|Auckland to Laos- Sunday February 10.,
The Air Malaysia flight, Auckland to Kuala Lumpur left on time at 2.40pm. Pete had to pay $40 for the extra kilo in his bike box, it must have been the extra pair of shoes he put in. Our panniers seem lighter and smaller than for our Europe trip, as we are only packing for 5 weeks and one season. Temperatures should range between 20 to 40C. Dinner, a spicy chicken curry and rice for Nickie and a beef curry for Pete,( Asian cuisine already!) was enjoyed with a celebratory Tiger Beer. Pete dozed and Nickie finished reading “ The Listener” and then worked on her embroidery, using a small pair of nail clippers to cut thread as scissors are banned, she was too excited to sleep. Around 1.30am NZ time-we transited through KL airport, using the “train transport” between arrivals and departures, for the 3 hr flight to Bangkok. We were feeling very weary on arrival at Bangkok, now about 4.30am NZ time- about 14 hours on the go and hardly any sleep for 22hrs. It was no trouble through immigration but then we see that Petes bikebox was ripped apart in one corner, big enough almost for the tent to fall out from, and we just hoped that nothing smaller was missing! Using “The Listener” and a good amount of tape we patched the hole and then left the bikeboxes in luggage stores. Exhausted we showered and had about 6 hrs fitful sleep at a hotel, then breakfast before returning to collect bikeboxes to fly 2hrs with Laos Airlines to Vientiane (Laos capital city) A small airport about the size of Nelson’s airport. We barely had time to get some kip from the ATM before walking about 200m to the departures for the 2 hr flight to Luang Prabang. Wow what views from the plane over where we will be cycling, the mountains are steep and jagged!
Luang Prabang, Laos Monday Feb 11
Auckland to Luang Prabang has taken us about 30hrs and yet we adjust our watches to 6 hrs behind NZ time. Pete does a fairly quick job of building our bikes as many interested travellers and locals watch intently. And we are relieved nothing is missing. One skinny old fellow comes over and grimaces as he can barely lift petes bike, he then laughs when Pete gestures he should try again with the bags on!
Exhilaration overrides exhaustion as we put bums on seats and feet on pedals. We start pedalling! Immediately we recognise we are in Asia as we pass the many small vege stalls, and roadside mechanical /repair stalls, a man covered in grease squatting over some part of an engine as his mate replaces a scooter tyre, and they have half a dozen tools between them. They ignore us. Dogs thankfully also ignore us and they saunter all over the road somehow dodging all the scooters and tuk-tuks. Nickie employs instinct to find the way into town and about 4 ks through a more industrial area, she sees hotels and homes. However she doesn’t see the blue road sign “Luang Prabang town” sign that is hidden in a hedge on the far side of the junction. So after a left turn, (instead of right) Pete asks the first “european” people we see where to find the town and hostels and we’re told that Chinese New Year will be celebrated for the next 4 days and all the hostels are full …great start!! We are later told that a convoy of some 900 cars and 2000 chinese visitors are in town. At the 4th villa we ask at, we get a room at 100,000kip per night, ($16 NZ) with a shared bathroom. Its now close to 4pm and we don’t want to look any farther, but just shower and relax. We introduce ourselves to our neighbours whom we share the bathroom with, a really nice 4-some of young backpackers, Binnie an Indian girl from Dallas,Texas who is a psychology student, Max from Germany, Mika and Job a dutch couple. They all met on the 2 day slow-boat from Thailand to here and they will go south and into Cambodia and Vietnam by bus. Just before sunset we ventured on foot into the town centre, and walked on the road as there are few footpaths(uneven and ankle breakers) and open drains. It took a huge amount of focus to dodge scooters Tuk-tuks and trucks in the fading light, sunset around 6.30pm. There were just too many people and busy traffic for Nickie to manage in her sleep deprived state to deal with, so with relief we found a near empty restaurant on the river bank where we enjoyed the best meal ever of fried rice, vege and egg with a cold beer, followed by banana cake. Only 75,000 kip ($12 ).
Tuesday Feb 12- Thank goodness for earplugs, the night was long and noisy. Frogs, Dogs, and karaoke til past midnight! Then frogs, dogs, cats, birds and roosters at 5.30am. We actually feel pretty good, so the transition to Laos time has been easy. Today was a walking tour around the peninsula area (old architecture but trendy touristic shops) and visits to temples, one of them on top of the hill up 300 or more steps (see photos.) Many tourists hire bikes and risk the chaotic traffic, not one of them wearing a helmet or proper shoes!! Are they mad!! Do they want to end up in a Laos hospital?? Temps are around mid 30s and its very muggy, but we don’t feel the ‘heavy headiness” that we can feel at home with humidity. Of course, stopping often for cold drinks in the shade of a cafe is the recommended thing to do ! We love the beer, and the iced lemon juice and coconut milk shakes. We are often touted by tuk-tuk or slowboat drivers to go to the waterfalls or some cave buddhas , but they back off after only one “no thanks” . They are laid back and friendly. There are lots of tourists, currently for them to make a living, as it s the “high season” now until end of march when the rains come. Pete met Holly a nzer, now living in Laos and working for a travel company. She fortunately gave us a fairly detailed road map of Laos, the one Pete bought online didn’t arrive before we left home. While having a beer, a little boy came by selling bead bangles, and Nickie felt some guilt when she said no thanks and he ran off looking so disappointed. Only 10,000 kip,( $2) how could she be so mean ? So when 2 little girls together came by with beads, Nickie wanted a bangle from each of them! Karma balanced now! $4nz, I wonder how much commission they get. Pete got a SIM card and was able to txt msg home. 5pm on our way back to the villa we enjoyed a cold coconut milk shake then a salad tuna baguette from the street stalls that were just beginning to set up. We were feeling pretty relaxed back at the villa and started to set up the blog. However by 7,30 Pete was hungry and was keen to try the rice and mushroom dish at the restaurant that we had enjoyed last night but we left after waiting 15mins to be served. Nickie was so hungry now she was ready to eat her own arm. s All other restaurants were more expensive and very noisy/ busy. By chance we found a “food hall” down an alleyway, jam packed with locals and tourists and a selection of stalls:, whole grilled fish on sticks, unidentifiable meaty bits on sticks, noodle and soup stalls and we chose vegetarian food, interesting combinations of salads and noodles and rice only 10 ooo kip or $1.50 a huge plate. This was all previously cooked, but was now cold and we had to eat with chopsticks that weren’t in a sealed packet so were probably used and hopefully washed. Aargh we had broken some food hygiene recommendations here and also with having lots of ice in the coconut shake earlier. At least the beer wasn’t going to harm us.
Wednesday Feb 13 Luang Prabang- Had a more comfortable sleep by putting airbeds ontop of the very thin bed pads. After enjoying omelettes and huge cups of Lao organic shade grown coffee at the Riverloft Restaurant, we crossed the bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan river to a small eco-tourist village. Pete tried at many hardware/mechanical type shops but can’t find white spirits for the stove, so will have to use petrol. We bought some more fruit , I think is called “ mangostines” see the photo, delicious, juicy with subtle lemon taste and some coconut/cinnamon croissants for lunch and settled down to write the blog. Cooler temps this morning with the cloud cover til it burnt off about 3pm, up to 28C. We farewelled the 4 young neighbours who say they will try to visit us in NZ some day. We are really enjoying this villa, sitting out in our garden with the bar next door playing some great oldie classics, Neil Young and John Denver. Pete has worked on the bikes and “MacGyvered” a holder for the GPS from the old bike computer holder off Nickies bike. The GPS holder was left in our car. The road maps are on the GPS now BUT somehow the town names are spelled in a different dialect?? They look like Chinese spellings-could it be because there are Chinese owned satellites up above. ?? We note that the Lao have 2 or 3 variations of spelling for temples and streets etc, a wee bit confusing!