It took us three months to cycle across China and Vietnam, and we forgot what it was like to cycle without the constant beep beep beep of traffic going past. In Vietnam especially, the drivers seem to prefer the horn to the brake , ensuring they whizz past you at 100mph whilst blowing their air horn right into your ear. Not fun. Cycling through Laos and Cambodia was the complete opposite and it was beautiful to be able to hear the birds again and camp without the sound of the expressway in the distance. We entered Laos with high expectations that it would be the cheapest of the SE Asia countries due to reading too many blogs dated around 2011. In fact Laos is now the most expensive SE Asian country we visited (expect Singapore) and this is mainly due to the fact that Laos imports everything from Thailand or Vietnam so expect to pay more for accommodation, food and beer. This of course is relative compared to western pricing but it is something we were not prepared for especially when we are trying to stick to such a small budget.
Whilst we are on the subject of beer, the local beer is called Beer Lao and is the best of the region. Beer Lao is made using jasmine rice alongside hops and yeast. A Beer Lao will cost you about 15000kip (£1.20) for 600ml and is really really tasty! 99% of all beer sold in Laos is beer Lao so it must be good! We had our first beer Lao in first main town you reach after coming over the border, a little two street town called Lak Sao. Lak Sao is about 30km downhill from the border and features a small market, alongside a small number of hotels and restaurants. We spent the night in Lak Sao before heading off the following day to cycle the Thathek loop, a circular road around through and around the national park, with beautiful scenery and some very dodgy roads!
The road goes south from Lak Sao to Thalong before Nakay and then Grommalat and is very peaceful with very few cars and only a few hills before reaching the plateau. We met many cyclists on this road including a group of French and Belgian cyclists aged between 45-70 who were aiming for 100-120km per day and with temperatures reaching 30 degrees I do hope they all made it!! The start of the loop was under construction and this along with lots of recent rainfall created some very bad roads for the first 30km. It was like cycling through a bog, with me having to stop continuously to clean the mud out from under my mudguard with a combination of a kitchen knife and a trusty stick! After this first 30km, the roadworks had been completed so we completed the loop on smooth tarmac, and was my favourite part of cycling in Laos. Beautiful.
From Grommalet, we cycled west to the river town of Thatkek where you can sit by the Mekong river with a cold beer and look over at Thailand. It was a great place to reflect from, Finola had never been to Thailand but had always wanted to go since her dad and step-mum went there for their honeymoon. We were so close and we had actually cycled there! It felt really good. From Thatkek we followed the river south for two days before reaching the town of Savannahket. Savannahket was a large town, dominated by fading colonial style french buildings which are found alongside a bustling riverfront marketplace. En-route to Savannahket, we bumped into a female cyclist from Australia, who lived in Savannahket who was her way to a meeting in another town. We swapped contact details and the following day we were treated to a lovely green curry lunch in a local cafe by Helen. As a keen cyclist Helen had done lots of tours including the nullabor straight in Australia, so we keenly picked her brains for advice for our own Australia desert crossing, Darwin to Adelaide. Helen also runs a charity assisting girls in Laos and helps keep them safe from trafficking. Check our her website http://lotuseducationalfund.com
The road south from Savannahket was best remembered by our lunch safari. We decided to break for lunch and lunch usually involved a two hour rest stop since the sun was beating down on us. We stopped by this large water hole and cooked our noodles before lazily lying down and waiting out the heat. We then saw all the local animals joining us by the water hole, we were watching great oxen bath alongside goats, pigs, ducks and geese all trying to beat the midday sun! It was so funny to watch they roll around in the mud we thought we might join them!! As 2pm rolled past all the animals went back to work so we thought we should do the same and hopped back on our bikes towards Pakse.
Pakse was busy tourist town with since it is a large backpacker bus hub. The first two hostels we tried were full but we found a nice one at the third time of asking. We spent our time in Pakse chilling out as I was starting to feel unwell and didn't want to get worse so spent two days relaxing and not doing too much. We did climb up to the golden budda for sunset and it was a beautiful view over the town. If wanting to visit the golden budda you can walk through the jungle rather then the steep steps which is much more fun, just turn right after the long bridge and take small stairs there, you then have a 2km jungle trek with a great lookout rather than a very steep stairwell. Finola took some great photos of the Budda below.
From Pakse you have an 150km cycle south to the town of Ban Nakasang and it is here you can get a ferry to the island of Don Det. Don Det is known as the chill out island, and is therefore very popular. The island is famous for beautiful sunsets and chilling out so we hopped on board the boat (20,000kip inc bikes pp) and sailed the easy 15 minutes to the island. We rented an small double bungalow here which consisted of a bed, fan, mosquito night and importantly a hammock overlooking the river. Our aim was to relax and that it what we did, it was great to get off the bikes for 4 days and put our feet up, drink some good beer and go for short walks. We went looking at waterfalls and eat beautiful home cooked banana samosas. It was a beautiful place and there was not the sound of a car horn anywhere. Laos makes a beautiful change of pace and scenery from China and Vietnam and although only spent three weeks here we loved it, and will one day go back and explore the north.
If you wanted to fly out somewhere and enjoy two-four weeks cycling around you cannot do much better than in Laos.
Tim and Fin
Buy me a beer!! Thank you
This blog follows my cycle ride from Reading, Berkshire to Reading, Pennsylvania.