Laos has been a country of two wheeled adventures for me. Ever since I figured out in Luang Namtha that I could get an automatic motorbike for 6 bucks, I was set. This is the best way to see the sights in this country. It helps that I run into some awesome people doing so as well. There were the two Central Asian guys that are biking from Laos to London in time for the olympics. That’s a mere few months from now, I hope they make it! Then I ran into the Chinese foursome of retired folk biking from Kunming, China through Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. One of the old ladies is doing it on a commuter bike with 21 gears. More power to you, old folk powering by me on the road!
My first adventure was with a motorbike that went awry as I ran out of gas halfway on the 60 km drive to the scenic village I was heading to. Luckily, it was the drive that was the most beautiful part with national protected area lined curvy roads. The real mishap was in my rush to find gas, I slid the bike and have a weird shoulder scar now from it. I didn’t make it to the next village but I’m now hooked on two wheel adventures.
The next two wheeled adventure went better. I had planned to leave Luang Prabang, but as these things often go, I was easily persuaded to stay another day for a bike ride to the falls. I thought about it the day earlier but correctly figured out I couldn’t bike 32 km (about 20 miles) to the falls and back in one afternoon. I’m glad I had someone to bike that with, the last 10 km were all uphill. It was not an easy ride for me, I haven’t exercised that much since my capoeira month. We passed by the military training in the fields with their automatic guns. Many kids we saw tried to give us hellos and high fives as we passed. One even tried to give me a high five while we were both on bikes, it seemed like a good way to clothesline a small girl to me. The tuk tuk drivers who kept zooming by us full of backpackers and tourists saw us when we arrived, all tired and sweaty. They zoned in and asked if we needed a ride back. Opportunistic jerks. We stayed a while, but I still can’t get used to the conservative dress here (no shoulders or knees for the ladies, or at least no bikini tops or bare chests) nor the many tourists flaunting the rules. Luckily for me, the ride back was way easier, with the big hill going down from the waterfall. The next day one of the tuk tuk drivers in town was badgering us to go for a waterfall ride, and when we mentioned we went already, he laughed! “I know you, you bike yesterday!” That’s one way to get those pesky tuk tuk drivers to stop bugging you. I think this 40+ mile ride was the longest I’ve ever done.
The bike ride was so fun, new friend Bruce and I decided to go to the Plain of Jars together. While a magnificent site, I hadn’t planned on going because it’s a bit out of the way and a whole day of bus riding away. I’m really glad I did. Taking a motorbike to the completely devoid of tourist sites 2 and 3 was wonderful. The large site 1 where everyone was hanging out was a site to behold. I always thought the Plain of Jars was one plain, not 52 different sites. It was amazing to be in a region that reminds me of Montana complete with cowboys and ranches. It’s also incredibly sad because this beautiful region is one of the most bombed regions in the most bombed country in the world. The US’s secret war against the communists in the 60s and 70s means this country is pocked with bomb craters and unexploded bombs that continue to haunt Laotians to this day. It is a shame to see such a grand historical mystery be partially destroyed by a secret war. Trenches and bomb craters sit side by side with the huge jars. The town of Phonsavan is the nearest town and isn’t very developed but has enough for the one day everyone seems to stay. I’m really glad I got to see such an awe inspiring sight. What could these ancient people have made these for and why so many?