it changed or spend a night on the pier. I headed back to

Thailand and the immigration guy was very apologetic and so after some quick

changes on my passport it was back to Laos for the second time that day.


I enjoyed my second time in Thailand although maybe not as much as the first

but that's because the place isn't new and exciting anymore. It's still one

of the countries I'd recommend first to anybody wanting to get into cycle

touring although the ride down the south coast is more enjoyable then the

ride north simply because of the great beaches and the islands. Anyway I'll

be back in Thailand in about a month and a half for the ride from Cambodia

to Bangkok so more time to continue the love affair.


Corinne and I had decided to catch a slow boat down the Mekong to the town

of Luang Prabang and then head south from there on the bikes. It's a two

day boat ride with an over night stop in the small town of Pak Beng. We

were told to be down at the pier at 9 in the morning to secure decent

seating but as we found out time is a flexible concept here in Laos. The

boat eventually left at 11:30 but it's the third world so you expect these

things. There were a fair few fellow tourists on the boat and it was

interesting to see how the English managed to conform to their national

stereotype and were hammered by the afternoon and playing drinking games by

5. A few of the older passengers were annoyed but they weren't doing any

harm so I didn't see the big deal.


The next day was pretty interesting as the English tourists had obviously

been up till late partying and were far more subdued for the rest of the

journey as they nursed hangovers and concentrated on not throwing up. To

add to the general discomfort the ferry company had pulled a fast one on us

and used a different boat for the second day with half the space but the

same amount of people. Honesty appears to be another flexible concept in



The boat journey itself was great. I know everyone is always trying to

avoid their fellow tourists and look for the quiet spots but Corinne and I

get that anyway because cycling means you tend to spend more time in the

bits that other people just pass through on the bus. It was actually fun to

spend some time with people and we met some interesting people and everyone

had a good story to tell. I even got to do my round the world cyclist dance

that I hadn't done in ages as there was a dutch guy who'd done a fair bit of

cycling so we passed the time comparing notes. Corinne sometimes takes the

mickey out of me because I'll go off to find some information we need about

a place and then she has to come find me because I've gotten talking to

someone and I'm chatting about cycling instead of finding us a place to



We arrived in Luang Prabang yesterday late afternoon. The boat journey down

the Mekong was a great experience and one of those must do experiences even

if it does mean two days sitting on a wooden bench with zero space. Luang

Prabang is a beautiful city, one of the best looking cities I've seen so far

in SE Asia. It's small enough that we keep on meeting people from the boat

which is amazing considering it's one of the bigger towns in Laos. Our

original plan was to head off south pretty much straight away but we kind of

fell in love with the place so will stay an extra two days. We've also

booked ourselves on a two day Mahout Course which is a day and a half

learning how to ride and care for Elephants with a couple of treks through

the jungle and then half a day kayaking back down to river to Luang Prabang.


So far Laos is more touristy than I expected. I'd heard some stories about

Laos being a difficult place the last time I was in SE Asia but I've seen

more tourists here than anywhere in Thailand outside of Bangkok. Maybe

that's because there's really only a few decent sized towns so everyone ends

up in the same place. I've enjoyed it so far but you have to be more

careful when dealing with the locals here as they seem more inclined to try

and rip you off. I've been in a few situations where a coupe of thousand

kip has appeared on the bill and the mistakes are always in their favour so

I've discounted bad math. Also you're dealing with multiple currencies and

if you ask them to convert to a new currency it's best to work out what

you're getting beforehand and then make sure you count it. It's also

important to check any transport you're getting as that luxury boat they

show you a picture of suffers from the fast food picture syndrome when you

turn up and it's actually a rust bucket. Another downside is that the

Americans left enough unexploded bombs lying around for a couple of world

wars so you have to stay on the beaten track when you're doing any exploring

but that shouldn't effect our cycling. For it's these quirks it's still an

exciting place though and I'm looking forward to getting into the

countryside on the bikes and seeing things outside the main population



Anyway it's time for bed as I have to get up in the morning and learn how to

ride an elephant which is one of those sentences I won't type very often in

my lifetime.


Lots of love as always,


Craig. XXX

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