Friday, April 20, 2018

Laos Leaves a Lasting Impression

Plain of Jars site 2 near Phonsavan, Laos
The karst limestone formations that we've traveled through for the past weeks.
Simple village living in the mountains of northern Laos. Nothing for sale here.  I guess they live off the land?  So much we don't know and just make up answers for.
Muang Khoun - a historic town that where we took a day off.  Low key, interesting place, a great place to rejuvenate the body.
Another Plain of Jars shot - we spent a day exploring 3 sites near Phonsavan.  We've reached a point in our trip where "moving forward" is not the goal, but exploring and making the most of where we are.
Beauty comes in tiny sizes also in Laos.
Downtime while we wait to set up tents at dusk (the kids viewing us from the bridge above no doubt would come in closer if we set them up mid- afternoon.  Sometimes we need our own space!) We are high in the mountains and there is no guest house for miles.  A young fellow knew exactly where to recommend we camp - no English of course but obviously a "like" mind.
Looks like a sea of green!  Lots of veggie choice now that we have re-entered Vietnam in the north.  In contrast Laos was simple, calm, fewer people and fewer food options to choose from.

We are entering the final phase of our Southeast Asia experience - the approach to Hanoi (now just five bike days away), booking a special treat - a cruise in Ha Long Bay, and confirming flights to Japan, set now for May 2.  All our clothes are in tatters.  The sun and nightly washing out of sweat and dust has rendered them to rags.  Vietnam is a great place to replenish clothing.  This afternoon we were able to bargain prices to the right range - less than $5US an item.  Everyone needs a warm layer for the cooler Spring climate we will find in Japan, AND, the gain in muscle and loss of mid section inches mean clothes need to fit our current physique.

Friday, April 13, 2018

High in the Mountains of Northern Laos

It’s Pi Mai!!!!
Happy Lao New Year!
What you’ll need for your celebration:
Extreme festive mood
Large speaker, 2’x4’ (don’t worry, you have one anyway as you keep one handy for Karoke moments with your friends)
Intimate or large group of friends
Bleach to dye your hair red/ red marker/make-up to paint designs on your face
Single table (the cement picnic table in your front yard) or multiple folding tables (they will arrive by delivery truck in the color of blue, accompanied by stacks of red plastic chairs)
Table set ups of a plastic vertical box of chopsticks and Asian spoons, hot sauce, soy sauce, sugar, chili peppers, shrimp paste and large bottles of Beer Lao – crates more stacked in walls at the side of the scene
Coolers full of ice chunks for cooling down those warm Beer Laos, a chunk or two in your glass will do
Huge rice baskets full of sticky rice
Big kettles full of Laap (meat cooked with mint, etc.)
Plastic kids’ pools and lots of plastic water guns - the young boys' Pi Mai party happening right now in front of our guest house as I type involves huge water shooters and plastic masks.
Colored shirts that match
Play list of pop Lao music
Vat of Lao Lao (rice moonshine) with long sipping straws
Five days, April 9-14, no worries, nothing much else needs to happen during this time

We are cycling the highlands of northern Laos.  Plenty of sweat and water guzzling going on.  Screaming downhills and grinding uphills, 12% km after km.  It’s good to know at least the Laotian people are relaxing at times like this!

Another feast.  Sticky rice, mint/lettuces, grilled fish and skewered chicken.  We were guests of Ruth and Gael Letare, a Swiss family who live in Savanaket, Laos and have started a school of small business opportunities including cricket farming, sewing, baking, and cabinet making.  Gael pulled us off the bikes Easter Sunday to join their Egg Hunt gathering and one thing led to another....they happened to have three awesome young boys, a fantastically cool pool and also...owned a "small French Bakery".  No, it wasn't too good to be true.
and then sometimes the downside of travel...though we had permission from the monks to camp at their temple, the local federalies came in at  9pm and over-road the monks decision.  We could not stay there.  We packed up and followed them down the road to the nearest guest house.  The upside:  by the time it was all said and done the police paid the extra $2 so that we could have air conditioning - I think they felt bad about disrupting our otherwise peaceful night.
Sunrise in the mountains of northern Laos.  First hour ride of the day is always golden.
These young monks supplied us with loads of small packaged cookies and candies.  We'd just finished a steep climb and were ready for lunch.  The treats, the peace and the shade of a tree; it was perfect break.
We passed through the karsk region popular with many backpackers as the "Thaket Loop."  I definitely recommend it.

We are currently high in the mountains of northern Laos.  Steep 12% climbs and small hill tribe settlements along the road a few times a day.  Not much for sale, a few forest creatures and a strange bird were laid out on top of empty beer crates.  Not what I want for dinner.   We buy a few days' supplies for our travels between the veggie markets of the towns on our route.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Life is Calmer in Laos

We head out for the day.  This one started with a two hour climb up a steep hill.  We entered Laos from the Vietnam border where it also butts up to Cambodia.  A densely jungled mountainous landscape, peppered with huge, bare trunks of towering trees.  Quite a change from the ultra-organized landscape of Vietnam, where even mountaintops were planted with orchards of trees.

Pigs - a fun aspect of the roads of Laos.  We see all kinds.  Fit ones, fat ones, muddy ones, clean ones. Lots and lots of pigs.
The majority of buildings along the road are wood homes.  The breezeway below is a work space where you see families sitting on a wooden platform working on some project.  Colorful clothes hang from the windows, kids yell out "Sa ba dee!"  Sampson's bike has become known as the rock finder while mine has been named the dog catcher - we do our best to avoid collision with obstacles on our path but sometimes....

Markos takes on the rough road before him.  While the majority of the roads we are on are paved in Laos, we sometimes chose a dirt route, an this one was the roughest one of the trip yet.  Thankfully it was generally downhill for 40 kilometres.

Laap, sticky rice, lettuce, green beans and fresh herbs, and because it is Sampson's 17th birthday lunch, giant iced down cups of pressed sugarcane juice.  Streetside lunches are either Laap or rice noodle soup with greens and a variety of meats.

Cake!  Markos spotted a little bakery counter along the road between the open air hardware store and a general everything store.  Yippee!  Sampson got to celebrate his 17th Birthday western style.
We pass by numerous Buddhist Wats during the day, and we are back to asking to camp at them.  They are quiet, peaceful and interesting places to rejuvenate our bodies each night.

Laos = Calm
Laos has a population of 7 million persons compared to 92 million persons in Vietnam
Laos is noted as the “poorest” southeast Asian country.  Our observation: in rural areas people live in raised stilt wooden homes, keep fenced gardens, sweep their living spaces, burn all rubbish.  Pigs, chickens, goats, cows, water buffalo, people seem to stay put.  Kids walk to school along the road.  Few bicycles, some motorbikes, newer trucks use the roads, along with older looking silver or gold spray painted van/trucks. 
No noise violations as of yet (no loud mosques, amplified sermons from churches or music from temples.)

We are back to asking to camp at Buddhist temples.  Afternoons we spend sitting still in the shade.  Boys hang their hammocks and do school.  Rick takes a nap or works on the bikes making interesting conversation with the numerous kids that are drawn to him (no, they don't speak English.)  Tanya filters water, writes in her journal and does some mending project. Our bucket-washed clothes hang in the sun.  Same clothes every day - long sleeve sun-shirts, bandanas over faces, sun-bleached shorts.

We have a couple new additions to the items we carry:  a foot scrub brush (heels don't have to be permanently blackened from flip flop use) and also an electric water kettle.  Check out what Rick can cook with it:
boiled water for coffee, rice, pasta, rice noodles, oatmeal
hard boiled eggs
boiled vegetables in chicken broth 

When we stay at a hotel, cooking with the camp stove isn't always an option so the electric kettle has been super helpful.  Also, early morning breakfast at 5:30 is a quick fix/clean-up when all we need is boiled water.

We are super happy to be biking in Laos and continue loving the adventure of the unknown each day.