Laos is mountainous, that I already experienced. Until now it has been 1000 meter altitude difference to overcome at a day but today it’s the double. There are two possible ways from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng and I chose the shorter one, but beforehand I let other cyclist assure me that the street is tarred and in good shape.
Nevertheless, in only 40 km it gets 2000 meter up, which means that the incline is usually over 10 %. I start early in the morning with the hope that I would have finished most of the way until the midday heat. My strategy with such mountains is as followed: no break until the peak. At least not a longer one because if I stop for more than five minutes the muscles get cold and while continuing the legs get tiered and it gets even more exhausting. I just stop to drink or to eat a few bananas. But in the long run such high inclinations are difficult to ride. Even in the lowest gear it gets tiring to push the pedals and I get off the bicycle to push a little. Of course this is also exhausting but different muscles are strained and sometime around midday I reach the highest point at 2000 meter height and I take a longer break.
Every meter that I had to go up I have to go down now. But considering the decline it isn’t just fun. I constantly have to brake so that I don’t go faster than 60 km/h and the rims heat up so much that I often have to cool them with water. It fizzles and fumes as soon as I pour my valuable drinking water over the wheels.
At the end of the day it says 91 km on the speedometer and 1986 meter in altitude difference. At least now it gets flatter and the next day I reach Vang Vieng.
The place isn’t that exciting; it’s the usual accumulation of bars, restaurants, hostels and travel agencies like they can be found in every touristy place. Again beautiful is the landscape, huge rocks rise in front of you and there are a few caves to visit.
Festival in Vientiane
I continue to Vientiane. I actually try to avoid large cities, and capitals are mostly very large, but Vientiane has only less than half a million inhabitants (in all of Laos , there are 7 million ) and is said to be relaxed and quiet .
Not so this weekend: The Lao people celebrate the end of Lent of the monks with a festival which is called Lhai Heua Fai. In the morning the temples are more crowded than usual, people bring all kinds of gifts and food items. In the evening small boats, made of banana leaves with candles and incense on it, are placed in the water of the Mekong River. It’s about honoring the Mekong and the spirits inhabiting it . Mekong means „mother of all things ” and of course the river is a livelihood for millions of people in Southeast Asia. It is also about honoring the dead, and the boats symbolically carrying away all the bad things like diseases and misfortune.
It is a deeply religious and centuries-old tradition which is, however, complemented by modern commercialism. All over the Mekong banks are stalls where people can purchase clothes, new beauty products and mobile phones, just everything. Each stall has big speakers and sellers with megaphones screaming the best offers loudly. It’s a hell of a noise from every direction but the thousands of Laotians, which are pushing slowly along the overcrowded streets seems that not to bother at all.
Again, I remember a sentence from a guide book: “The Laotians perceive loud noise not as unpleasant. ” No one is disturbed when someone plays the latest Laotian pop music with the sound volume of a discotheque at 6 in the morning. Same thing if Sunday at lunch time the saws and jack hammers start to make noise at a construction site.
The next day there are some rowing boat races, called Boun Suang Heua, held on the Mekong . The boats are equipped with over 50 rowers, the teams arrived from far villages for the big day. Crowds of spectators standing next to the river, cheering for the numerous rowing teams. It is a great event and in the evening not only much water flowed down the Mekong , also a lot of Beer Lao the throats of the Laotians .
The next days I will cycle the southern part of Laos. Along the Mekong it is 800 kilometer to the Cambodian border.