Laos is a popular tourist destination… That is, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Ventiane are. The other 98 % of this beautiful country is devoid of any tourism. And we have no problem with this at all.
After 2 days of driving on the “new freight route” to China we decided that we did not like Chinese drivers. The many, very heavy Chinese trucks had ripped the asphalt to shreds. As a result the traffic that came from the opposite direction, mostly very heavy Chinese trucks, tried to avoid the many many very deep potholes and by doing so, used our lane. Since they were bigger than we were… we had to stop to let them go first… many many times.
This and the many many very deep potholes mentioned before, made our progress rather slow. It took us 2 days to cover the 171 kilometers from the Thai-Lao border to Luang Nam Tha, our first stop.
But… the knowledge that we would be rid of those big heavy Chinese trucks on the next leg of our journey kept us sane. Well,… Mostly sane.
About pots and potholes in Lao´s PDR
Luang Nam Tha is a nice town. Nice because it has a small riverside hotel that also caters for “people like us” in big and dirty overland-vehicles.
And… that is basically all it has. There is a National Park, but there is no access to it unless you are Tarzan and brought your favorite elephant.
There is also a waterfall, but our kitchen-sink is more impressive than the tiny trickle of water that dripped from a height of about 1 meter.
But we did get our laundry done… well sort of done as it was shitty weather and it did not dry.
Our next destination was about 450 kilometers east, near the Vietnamese border: The caves of Viang Xai.
During the “Secret War” (The USA bombing the shit out of Laos for 9 year for no apparent reason) the Lao people mostly lived in caves and worked their fields (or what was left of them) at night.
In Viang Xai some 20,000 people lived underground and these caves have recently been opened for tourist. It is interesting and quite saddening to learn about the enormous problem Laos is facing with millions of un-exploded bombs littering the country.
As you probably can imagine, we did not drive that 450 kilometer in 1 day. Neither did we do it in 2. Yes, the Chinese trucks were gone, but the potholes remained the same and the width of this curvy mountain-road was about half of what is generally acceptable, so every oncoming car meant “slow to a crawl at the edge of the road and pray the other guy would do the same”. Since Laotians seem to get their driving-license for free with a box of serial, they mostly just would “blast past”, only just missing us due to our incredible amount of luck.
Fortunately not many Laotians can afford a car, so traffic was not to busy with about 1 car per hour.
Our next stop was the “Plain of Jars” and I was looking forward to this as it had taunted my imagination for many years, ever since I was unable to visit the North of Laos due to armed insurgents roaming the area and killing indiscriminately in 2002.
It only took us 2 days to get to Phonsavan. You might think it is annoying to have to drive such vast distances to get anywhere, but it is not. Driving through Lao´s countryside shows you the local life and this is amazingly interesting and fascinating.
Everything happens “on the side of the road”. People cook, sit, chat, drink, eat, shower, do laundry, have a hair-cut, build houses, fabricate stuff, basically do everything they do “on the side of the road”, so we got to see it all.
They are also extremely friendly, often waving at us as we drive by and posing for photos when we stop. All without asking for anything in return. Since Tip can speak the local language, we learned a lot about Lao-life and got fantastic photos.
Sleeping was a bit of a challenge. Not because of the people, but because most of Laos is mountainous and any flat surface is used to build a house, a hut or a place to cook or do any of the above mentioned activities.
So, finding a place to park our Little Boat was not easy, but we managed somehow, every time. In front of a school, in between of some piles of stones deposited for road-works, on a football field or at a fuel-station. Never a problem, though one time the local police brought us to a different spot which they thought safer.
We always got water to fill our tanks and even though we always offered, they never wanted money for it.
A hospitable and fascinating country to travel.
The Plain of Jars was not at all what I had imagined for so many years. The biggest “site” is right next to Phonsavan, which is a big, smelly and dusty city. So not really the mystical ambiance I had expected.
Still, it was interesting to see these massive stone jars, carved out of boulders, scattered around the hilly surroundings. And, for the first time, we got to see tourists. Buses came, stopped and spewed out loads of Chinese tourists, all armed with selfy-sticks, all noisy and all unaware of anything else but themselves in the world.
Time to leave.
Next stop Luang Prabang. Tourist destination Nr. 1 in Laos.