Laos has been on our list of places to go for a long time and we finally made it over in July, a total of 24 hour travel we were glad to finally step into the hot and humid air at Luang Prabang. We spent the first day walking around the city and jumped in a very little fishing boat down the Mekong. Floated past some water buffalo and hoped we didn’t fall in. Surrounded by lush green mountains cruising down the big wide Mekong feeling very relaxed!
We built up our bikes and spent the mornings riding around exploring the city, nearby villages and waterfalls, then spent the afternoon reading books and sipping delicious lattes in Saffron Coffee shop. Luang Prabang is a beautiful city with french influence, the bakeries, cafes and restaurants are great and the architecture beautiful.
Saffron Cafe- ran by an Aussie PE teacher, they employ Laotian coffee farmers from all of over Northern Laos and employ locals to become baristas.
We caught the barge over the Mekong for 85c and spent a few days riding dirt roads exploring villages. The villages reminded me of caravan parks – kids and animals running around everywhere, parents cooking on a Laotian style BBQ and people gathered around sharing food and drink. It made me think about how in Australia we are so insular in our homes and the importance of sharing and community.
We rode out to an Elephant Sanctuary Manda Lao – this Sanctuary works with WWF to rescue elephants from logging, there were 6 adult elephants and 1 baby elephant in a 100 hectare area that they rent from local villagers, providing them with income. Manda Lao have trained the Mahoots (elephant trainers) to use verbal commands only and are educating other Elephant Sanctuaries in Laos not to allow tourists to ride them. Asian Elephants eat 200-250kg of food a day and drink 150L of water. Manda Lao is setup to allow the elephants to live their lives just as they do in the wild-eat,drink,sleep and walk the same 2 km loop each day. We hiked for about 45 minutes through the jungle, and were then greeted by these amazing animals. We spent the next hour walking through the jungle feeding them bananas, and finished off by giving them a bath.
Up early to see the Monks during one of their ceremonies in which people come out to give gifts and ask for blessings, this is just before the monks start their focused training. All Lao boys must go into the monk hood for at least 3 months and can choose to stay on after this period.
We rode out to 2 different waterfalls the first one had no water so we enjoyed a jungle walk instead and the second one was full of water so went for a swim, it also had a bear sanctuary with bears that had been rescued from the black market and injured bears from landmines.
Landmines plague the country- Laos was the most heavily bombed country in the war, with a plane load of bombs dropped every 8 minutes (24/7) for 9 years. More than 80 million did not detonate and the impacts are still evident today and will continue as only 1% of these bombs have been cleared.
We jumped in a minivan and headed 4 hours north to Nong Khiaw. A beautiful village on the Nam Ou River. This town has decision whether it is going to boom with tourism or stay quiet, I think in 10 years it will be a different place.
We booked a guide and headed out on a boat down the stream and then onto a 2 hour walk up to ‘The Lookout’ It was INSANE. The track was crazy steep and slippery, at times we were scrambling across rocks and holding onto home made bridges/steps thinking soon someone will die here and you wont be allowed to do this anymore!
The view from The Lookout. Someone had kindly placed a plank of wood to sit on. It felt like we were in a kids cubby house up there
After the trek we had lunch and jumped back in the boat to head to another village for another 2 hour trek through the rice villages and up to a waterfall. It was truly spectacular, and hot, really hot. We slipped and slid across the muddy fields, taking a few stacks along the way. A swim in the waterfall helped but a bit of heat stroke kicked in on the final leg back to the village – a kayak down the river.
The kids were friendly, and tough. 2 flats.
We headed back to Luang Prabang for a night before flying home. We decided to donate our CX bikes some kids were saw living next to one our favourite restaurants. We had seen them on multiple occasions riding up and down the rode sharing 1 bike around. We also saw the dad fixing up a little bike and decided this family were into bikes and could benefit from having ours. The youngest (about 2) bent down next to Al as he tried to take our SPD pedals off, run inside and bought the right tool out. He then took my hand and showed me inside their house – a corriguted hut one room- with one bed, a TV and a stove plus a couple of bike wheels. 2 parents and 3 kids. The family didn’t speak english but understood we were giving them our bikes and hurried us inside trying to find anything they had to give us in return, not listening to us when we said we didnt want anything. The mum sold Luang Prabang sausages at the night market so she wrapped one up and a beef dish in some banana leaves for us to take. The next day we saw the 2 kids riding around on the bikes giving us big smiles and waves, and I saw them washing the bikes with soapy water. It was definitely the highlight for me.
He’ll have to grown into it and he was unable to sit on the seat but that wasn’t stopping him! I highly recommend going to Northern Laos, it is truly spectacular – the jungle, the hills, the food, the people.