Laos was a bit like holidays! First we met friends come to spend the new year under the sun. There were Pierre and Oana, married in Romania and still in their honeymoon. They arrived with Yehuda who wanted for long time to discover this country. And two other brass band friends come specially from Europe: George Michael and Bunker. We made an appointment in the capital city. Nothing in common with Bangkok, Vientiane seemed to be a small city of the country. We arrived in the centre by a small road of soil, we were pessimistic for the rest of the road network. Consequently, we were very prudent! However there were here many tourists who went to the same places. In our hostel, we ran into Laurie and Guillaume whom we met in Guilin in China. We badly imagined these aventurers going from a city to another city by bus. Actually, they bought two motorbikes in Vietnam to travel like us itinerantly but faster. Arrived few days ago, they brought us in a very french restaurant. We didn’t resist to eat a fried Camembert and a foie gras burger.
We decided to leave our bicycles one week and to follow the group to Luang Prabang by bus. A pique-nique was organized with the saucisson and the cheese arrived straight from Normandy. It was delicious, thanks Bunker! We made a stop for a night in Vang Vieng well-known for its landscapes and its party atmosphere. The river among the cliffs was beautiful but the pubs are not very lively. On the second part of our journey, Gabriel threw up. He was not used car and beer. We regretted to not ride this road because the wonderful landscapes are difficult to enjoy from the window of a mini-van. On the other side, we were eased to not climd these mountains where the road was sometimes very steep.
Luang Prabang is a very beautiful city on the bank of the Mekong river surrounding by mountains. It is very touristic because of its numerous temples. If you get up early, you can see the charity ceremony. At the sunrise, dozens of buddhist monks walk in the streets while the believers fill their alm bowl. On the evening, you can discover the local handicraft on the night market. The ancestral know-how, especially the weaving, have been adapted to make products that tourists buy. In Laos, almost every woman…. wear a traditional skirt weaved with geometrical patterns.
We spent the New Year’s Eve in the trendy bar of the city and finished at the bowling. The day after, to recover, we went to discover wonderful waterfalls few kilometres away. We didn’t resist to bath in this heavenly blue water.
Laos was in the french Indochina. The french government invested very few in this poor country in natural resources. It used it as a buffer state against the British empire which owned Burma. However, there is a colonial heritage. First in the food, there are many bakeries with baguettes, croissants and pains au chocolat! Our breakfasts were wonderful! Sometimes, we met old people who speak some words of French.
We left our friends to meet our bicycles and we went directly to the south of the country by night bus, on the Bolaven plateau. We spent few days in the Tad Lo village. Despite its touristic attract, it was very traditional. It was possible to hike among fields and villages to discover the Lao countryside and several waterfalls. On the evening, appointment at the river to see the elephants bath. Very impressive!
The Bolaven plateau is well-known for its coffee. It grows in altitude in the shadow of bigger trees. On bicycles, we saw it drying on the side of the road. We had the luck to taste it in a Buddhist temple. We received in Laos a better welcome than in Thailand. Monks invited us to sit with them and we exchanged some words, sometimes in French.
The atmosphere in the country was very relax. We heard Lao people work only when they are hungry. A Vietnamese worker would be three times more productive. When we ordered in a restaurant, we should be patient. We saw often a motorbike going to buy the ingredient at the next shop. This forced us to relax and live as slow as the country.
On the road we were surprised by the enthusiasm of the kids who ran screaming “Sabadi”: hello in Lao. Our answers seemed to fill them of happiness. One day we met a teacher of French who was picking coffee bean with his students. As he had never travelled, he was very happy to talk with us. He told his life and ask questions about our life.
After come down along the Mekong river, we visited the Vat Phu. Built in the XII th century on a side of a mountain, this khmer temple give a wonderful view on the valley.
Before leaving the country, we stayed on the Don Det island, the most touristic of the 4000 islands. Here, the Mekong river meet some relief. Consequently, there are impressive waterfall with a huge debit and numerous islands sometimes as big as a tuft of grass. The best to discover them was the kayak tour with a sight of the Irrawaddy dolphins. These freshwater dolphins with a different head from their maritime cousins are threatened. In this area, there are less than ten individuals. On the evening, we could enjoy wonderful sunsets on the river from the terrace of our room.
We felt in Laos a small taste of France which was pleasant. First our friends and then the good food. With nice and funny people, smiling kids, a relaxed atmosphere and of course a big sun, it was successful winter holidays!
On the 14th of January, we crossed the border with Cambodia with a small apprehension.