Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Motorcycle Diaries, Laos

Going from towering cliffs and green mountains into city sprawl was awful. From the moment we entered a 100 km radius of Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, we felt a bit depressed. The first few days of our motorcycle adventure brought us through such stunning scenery we weren't prepared to enter the world of cities once again.

The road from Luang Probang to Vientiane is the main highway in Laos. That being said, the portion from Luang Probang to just north of Vang Vieng was a narrow two lane road winding along and over mountains. It reminded me somewhat of roads on Corsica....where truck drivers pass you on blind curves going way too fast. Luckily for us the road here was relatively uncrowded. At one point we passed five or six buses on their usual route north, but other then those 30 min we only saw an occasional moto, a few trucks and some cyclists.

Leaving Luang Probang the road took us along a river valley. We passed through tiny villages consisting of no more than two dozen bamboo and straw structures along the side of the road. It's impossible to imagine what life in these tiny villages might be like. Isolated in the mountains, walking for miles along the road gathering new roof thatch or wood for cooking. Throughout our whole ride we saw women laying what looked to be a type of grass or something along the side of the road. They would them gather piles, wack them on the pavement for a while and bring the bundles back home. We still aren't quite sure what what the end result was.

We also saw lots of babies. Children have so much time on their own. It wasn't uncommom to see five year olds playing along the street with their younger siblings tied onto their backs. Children riding along the street, sometimes three to a bicycle. There were also baby animals everywhere! We saw chicks, piglets, puppies, kittens, calves, ducklings, and baby goats whatever they are called. Chris has a few close encounters but luckily there weren't any casualties.

After climbing out of the river valley and up to a mountain pass of sorts we descended into one of the most beautiful spots we have seen so far. The green valley before us was spotted with towering rock walls and jagged peaks. We were totally unprepared for the scenery. It was unlike anything I have seen before and we hit it right at sunset.

The last hour in the dark to Vang Vieng was a bit scary because of the lack of lights along the road - there aren't any. We also drove through a village celebration and entered a mini war zone of firecrackers being thrown into the street.

And then we entered an episode of Friends, literally. The main street of Vang Vieng is lined with cafes outfitted with lounge beds and tvs. They play Friends reruns all day long.The next day, after catching a few episodes over one of the worst meals we've had so far, we jumped on our bike again and fled the area. While the town of Vang Vieng was mediocre at best, the surrounding area was awesome.

One of the most intriguing natural formations is the series of caves along the various rivers. I am not a huge fan of caves, the thought of walking into a mountain hole and being enveloped into total darkness with god knows what else does not sound like fun. Chris on the other hand was the kid who had to explore until the very end until even crawling became futile, so we set off to see three of the most famous caves. As we walked into the entrance of the first I couldn't help but shiver. Ugh. We joined up with another couple and were followed in by a couple of locals who were guides. Between the six of us we had three working flashlights and our dying headlamp, which I was clutching to like it was my life support.

We weren't 30 feet into the cave when we heard a shout from the lead guide. SNAKE! Probably my least favorite animal in the world. Don't worry it doesn't bite, they told us. But when on of the guys tried to poke it with a stick it coiled. There is no way that snake was harmless. So there I was creeping past a five foot long snake deeper into the cave, knowing it was out there somewhere in the darkness and that at some point I would have to walk by it again. Not seeing it on the way out only made it more creepy. Ahh.

And of course to make things just a little bit better, right after passing the snake we saw a huge spider, maybe the size of my hand, on the cave wall. I couldn't help but wonder what I was getting myself into. I will say that the caves had awesome formations - stalagtites and stalagmites of all shapes and sizes. The third cave required a tiny climb up a steep rocky hillside to enter, but way by far the coolest. The tiny entrance led to a massive cavern. Another higher opening let in a beam of light that fell right on the statue of Buddha and alter in the center of the cavern. From here to cave continued in a maze of passages where it would have been very easy to get lost. We wandered around for 30 min before I had had enough of caves and we made our way back to the entrance.

After our day of caving and another awful meal we decided to continue south to Vientiane. The city sounded much cooler in our Lonely Planet guide then it was when we got there. We found ourselves a nice little guest house on the river, which is a huge sandy bed at the moment, (something about the seasons they said). We went down to the edge to have a beer and watch the sunset. And of course what do we see? A freaking water snake! If there is anything worse then a snake in a cave it's a water snake. Ew just the way they move through the water.....

One highlight of the city - we found an awesome little stand that made hot fresh donuts at night. They had a huge wok of oil and made all sort of fried dough pastries. Mmmmm hot sugar covered donuts. And the best part - they were 10 cents each and you always got one extra for free. Let's just say I ate a lot of them.

1 comment:

plantnerd said...

I'm pretty sure the grass gathering is for material to make brooms. they wack the bundles on the ground to get the seeds and fluff out. then dry them.