As soon as I'm back in Laos, I make another detour west of the main road. The whole area here is full of large, steep karst hills around which the road meanders. This is immediately much more interesting to drive than those endless plains of the last weeks. In the hills there are a lot of caves, some of which I visit.
In the middle of the route I get a small bungalow with a family to stay overnight. It begins to storm at night. After almost 2 months it is the first rain, but it's a real tropical thunderstorm and from time to time I think that my little house is washed away by the floods.
What does a river do when a mountain stands exactly in its course? Usually he probably stalls, or he finds a way around it. Not like this here in Kong Lo. Here the river has actually eroded a tunnel straight through the mountain! With a longtail boat I ride on the river through the 7km long cave. It is dark like in a cow and only the beam of the headlamps of my boatmen let you get an idea of the enormous dimensions of these up to 100m wide and high caverns. I feel like I'm in the middle of Jules Verne' s' Journey to the Center of the Earth'. A unique experience.
At least as nice is the stay in the small village next to the cave. With a family, I get a simple room. The food is sticky rice, which I got used to after a few weeks in Laos. In the evening I play a round of football with the children on the dry rice field. After 8 o' clock it is already dark and quiet in the village, but by 5 o' clock everyone seems to be already back on his feet. Before I start again the next day, the grandmother quietly ties a coloured ribbon around my wrist. It's supposed to bring me luck.
Vientiane is a really cosy small town. You would never suspect that it is a capital city if it weren't for some embassies here. The main attraction for me is clearly the food. Here you can find really good and international cuisine. Drinking a cold Beerlao in the evening on the Mekong shore and watching the sunset is definitely not only my favourite pastime here.
I always start very early in the morning. This is exactly the time when the monks walk through the streets in their saffron-yellow robes and ask the people for food. Almost every morning I can see it when I leave a town.
On the markets there are the strangest things to buy here sometimes. Apparently everything that was once moving is also eaten. There are all kinds of birds, cats, rats, frogs etc. During a break, a man offers me his food. I'll try and ask what that was. Ants' eggs' is his answer! Fortunately, I didn't know this before, but the best part was that it tasted really good. Besides fruits, it is often quite difficult to find something decent to eat on the way.
My prayers seem to have been answered. North of Vientiane I finally return to the mountains. There are a few long, steep climbs again and on top at 1400m it is finally a bit cooler at night.
Uli & Bine have also been cycling for about a year and after our last email contacts we should meet here somewhere along the way. One afternoon, while I'm already drinking my well deserved Beerlao in a small guesthouse along the road, they actually arrive. It turned out to be a very entertaining evening and of course we have a lot to talk about.
Luang Prabang is the most popular tourist destination in Laos. It's a quiet little town on the Mekong. Most of the houses are in the former colonial style. In the shade of the palm trees men play boules and there are baquette and crepes. In the evening, the main street is closed off and turned into a huge craftsmen's market. In the side streets there are many food stalls where you can try all kinds of delicacies.
Lots of tourists who are often better off is unfortunately also a disadvantage as the locals starts to charge for everything. To visit a (not very special) cave I pay 10x as much as anywhere else and even to park the bike in front of it has its price.
Unfortunately, I'm not very lucky with my choice of food and I have to step down for a few days before my digestion works again as desired.
Already before Luang Prabang there were many of these fires, where entire hills were set alight. But here the whole thing has now reached a new climax. During the day, the mixture of fog and smoke makes it difficult to see the sun any more. I actually wanted to make a few detours here in the north, but with that smoke and the desolate landscape I skip it.
I pass the last children coming to the street for a' high five', the last Sabai dii's, then I leave Laos across the border to China.