Biking, Rushing & Busing

Luang Prabang Travel Blog

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About as useful as our guides

Every person who I had asked about Laos before arriving had painted an image in my mind of hammocks, Beerlao, sunshine and not really doing much. Funny, then, that I've probably been the most stressed in Laos as I have been already in SE Asia, partly due to the passport incident and then with the getting out of Luang Prabang. Will talk about that in a minute; first, I've got to harp on about some cycling.

The night before I was at a bit of a loose end. I had planned to get a tuk-tuk to some nearby caves, but someone who had been said he wouldn't bother if he had the choice. So I looked around for something to do. The English guys I had been travelling with were doing elephant trekking - which I had done already in Thailand, without rating it - a Danish guy had signed up for kayaking and Marie and I had debated trekking, but with plans to trek further up north, I was hesitant.

Some much-needed sugar
So we decided to do some cycling instead.

I was a bit nervous about cycling in Laos. First off, it's 85% mountainous terrain, plus I hadn't felt like I had done much exercise recently, and thirdly I was going with Marie, the French Canadian machine who boshed out 64km in about half a day the day before. Luckily, my fears were alleviated when I met our two guides (yep, two guides for two people). Tha was work-shadowing by the looks of it. He started off riding on a flat in the lowest gear, pedalling furiously while I struggled to not overtake him while sitting and watching. Much to our amusement, Marie and I had to show him how to work the gears. Later on, their fitness seemed to wane. I remember turning round while really pumping hard to get up a hill and seeing both of them about half a mile behind, pedalling but getting nowhere, on the verge of walking.

The team
In the end, the pair of us went off ahead and arrived back at the office more than  three hours before they predicted the day would end. I still don't know whether they made it back alive.

It was actually a twist of good fate that it did only take half a day for us to complete the circuit. I had wanted to do something called the Gibbon Experience (http://www.gibbonx.org/) but despite emailing more than two weeks in advance to book, like they suggest, was unsuccessful in getting a place. For some reason, though, they had a cancellation and I was able to book on for a few days time, meaning I had a time limit to stick to, and needed to get out of LP that night. I had half an hour to do so. While sweat dripped off me in a scorching afternoon, I had to book my ticket, find the kind old lady with the eyes that pointed in different directions who was doing my laundry, pack my bags, pay for my hostel, get money out of an ATM for the rest of my trip (the second of two ATMS in Laos is in LP), and get to the bus station. Somehow I did it, but I'm still awaiting to find out that I have left something or forgotten to do something.

I was pleased I was on the same bus as Marie, even though she was heading east and I was heading north. It was a cross between a minibus, a tank and a golf buggy, stacked high with luggage, a motorbike and pigs carried in sacks.  Like the bus from Hanoi to Vientiane, it was a complete sweatbox, but this time it wasn't as ridiculously full. The journey dragged and each hour passed without any sleep. At about three o'clock, when I thought we might arrive, after numerous brief police inspections, we were stopped by a guy in a truck. When questioning the driver what was going on, he actioned a rifle pointing towards the bus and motioned to his watch that we would stay until morning. It didn't bother me too much, seen as I wouldn't have to find a guesthouse at 3 in the morning, but if I was heading towards the Thai border, like I think the majority were, it would have made the 16-hour journey seem even more wretched.

I arrived safely and took a tuk-tuk to a guesthouse as the sun was rising. It was a horrible journey, and a pretty stressful day in the end. Right, then, where are these hammocks?

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About as useful as our guides
About as useful as our guides
Some much-needed sugar
Some much-needed sugar
The team
The team
Luang Prabang
photo by: oxangu2