It is with mixed emotions that we are leaving the mountains behind. While the climbing has been challenging, the vistas and quiet roads have been spectacular. As we cycle along, we constantly hear “sabaideeeeeee” from the Laotian children as they scramble from their houses to greet us. At times we feel like national heros with the welcome and thumbs up we receive! We have had some spectacular days lately, and have met other cyclists along the way: Dee and Rog from Britain, and Bas from Holland. Dee was hit by a drunk moto driver in northern Laos and spent 7 weeks recovering her leg in Luang Prabang. She is well healed now, after some harrowing days spent in an iffy, rural clinic. Her bike was totaled, but they were able to get another one sent over from England, and she is back on track now. We have enjoyed some nice meals with them (and Bas), and it is great to spend time with other cyclists.
We cycled south from Luang Prabang down to Vientiane, the capitol of Laos. As we got closer to the city the traffic picked up, and since Route 13 is the only road heading north-south in Laos, it is where the trucks and buses are. We have also been dodging dogs, chickens, ducks, cows, water buffalo, motos, goats, tuk-tuks, children, you name it . We have decided to cross back to Thailand to cycle south on quieter roads, and re-enter Laos after about 45o miles along the Mekong River. First up though: more pages in Judy’s passport at the U.S. Consulate this afternoon for the hefty price of $85.
Vientiane was settled by the French as a hub of Indochina, and the French influence is everywhere. Crusty baguettes, shuttered villas and (our favorite) warm, flakey croissants in the morning! It is nowhere near as charming as Luang Prabang, but it is a comfortable city to spend a few days in.
Yesterday we visited COPE, a museum dedicated to education about land mines. We met an 18 year old boy who had lost both of his hands and his eyesight 3 years ago when he picked up an unexploded bomb. Even though the locals are told that any metal found on the ground could be explosive, the children are very vulnerable. The metal is used in so many ways in their houses, and the people are so poor, sometimes it is just too tempting. Even today it is estimated that there could still be more than 80 million unexploded cluster bombs remaining in Laos after the Vietnam war.
Laos is changing fast, and sometimes we feel we are about 10 years too late. It is a gem of a country and if you are interested in visiting it, we suggest you don’t wait too long. Chinese industry is moving in, and the signs of it are everywhere.