We have crossed the border into Laos and cycle to Houayxay where we will take the two day slow boat to Luang Prabang with a stopover in Pakbeng. It’s nice to experience a country from a different side. We sail on the Mekong River and it is beautiful. The nature around it, the large boulders that lie here and there in the water, dense forests on the round mountains that rise up around us and the beaches with cows and water buffalo that graze and bathe. We see the life of the people who live in small villages along the side of the river. Occasionally we stop to let someone off the boat or if someone wants to get on. The villages are mainly built of bamboo and wood, there are bamboo hedges around the vegetable gardens on the banks, the houses are made of bamboo and sometimes beautiful colorful painted wood. Life is simple and hard work is involved. We see ladies with heavy sacks hanging from their heads walking down stairs to fill a boat with their farm produce and back up to get the next sack in the blazing sun. People wash themselves and their clothes in the river and the river is also used as a garbage can unfortunately.
When we arrive in Luang Prabang we look for a place to sleep and then we take an evening walk through the village / town. It is a very cozy pleasant place. The French style that you can clearly see in the houses gives it a lot of character. It also feels luxurious. Beautiful restaurants, spa, cocktail bar and coffee shops. We eat something in a small restaurant on the water and go to bed early.
The funny thing is that if you go to Luang Prabang by boat, you spent two days on the boat with other travelers. So when you walk around you will constantly encounter familiar faces. We get talking with a Dutch couple. They already met four other people from the boat, including one Canadian and three Dutch people. We all want to go to the falls and they decide to rent bicycles and cycle there. That means 30 km there and 30 km back. We’re excited that others want to join us and it’s nice that we were able to inspire them a bit.
The group found it tough but very nice to explore Laos by bike. The kids along the road all run up to us to say hello which brings a smile to everyone’s face. It is a very nice bike ride with beautiful nature around us. We were able to take a cooling dip under the waterfall and take a walk through the park and then try to be back before dark. We didn’t make it, so Q in the front with his lights and I in the back with my lights and the rest without light between us. Everyone arrived in Luang Prabang satisfied but tired. It was nice to see how the group enjoyed that day and some said they would like to do it more often on their trip.
We also spent a day working behind the computer. Writing the blog, planning our route and arranging our visa for Vietnam. As a farewell to the group, we ate at a Korean BBQ restaurant one evening.
Today we leave Luang Prabang, but before we get on our bikes to cycle into the unknown, we first pick up our laundry and visit the ‘UXO Lao Visitor Center’. It’s a small museum about the secret America Laos war. This took place during the Vietnam War. There was a trail through Laos that connects north and south Vietnam. America has continuously bombed this trail and other key points connected to northern Vietnam for nine years. America said at the time that it did not drop bombs on Laos and Laos lied about the existence of the trail. 240 million bombs have been launched on Laos, of which about 80 million have failed to go off. Bombs are still going off to this day. Every two weeks someone is seriously injured or dies from a so-called UXO, including many children. We are shown a video aimed at children to educate them. It is explained what a UXO is and survivors tell their story. Then you will be told how to avoid risks. It’s about very essential things like children digging for a worm to fish, making a fire on the ground to prepare the fish or playing with that crazy ball you find in the woods.
It is heartbreaking to see how this war played out in this country. It also shows why people are the way they are. This war was not so long ago and Laos is still a country that has a lot of poverty. Partly due to the war. The bombs they are still clearing and families who have to take care of the seriously injured putting them under financial pressure.
After we have visited this impressive little museum, we leave for the first time on the bicycle in Laos. We feel like going on an adventure again, but it turns out to be less fun than we expected. You can read that in the next blog!