I’d been toying with the idea of swapping my backpacking life for bike touring since becoming single. Life had put so many cyclists on my path after the breakup that I took it as a sign for me to “convert” and begin a new journey, figuratively and literally. So when my friend Jochen asked if I’d like to tag along for a few hundred kilometers with him to enjoy a cycling Laos trip, in a country that I absolutely love, I jumped on the opportunity to test the water under the safe wing of a well-seasoned cyclist and see for myself if this way of traveling was for me. And well, my cycling Laos trip turned out to be quite an experience.
One thing anyone who is even mildly technology dependant should do before travelling anywhere for an extended period of time is to have their smart phone unlocked. Having good South East Asia phone plans (in fact in any foreign country!) opens up so many possibilities. All of a sudden you are not dependant on tuktuk drivers telling you that your hotel is miles away, you can look up this nice hotel you just stumbled upon on Tripadvisor to see what other people thought of it and you can pretty much just hop on a scooter and go get lost anywhere, knowing that your trusty GPS will always bring you back home at the end of the day.South East Asia phone plans are extremely cheap and surprisingly very fast and reliable in most places.
I thought that at this point of our trip around Laos, especially The Bolaven Plateau, things couldn’t get any more laid back.
After spending several days lazing in sunny Vang Vieng, we found ourselves aimlessly strolling through the sleepy capital of Vientiane while slurping on fruit shakes, then in the most remote and quaint village of Kong Lor to experience an eerie 7km boat ride through a pitch black cave and, later, lay beneath a blanket of stars during a brief blackout before, finally, arriving in Pakse where we would do little more than get several massages from the excellent Dok Champa and ingest multiple masala dosa from Hasan.
Let’s talk about Blue Lagoon in Vang Vieng. Before I get to it though, let me just be yet one more advocate of the fact that Vang Vieng is so much more than the drunken tubing reputation that precedes it. Yes, most bars were shut down in 2012, and it can at times feel a bit like a ghost town (as I am writing this at least, but we’re in the low season, so I don’t know how blooming the city truly is in peak season), but I can report that Vang Vieng’s tubing scene is, for better or for worse, alive and well. We were unfortunate to witness the extent to which some members of the Caucasian race have no respect for either themselves, or other cultures, as we drove our boat past two people having sex “in the tubing” – in the open, along the Nam Song, right next to a young Lao girl wading in the river. I’m depressed. I would very much like to unsee what I saw, and also apologize to the Lao people in the name of all white people. And from what I gathered, watching tuktukfuls of tipsy bare-chested jocks and bikini-clad dudettes returning into town at around dinner time, “tubing” must be very loosely interpreted here. Because tubing, they are not.
Finding a place to stay in South East Asia is hard. It’s not difficult to find accommodation, in fact the plethora of options is completely overwhelming and makes advance booking unnecessary and expensive. What is really difficult however is finding those diamonds in the rough, and steering clear of problems like bed bugs, noisy neighbours and hostile staff – problems that often don’t become apparent until you’re already payed up and settled in. It’s no good being precious, and some of the roughest places can also turn out to be some of the best places, but that’s no reason not to try. Here, we have listed some of the best Luang Prabang hotels for your trip!
Nong Khiaw sucks you in like soft, oozing, relaxing quicksand and we are so glad to have made the journey from Sapa to Nong Khiaw. The memory of the border crossing that took you from Sapa, to Dien Bien Phu, to Muang Khua aboard cargo buses overstuffed with teeth-sucking chumps seems to be fading away into the distance, despite the fact that it was, hum… well it was yesterday. You flop into a hammock and feel your pulse rate drop as you take in the river and karst views from your balcony at Sunrise Bungalows, a beer Lao in hand, and realize that you have arrived somewhere truly special.