After our cycling time-out at the Gibbon Experience some proper ‘Laotian’ fun was awaiting us. The plan was to make our way down from the North of Laos to Vientiane, the capital, then mid way through the country at Savannahket, cut back into Vietnam. Wow, but in between we had to get across what Laos is famous for: steep, high, long mountain passes. For five grueling days we did non-stop climbing! At least the scenery was unforgettable, thick forests and steamy jungle expanses as far as the eye could reach, making it all worthwhile.
Finally it went down hill again. We started in the high, cool, misty mountains and began a slow, meandering descend into the valleys. Steep karst peaks speckled the landscape, covered by jungle vegetation. This was one of our definite scenic highlights of the trip so far. We had reached the rice terraces at the bottom of the mountain ranges just before Vang Vien. At the time we were passing through, it was “rice-planting season”. Entire extended families were congregated on the rice fields, slogging in the thick mud, digging and planting fresh green bundles of young rice.
Once we passed Vientiane, we were greeted by a rain shower that accompanied us the whole day, sometimes drizzling lightly, sometimes raining hard. The rainy season had finally caught up with us. Within a few minutes our ponchos had given up trying to keep us dry. We were drenched from top to bottom. Roads were covered in massive puddles. Thank God for our reliable Ortlieb waterproof panniers, which always kept our stuff dry. Low and behold the rain continued for days, actually only stopping once we crossed back into Vietnam!
All in all we loved our time in Laos. Life is very simple here, definitely lacks the hustle and bustle of its surrounding Asian countries. This becomes obvious, as most villages still do not have wifi. It is a luxury reserved only for a few of the bigger towns. We also had some interesting ‘bed experiences’, from having mites, to rat shit to bugs in our dirty, holey bed sheets. But the gently, friendly Laotians make up for it. Especially as they are very honest people, hardly ever trying to rip us off. On a few occasions we didn’t find a guesthouse or hotel before sunset, but were positively surprised when we were warmly welcomed into the homes of locals.
Once we crossed back into Central Vietnam, some beautiful, quaint towns, rich history and amazing cuisine awaited us. We absolutely love trying new dishes and are seldom disappointed here in the East. Only the dried, yet moist, shriveled, black frog was a challenge. It just did not want to go down my throat, while a Laotian family, which had invited us, was watching amused.
Our first stop back in Vietnam was Hue, a charming, imperial town that does not only offer many palaces, pagodas, tombs and temples, but it is also famous for its culinary highlights.
Next on our program is Dong Hoi. This is a rather inconspicuous town and we only go on this detour as a teacher we met in Hanoi had invited us to talk to her English students about our Rhino project. We expected little and were pleasantly surprised. Dong Hoi has a beautiful riverfront and is renowned for being close to the stunning Phong Nha National Park.
Not missing out on this opportunity we spontaneously extend our stay and join a day tour to the Paradise Cave and the Dark Cave. The whole area is riddled by hundreds of cave systems and spectacular underground rivers. Just seeing 1km of the 31km long Paradise Cave is already jaw dropping and impressive.
The Dark Cave is all about adventure. In our bikinis, only equipped with helmets and headlamps, we zip-line over a river to the cave´s entrance. In the cave we make our way through the chilly underwater river. The path gets really narrow, closing down on us, darkness thick around us. Our feet are sinking into deep, squishy mud – eerie and exhilarating! Suddenly a chamber opens up and we fall into a mud pool. Amazing – the mud is like heavy water, keeping our bodies afloat. An awesome experience!
Back in Hue a very special chapter of our trip begins: our parents are joining our ride for 3 weeks. I really admire my mother for taking up this challenge, as she isn´t much of a cyclist. Luckily they have followed the most important touring tip – “Take little luggage!” This will definitely pay off on the mountain climbs.
For more info on our tour and our progress check out our Facebook page Buy No Rhino.
P.S. Awesome South Africans have nominated us for “Awesome of the year 2015”! Vote for us here. You can win some great prizes too.