Laotian bathing

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From our firsts kilometres in the middle of the Laotian mountains, we were immersed in its jungle and humidity. The tropical climate and deep forest were favorable to waterfalls in a lush nature. Indeed, Laos is well-known for its exceptional waterfalls with vertiginous heights, clear waters and its peaceful atmosphere.

No need to say that the baths were very enjoyable, many times, after a few hours on our 2 wheels. Perfect for refreshing and cleaning the dust sticking on our skin.

On a track, we were able to swim in the Huay Mae Sai waterfall at the North of Thailand. Then, we enjoyed the natural swimming pools of Than Chang where children joined us for a shower. These hidden places in the middle of the nature are often a busy place for local people for showering, washing clothes or simply enjoying the quietness of the river with family or friends.

Upon our return from Vang Vieng, on the road back to Luang Prabang, we had a break at the village of Kacham. The afternoon was involuntary dedicated to waterfalls. It started with a wooden sign saying “waterfall”, which made us to stop. A few meters further, we were surprised to discover houses on stilts for chilling and a small footpath brought us at the bottom of the waterfall. A few seconds later, we were swimming in these natural swimming pools with clear water. Behind us, an illusion made appeared a rainbow from the drizzle of the Kacham waterfall.

A few hours later, after leaving our luggage at the guesthouse of Luang Prabang, we rode on thirty kilometres to explore the famous Kuang Si waterfalls. We enjoyed one of the nicest baths from our departure.

These waterfalls are one of the highlights of the country. We arrived at the end of the afternoon, around 4pm. Upon our arrival at this touristic place, we followed the rules of this popular site. We paid the parking, parked our motorbikes with the other ones and paid the entry fee. Behind the impressive gate, we used the main path alongside the river. There were mainly small waterfalls flowing in the natural pools. The scenery was beautiful with blue and green nuances. On the suspension bridge, at the bottom of the main waterfall, we were impressed by its size.

We continued by going backwards. On our way, we noticed it was possible to swim in the first pools. We didn’t resist to dive in this water. Earlier, it was hard to find some space between the other visitors. But at the end of the afternoon, the main mini-vans bringing most of the tourists were leaving as the park will close soon. Therefore, we enjoyed this fairy place on our own.

We reached a little platform, looking almost like a beach. We left our belongings by a tree. For the first time, our foot touched this amazing water. The ground was made of clay. After a couple of steps, our feet were slipping on the silt. In spite of the peacefulness, we finally did the first lengths abruptly. We enjoyed being alone in these small waterfalls. We had a laugh and did a photoshoot under these watefalls, like in the advertisement of a shampoo brand. 

A fairy break in a dreamy scenery where the tranquility ended with the chattering of our teeth. It started to be chilly. We went out of the water, at the time of the park was closing definitely its gates for the day.  

Laotian experiences

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 a 35-hour journey to change of culture

Flying 10 000 metres above the sea level in a plane, it was like being between two worlds. Like the Rayman character in the video game of the same name, we were moving forward, following the dotted line shown on the map of our screen, without asking any questions. A journey without any turbulences to cross the gap between those two universes. Two universes as much different as the ones of our little character when he is jumping from a creeper to another one in the jungle before to slide between the music notes and the trumpets.

By leaving Uruguay, we left South of America with its history and culture to open the Asian chapter of our trip around the world.

Rayman’s world was interesting to illustrate this big change created by a journey by plane. But a 35-hour journey without any troubles is not really in the DNA of our travel. In spite of a journey “without any turbulences” as described above, let me tell you the true story of our trip between Montevideo and Chiand Raï.

Our story started in South of America, in the Uruguayan capital on a Monday at the beginning of March. Our first misfortune was at the time of crossing the security gate to enter in the international hall of the airport. The aerial police didn’t let us crossing with our motorbike helmets as hand luggage. Surprised by this as we previously did this kind of trip by plane in these conditions, we went back to the Air Europa desk, our airline. Our hold luggage came back and the best solution was to wrap our helmets on each side of our backpacks to avoid paying a supplementary luggage. Finally, that was a good thing to arrive in advance!

The first flight to reach Madrid last 11 hours. We arrived in the Spanish capital at 6am. Once landed, it was fresh but not cold for March. Outside, the Spanish were wearing a winter coat while the four of us were wearing a tee-shirt. We almost forgot it was Winter in Europe during this time of the year.

We collected our hold luggage and looked for the information of our next next flight. We needed a few minutes to find the information. Indeed, the destination of our flight is “Estocolmo” which is actually “Stockholm” in English. At the desk of Norwegian Airlines, we wanted to ckeck-in for the next two flights. Our final destination was Bangkok with a stop in Stockholm. But we have been surprised by the airline requesting the return ticket when we checked-in. We needed to justify we will leave Thailand in 30 days (the period of validity of our visa). As we wanted to cross the Laotian border by foot after a few days of our arrival, we didn’t have any return ticket. A stressful moment… Finally, we bought 4 temporary tickets and show this at the check-in desk. None of us saw the clouds between Madrid and Stockholm as we enjoyed the 4-hour flight above Europe to get some rest. It was snowing when we landed and the temperature was -4°C. It has been a while that we didn’t have a negative temperature.

Our flight to Bangkok left at the scheduled time. However, the flight duration was one hour longer due to the geopolitical situation between India and Pakistan prohibiting our plane to fly above this area. In spite of the 11 hours of flight, we didn’t have any meal. We didn’t know we were supposed to book them in advance and we refused to pay an expensive mini-sandwich offered by the stewards.

We landed in Bangkok at 8am, local time, and looked for our last ticket to reach Chiang-Raï at the North of Thailand. Once the flight booked with Thaï-Smile airline, we enjoyed our first Pad-Thaï. An enjoyable time after fasting for a few hours. We waited until 6:50pm in the airport for our last flight.

We landed by 8:30pm in the small airport of Chiang-Raï to end our 57-hour journey including 26 hours and 40 minutes of flight from our departure of Montevideo, two days ago. A trip ending by a little concert of traditional Thai music while we were waiting the arrival of our luggage. It’s indeed in a new Rayman’s world that we arrived…

 Laos & the banana culture

On the Laotian paths, we crossed many banana plantations. There are one of the main source of incomes of these isolated rural areas. These fields are growing these past few years. Bananas can be harvested all along the year as it’s not seasonal. Therefore, this is the fruit the most exported of the country and sold mainly to China. By taking these roads made of soil, we saw many workers in the fields. It,was hard to say they are farmers as they seem to have the same method as on a production line in a manufacture.

During a break, we stopped after tens of potholes plus a lot of dust. We stopped behind two trucks along the path. Perched on the top of their trailers, men were loading the bananas just harvested. In the shadow of the cabins, other workers were sorting out the damaged bananas and the matured ones for China.

This working atmosphere offered us a nice sharing time. Our break in this banana plantation stopped their daily life. The workers were curious. The most courageous were intrigued and moved forward to offer some fruits and to show their work. A smile was on their lips when they tried to communicate with us and noticed we didn’t understood a word of Laotian. A curious situation which brought some sunshine in this dusty situation.

The Laotian pop culture 

We looked for a karaoke for the evening of Gilles’ birthday to celebrate the end of the day. In Laos, like everywhere in Asia, karaokes are very trendy. The Laotian people, more or less young, are meeting to sing the last hits.

After enjoying a Tuk-tuk trip, we arrived by the municipal stadium where there were no tourists and where Laotian enjoy their evening. We chose the “Sun”. But like the other local karaokes, there were private rooms to sing between friends. We were not able to sing the classic French hits to the youngs. We opted for a drink in the main room of the bar. We were the first clients. The room was huge with only ten cocktail tables. There were only the lights of the stage. The staff invited us to go around a cocktail table. “The Sakhan” band was on stage. Each member of the team just ended their adolescence and, like the singers of K-Pop, they had nice look with bandanas and bleached hair.

Step by step, the room was getting full. The friends of the band arrived to encourage them. They sang, without a break, each title of the band. An unusual experience which ended when they have been replaced by a DJ with a techno music for which we were not very sensitive.

 The noodle-soup of the breakfast

The breakfast is a key moment of our day. But during the trip, it became a privileged moment – take the time to take pleasure. We sat on the terrace to enjoy this moment and to observe the busyness in the streets, early in the morning.

Due to the globalisation, they serve a continental breakfast in most of the hotels or hostels. Everyone tries to copy it at their best… Composed by a coffee, a hot chocolate or tea with bread, jams and pastries. It’s however difficult to get it right without a great knowledge in bakery. But that allows for the travelers to start their day of adventures, with serenity, even if this is against the traditions of the country they are visiting.

In Laos, as most of the neighbour counties, the local people eat similar dishes from the breakfast to the dinner, often composed with noodles or sticky rice served with chicken and vegetables. 

The noodle soup (Pho) is the most famous street food. Standard for the breakfast in Laos, eaten in a few minutes, by schoolchildren before the courses, but it can also be consumed all along the day.

Never mind where we are, it is always possible to find a shed for ordering one for the equivalent of 1,50€. We ate this dish, main dish of our diet in these countries, once or twice a day.

So when, in the middle of the Laotian mountains, we felt the effect of the  “noodle soup overdose” and were starving  a continental breakfast, we needed to be very creative for finding the ingredients. To find eggs in a tiny shop and to negotiate with a restaurant for getting them cooked. We found the ingredients and a restaurant agreed to cook an omelette. Gilles jumped behind the curtains with the Chef. He gave her the secret of his recipe. She improved it with some coriander leafs. This feast was served with an instant coffee, the individual instant coffee serving, pure product of the  globalisation are sold all around the globe. A breakfast far away from the standard of the luxury hotels and from our French breakfast, but a great moment of culinary sharing in the middle of the Laotian mountains.

Smoking Laotian tobacco

During a trip on a pirogue alongside the Nam Ou river, Nudo our guide brought us to a small village where the tobacco is growing. The plantation was irrigated by the river along the village. The large leafs were sun-dried on bamboo trays. Next step, they were rolled and thinly sliced by hand with a machete and a wooden poll. During our visit, we discovered this handcraft. The woman working on the diecuting stopped and offered us to test. She didn’t have a cigarette paper, she went away and came back with a sheet from a notebook. She distributed a little piece of paper to each of one us and we started a “cigarette rolling” contest. None of us were smokers. The results were not good at all… Then, came the moment to try this handmade tobacco. Unfortunately, we couldn’t said if it was a finest tobacco. After a few coughing, one thing was sure: the notebook paper gave a surprising value to this experience!

On the Laotian roads

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Far away from our sidecars, we can’t compare our experiences on the Asian roads to the ones we had with our loyal Ural on the roads of South of America. In spite of this, our stay in Laos was rich of adventures on the various roads and paths of this country.

Our first attempt on the Laotian roads was on our second day. We travelled by bus from the station to the the Houei Sai city to reach the city of Luang Namtha, 170kms away.

With Emilie, we were the last ones to go in the 30-seat bus. In spite of the perseverance from the team to keep a seat for us, the bus was full. So we sat down on the folding seats, like two other travelers in front of us. A 4-hour journey on an uneven road with many potholes. The narrow road was winding between the mountains and the dense forest. No doubt, the jungle was around. The old Hyundai bus, which probably had the age of being retired, was struggling to go up the hill. But we managed to arrive without a breakdown, kind of usual issue in the country!

Luang Namtha was the point of departure of our adventure with our two wheels in the North of Laos. After many negotiations to find a shop to rent scooters for a few days, we hit the road. Going towards Muang Sing, 10 kilometres away from the Chinese border, the 8 scooters were following each other. It was looking like the moto-club of Provins described by Jean-Luc met in South of America. The road with a low traffic was winding in a dense forest with quite a few roadworks. Once we crossed Muang Sing, we did our first kilometres on a dusty path to reach the small city of Muang-Long on our Honda Wave 100, our semi-automatic scooters, the most famous scooters here. A true weaving in and out to avoid potholes, mud, stones… The position in the lane was important at this stage. Indeed, the first ones of the team have some dust. But the last ones were going through a big ochre cloud. Our clothes were changing of tint with a new cream-colour nuance at each break. At the end of the day, our bodies and faces were covered of dust.

Around each village, pigs, chicken or goats were welcoming us. Free, they enjoyed staying in the middle of the road. We didn’t have any other choices than playing with our “powerful” horns of our scooters. With our helmets on the head, like aliens from Mars Attacks, the inhabitants were looking at us with insistence. But once stopped with our helmets removed, the kids were curious and the adults were sometimes offering us some fruits.

In the mountains, in a village far away, we had almost empty petrol tanks. Gilles, an experienced rider-adventurer in this kind of country was sure we will find some petrol in any villages that we will cross. A few hundreds of metres further away we saw, in the middle of nowhere, the houses of Namhi. In the streets, for the first time there was nobody. In the shadow of a terrace, we saw a man. We needed to mime our request. He indicated a house with the tip of his finger, at the end of the “main” street. It wasn’t looking like a shop, but it was indeed the only shop of the village. We asked the guys inside who were cooking chicken for their lunch. We requested some petrol by miming with our hands. They had a little petrol tank under their house. They gave us old beer bottles full of petrol to fill up our tanks.

The track kept some surprises for us. We crossed screes and fords before to be in front of a wide stream. Two solutions: a bridge made of bamboo but which was not looking very strong or crossing simply the river. While the team was looking for the best solution to cross and estimating the solidity of the bridge, two young ladies on their scooters overtook us at a high speed on the bamboo bridge which was moving but without breaking. Then it was our turn. Each one of us opted for the solution of his choice. Narrow and unstable, we crossed by the bridge without any troubles. It was a bit harder by the river. Gilles was the first one to cross by the river and avoided perfectly the stones in the river. But we didn’t have a full success. One of us had a little fall down but without injuries.

These bamboo bridges are actually famous in the country to cross rivers, by foot or scooters, without being very expensive. In Vang Vieng, we crossed the river Nam Song on a 10-metre bamboo bridge to reach the western part of the city, more bucolic. It was in these lands that we met for the first time something that we called a “chopper lawn-tractor”. That’s a beautiful vehicle built with a lawn-tractor engine, two small tractor tires coupled with a trailer where the pilot was seating downs. He was directing his vehicle with a long curved handlebars which would make jealous any chopper-lovers. We saw these vehicle on a the isolated roads of the country, in more or less good conditions.

Other famous vehicle on the Laotian roads, after the Peruvian tuk-tuk, we met the Asian version named here, Jumbo. These three-wheel motorised vehicles were mainly in the cities and used as a taxi for quick errands or as a bus due to the wide space on the back welcoming 10 passengers. After negotiating the price and seating down in the back, the driver was weaving between the scooters and the others Jumbo. The tradition is to decorate the inside of his own tuk-tuk with many colours.

A warning atmosphere showing the state of mind of our road trip in Laos. In spite of some difficulties, we alway had great times making the richness of this adventure.

Luang Prabang – 10 days – 305 metres above sea level

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We reached Luang-Prabang with a Toyota mini-van, privatised with air-con. We did a 7 hours journey with a basic comfort in spite of the roadworks. Indeed, the Chinese are investing in the Laotian mountains by building dams and railways meaning big works and parts of the road with many potholes and without asphalt. Luand Prabang has been built in the montainous area in the North of Laos, alongside the Mekong river. The city is  classified in the world heritage since 1995 for its exceptional architecture. Due to its history, there are several boudhist temples in the streets and buildings from the European colonial period.

Discovering these treasures were not in the plan for now. We walked in the streets to find the best scooter rental and hammock seller for our next adventures in the Laotian mountains. With the keys of scooters in our pockets, but without hammock, we met Marion and Jérémy in the Popolo bar. This French couple arrived two years ago in Laos. Their project is to travel from France to Mongolia with a Ural sidecar by crossing all the countries ending by “-stan”.

After a sweet night, we collected our scooters early in the morning in the rental shop. Before to leave, we checked our vehicles and asked them to change three tires. One of the employees went quickly to buy the  tyres in the shop next door. He came back a few minutes later with three items looking like hula-hoops. As there are many two-wheel vehicles on the Laotian roads, it’s very easy to find tyres anywhere. There are usually sold in moto repair shops and wrapped in a shiny and colourful paper. Our departure for Vang Vieng has been delayed of only twenty minutes. A slight delay letting us to go back on the road safely and to leave the dense traffic of urban area. Once crossed the Sandkalok village where we did a small lunch break, we continued our journey on a tougher track along the Mekong river for 80 kilometres. We crossed screes and fords while the zebus were watching us. We did a break and a nice woman came to offer us some bananas. We accepted with a lot of pleasure, but at the first bite we understood the fruits were not mature. We still enjoyed them and appreciated this goodwill gesture. At the end of the day, we arrived in the little city of Muang Nan. Nothing excited there, but after this dusty day, we were very happy to enjoy a warm shower and get some rest.

Our next journey led us to Kasi. On the way, we saw herds of three or four cows in total freedom in areas without any habitations. The scenery was glorious with a perfect relief drawn by a slight fog. The hill was going up over ten kilometres.

The hill revealed the differences of power on our scooters. In spite of my good position in the team at the beginning of the hill, my friends overtook me and said a little joke about my scooter. Finally, I made a team with Louis-Marie and managed to overtake him at the top of the hill. But in the slope, his racing skills helped him to go much faster and to overtake me again while I was breaking in each curve. We had rain and storms during all the night in Kasi. During the breakfast, we saw a nice show with all the schoolchildren on their bicycles. Little and big kids, siblings and friends, there were hundreds of young Laotians going towards their classrooms on their bicycles.  When we left the city, we passed by the entry of the school where the bicycles were well-organised but still in a messy way.

To reach Vang Vieng, the itinerary of the day used a humid road alongside the fields before to follow the valley of the Nam Song river going between the beautiful mountains until the next step. Vang Vieng is a famous city on the travel guides for its festive atmosphere and the several touristic activities. It’s also a scenery with chalky rocks between fields and mountains. Once arrived, we enjoyed a pineapple for the breakfast and decided to leave quickly the city full of travel agencies, to go exploring the surroundings. After crossing a bridge made of bamboo, we used a narrow street between the houses on stilts and took a path winding between the fields. We finally reached the forest. The satnav confirmed we needed to use the path going through the jungle to reach the Lusy caves.

At the bottom of the mountain, we paid a fee to visit the cave. We climbed up a ladder to reach the entry of the cave. The lights from our mobile phones and headlamps revealed the beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. No paths or signs in the cave, so we were like true potholers exploring the caves through hundreds of metres. After finding again the natural light, we went towards the entry of the Tham Chang cave. As it was quite late in the day, we were in front of a closed door. We opted for a swim in the pools just a few metres away. The water was coming from the depths of the earth. I enjoyed swimming in this fresh water accompanied by kids taking their shower. The older ones were soaping the younger ones before to play and dive.

The following day we went back towards Luang Prabang. The day started in Vang Vieng by crossing a narrow bridge made of bamboo, spanning the Nam Song river. Inspired by two young Laotians on scooters, each one of team went in single file on this narrow hanging bridge. A few kilometres further, we did a little break in Phatang, a small village lost in a canyon between two chalky mountains, to taste a whiskey infused with hornets in a small shop along the road.

On the last sixty kilometres, before Luang Prabang we went along the Nam Sana river irrigating the valley and the beautiful rice fields. At the Silalek village, we enjoyed a refreshing swim in the pools of the little Kacham waterfall. We focused on waterfalls at the end of the day. We visited the impressive ones of Kuang Si. Located thirty kimometres away from the Luang Prabang city, we reached by scooter a bucolic road. We paid the entry fee and discovered the Bear Rescue Center after crossing the gates. It’s a refuge protecting Asian black bears. Saved from poaching, they now enjoy spend their days in hammocks or play together with old balloons. We followed the 500-metre path leading to the main Tad Kuang Si waterfall. The river was weaving in and out, in the middle of the jungle, before to dive in the pools. We were going along the river and were impressed by the beautiful turquoise colour of the natural pools. We noticed a nice spot to swim in one of the pools. We couldn’t resist to dive in before to leave! It was the end of the afternoon, so all the mini-vans bringing the tourists already left, leaving us alone in this magic place.

The following day, we explored Luang Prabang. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, we decided to discover the numerous Buddhist temples. These pagodas, named here “Vat”, were beautifully decorated. After going through the huge wooden gates, the buzzing life of the city was forgotten to leave a peaceful atmosphere, perfect for the meditation. In the main room, behind the huge golden pillars, there was a massive seated Buddha surrounded by several gifts. Impressed by this Majesty, we were very quiet and we didn’t want to disturb him. We continued to discover the historic centre by visiting the ancient Royal Palace, built in 1904 under the French protectorate and replaced the previous palace which had a traditional architecture. In these gardens, we stopped a few minutes, impressed by the Majesty of the Haw Pha Bang temple, built in 2006. There was a golden Buddha of a 83-centimetre height giving his name to the city. A the end of the day, we enjoyed sailing on a wide boat on the cloudy water of the Mekong at the sunset.

During this 1-hour cruise, we enjoyed watching the sun going down until to be hidden by the vegetation of the surrounded mountains, leaving a beautiful orange colour in the sky. On the water, some fishermen were throwing their nets from their pirogues, while other boats were taking care of bringing passengers and vehicles from a side of the river to the other one. A scenery worthy of an impressionism artwork with the smooth music of Donny Hathaway in the background.

We woke up at 5am to see the alms-giving ceremony. Indeed, everyday the monks leave their temple early in the morning to walk in the streets of the city. Barefoot with only orange traditional outfits, they move forward and present ritually their bowls to receive gifts. In front of their house, the inhabitants wait the passage of the monks. Sat cross-legged on little stools, they mainly offer sticky rice, or cooked dishes, fruits and cakes. Once the gifts are collected, the monks share the food and pray for the loyal donors.

After Luang Prabang, we went back in a bus to go to Nong Khiaw, a village along the Nam Ou river, where we will have access to Muang Ngoy, a village reachable only by boat. The 4-hour journey was again epic due to the Laotian roads full of potholes and roadworks. We went to the “lost” village on the following day, accompanied by our guide, Nudo. From the Nong Khiaw pier, between colourful boats, we got on our “Sampan”, a traditional wooden boat with a long tail as its shape is long and fine. On board, we sat on car seats to go up the Nam Ou river until the Muang Ngoy village.

On the way, we firstly stopped in the “snail” village. We visited a shipyard were Sampan were being made from a massive trunk. In the village, Nudo showed us the local handicrafts including the weaving looms to sew the silk scarfs worn during the alms-giving ceremonies. At the other side of the village, people were taking care of the harvested tobacco which grows on small fields. On the water, there were boats of all sizes. Other Sampan boats were bringing inhabitants to Nong Khiaw, or fishing, while kids were diving in the water from the trees. Back on the water, we reached the Phanoi cave. Hidden in a cliff, this cave was used as a refuge for hundreds of people during the Indochina war. We went on the top of the cliff by a little path, until an observation post revealing a nice viewpoint over the city of Muang Ngoy. By going down, we crossed the Wat Okad Sayaram temple before to cross the small streets of the city and to go back on our boat. We went down the river and arrived to the Sop Keng village where live our guide. We had a lunch on the terrace of his house, with a curry-rice wrapped in a leaf of a banana tree. We walked in the rice fields during two kilometres to reach the Tad Mok waterfall where we enjoyed swimming. On the way back, we had a snack in a farm to enjoy a delicious Lao coffee or a traditional lemongrass tea, depending on the preferences of each one.

After spending the night in Nong Khiaw, we went to Luang Prabang by bus. For our last evening in Laos, we went on the top of the Phou Si mount, in the heart of the city, to enjoy one of the most famous sunset over the Mekong. The night was falling in Laos. Tomorrow, we will go exploring Vietnam (in spite of a few visa issues…).


The Uralistan project of Marion & Jérémy

After living over two years in Laos, their new project is to discover Mongolia with a Ural sidecar. Their website worths a visit. You will discover all the preparations and precious advice for all motorbike-travelers and nice road books presenting their previous travels.

Où manger ?

Mama Alex Restaurant
Ban Sop Houn village Nong Khiaw

A simple place where we can enjoy a delicious Laap Kai: a Laotian specialty made with chicken (there are alternatives with beef, fish or vegetarian) and served for special occasions.

Où boire un verre ? 

Bar le Popolo
102/3 Kounxoau Road, Luang Prabang

A nice atmosphere for this cosy bar with a great terrace to enjoy a beer or a cocktail at the end of the day. It’s not a traditional Laotian bar with the regular customers. But having some comfort in a warming atmosphere is quite nice !

Luang Namtha – 8 days – 547 metres above sea level

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After 56 hours of travelling, we arrived on the Asian continent after leaving Montevideo and the South-American continent, two days ago.

It was in Chiang Rai that we started our stay in South-Eastern Asia. We spent a few days in this city in the North of Thailand to get some rest and get used to the 10 hours of jet lag. Then, we will go towards Laos, border country located at 100kms further away, up North.

Chiang Rai is a historic city, built in 1262 by the King Mengrai. During our first day, we walked in the streets of the city. Its architecture was not extraordinary but we enjoyed discovering the first Buddhist temples. This atmosphere was very different to the ones we had a few days before, at the opposite of the world. On our way, we saw the massive memorial of the king who founded the city. A few streets away, we discovered the second landmark of the town-centre, the beautiful golden clock at the round-about whereby hundreds of scooters were going around. During the evening, we welcomed Brigitte and Louis-Marie, Julien’s parents ; with Ghislaine and Gilles, a couple of friends.

The following day, we visited the Wat Rong Khun, also named as the “White Temple”. It was our first visit of a Buddhist temple. Unlike our thoughts, this temple is not a monument of the traditional architecture. Built on the land of an ancient temple, it was the modern work of the artist Chalermchai Kositpipat (also creator of the clock mentioned above). The beginning of the construction was in 1997. The architect has a style easily identifiable, with a trend to exaggerate the traditional Thai style. Like its name, the temple highlights this colour giving a majestic style. To be even more sparkling, thousands of littles mirrors have been embedded on the edifice. To enter in the main building, we climbed up the main stairs to cross the hell (symbolised here by dead hands coming out from the ground) and to span a pond where a big fish was going back and forth. In the gardens, figurines were hung on trees to keep bad spirits away. There were characters from “culture pop” such as Wolverine, Ninja Turtles, Avatars’ characters, … Even the building of the public toilets were covered of gold, from the sinks to the toilets.

We spent the evening at the night market, one of the most emblematic places and full of life, at dusk. There were souvenir shops and food stands. It was possible to taste the local specialties with, on stage, a duo of young singers playing guitars on an “Asian-folk” tune.

During our last day in Chiang-Rai, we discovered the surroundings of the city by scooter. Back to ride, but on a two-wheel vehicle for this time. After leaving the traffic jam of the city, we enjoyed again the happiness of riding on the roads of the countryside. We saw the first rice fields at the bottom of the mountains. There were no terrace fields, but it was already beautiful. At the top of a hill, we crossed a first village with bamboo houses built on stilts. On the little main square, the playgrounds were drawn. Obviously, there was a football field, but also a few badminton fields. In this area, the inhabitants were growing small pineapples on the steep hills around the villages. When we were there, it was the harvesting season, at its peak. Many baskets made of bamboo were alongside the roads. When it was not a pineapple brining some colours in the scenery, it was a big ox with a ring in its nose and impressive horns on the head, grazing peacefully around.

Ealy in the afternoon, we arrived at the Huay Mae Sai waterfalls, lost at the end of a small path going in a forest. We indulged ourselves with a swim before the young Thai joined us and who, to our great surprise, jumped in the water from the rocks with all their clothes on. On the way back to Chiang Rai, we did a quick stop in front of the temple of Wat Huai Pla Kung. Its white Buddha of almost 50 metre heigh (roughly) was overlooking all the valley.

The following day, we went towards the Laotian border. To get our visa more easily, we stopped on the way to make ID photos in a small shop alongside the road. This basic shop had a photographic material from the latest generation. Once arrived at the customs office, we got our stamps out of Thailand and we crossed by bus the bridge spanning the Mekong. (This bridge has been inaugurated in 2013. This is the fourth cross-border edifice which has been built above this river, separating both countries. Each bridge has the same name, which is “the bridge of friendship”). This was the first time that we saw this massive and famous river, wide of over 400 metres at this point and already so impressive.

On the other side of the river, we got our Laotian visas for 30 days, after filling the administrative formalities and paying $31. We spent the evening on the left side of the Mekong, in the Huay Xai city. To wake our legs up, we climbed up to the old military fort of the city. Built by French people, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Carnot fort was now deserted and full of plants, giving a specific atmosphere. To enjoy a nice view over the Mekong and the surrounding mountains, there was nothing better than climbing up to the top of the old watchtower.  For this, we needed to disregard the cracks of the stairs and the wooden floor of which boards were missing or full of moths. We went back along the riverside to enjoy our first “Beerlao”, the local beer which was perfect with the sunset. A particular moment made by the humidity and the relief of the surrounding mountains – a poetic atmosphere. As we couldn’t find enough scooters for all the team in the Houei Xai city, we decided to reach the city of Luang Namtha. A four-hour journey in a bus full of people to reach the starting point of our adventure with two-wheel vehicles in the North of Laos.

After spending the evening to find scooters and looking the itinerary for the next few days, we left early in the morning with our bags hung on our scooters. We went towards Muand Sing, 10 kilometres away from the Chinese border, before to go along the Nam Ma river on a track to reach the small city of Muang Long. We crossed many villages including wooden houses built on stilts. There was a delicious smell of coriander in the streets.

Once arrived in Muang Long, we found quickly a hostel, named here “guesthouse”, with a basic but sufficient comfort at an interesting price. I went exploring around with the hope to find a nice spot for a swim in the Nam Ma river. Alongise the river, I used the hanging bridge made of bamboo, which links the village to the fields. A group of kids were playing with a lot of happiness. Surprised to see a tourist coming on their playground, they set themselves a challenge to get closer to me. Amused by this situation, I went smiley towards them without a doubt before to go backwards when one of them was on the bridge too. With this little game, crossing this bridge long of 20 metres will take quite a few minutes until one of them shook hands with me to say “hi”. I finished crossing the river while the smiley kids were going back to the village. However, there was no nice swimming spot in the river. So, I went back to meet the group for dinner with many memories but without having a fresh swim. Led by a teenager group helping us to find our way, we finally arrived at the night market located at the end of a dark little street. We had dinner on small tables in the middle of a courtyard. Noodles and meat skewers, without being sure of the ingredients we were eating. Not used to talk to English-speaking tourists, it was quite hard to understand the merchants. Except the offal skewers, we loved tasting the local specialities in a welcoming atmosphere.

Early in the morning, we went back on our two wheels to continue our adventure. The previous day, Julien and Gilles have noticed a path to cross the mountain to reach Luang Namtha. After 20 kilometres of ascent on a winding and stony road to reach Nambo. Upon our arrival in this village at the summit of the mountain, people were stopping their activities to watch us, like aliens. Chicken were going around the scooters and the kids stopped to run after their tires to play, just to look at us with eyes wide open. We have been welcomed by Tom-Thi in the building used as the city hall and the school. This young man of 30 years old was speaking English very-well. He was employed by the government to take care of education and economic development of the village. We talked to him about his life, the daily life of the inhabitants and the constraints due to their isolation.

We went back on the path on the mountainside. We crossed fords and sometimes made our way through a rocky field. The landscape and the mist were glorious. Gilles, good pilot with a lot of adventure experiences by scooter on the Asian paths, was leading us. He was going at a fast-paced, giving no respite to some of us who were beginners on a scooter. But we didn’t stop and were happy of going through this “path” crossing the mountains. Back on the asphalte, we indulged ourselves with an ice tea and some snacks in a shop, before to ride 60 kilometres on a nice winding road to reach Luang Namtha.

Our stay in the North of the country ended by a resting day with, as the only activity, a 6-kilometre hike to reach the Nam Dee waterfall. To reach it, we crossed the nice village of Lao Huay. Their speciality was the production of paper from bamboo fibres. Located 500 metres after the last house, the waterfall didn’t have a lot of flow during this dry season. It was not very magic but we enjoyed this fresh break with a swim in a nice and relaxing part of this jungle.

Upon our return, we enjoyed our last dinner at the night market in Luang Namtha, with Dominique and Ghislaine, travelling in a fully equipped 4×4 who left Europe 5 years ago. Tomorrow, we will go by bus to Luang Prabang, a 7-hour journey towards South.

Where to have a drink?

Riverside Café

A nice covered terrace made of wood with a view over the Mekong. A quite place to enjoy a beer at the sunset.