240km Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang
If we were asking ourselves just a few short days ago why we were doing this journey by bicycle, the world delivered its answer on the road to Luang Prabang. From the town of Kasi, only famous as a bus stop a little north of Vang Vieng, the road starts out flat but before long the mountains appear. Their peaks were still covered in mist as we began our climb in the early morning hours.
Up, up and still further up we went, passing women from the H’mong hill tribes with handwoven baskets on their back, walking in groups to the fields of rice, corn and bananas for a hard day of work. Sometimes they took their small children along but more often than not as we passed through tiny villages we spotted men at home with the youngest babies strapped to their backs. The parenting duties are equally shared in this part of the world, it would seem.
In each village, we were a universal hit with the kids, who rushed forward to wave and say ‘hello’ with wide grins. A few even held out their hands for high fives and were delighted when we managed to deliver one while still pedalling uphill. It was this constant string of good cheer coupled with the spectacular scenery that kept us going over a seemingly endless series of hills.
“Good luck,” said a backpacker as he looked at us when we stopped for lunch and then hopped into an air conditioned minivan for the ride to Luang Prabang. He was right, we needed it. Only occasionally did the road turn downwards, sparking hopes that maybe we’d reached the top but after two or three curves we inevitably spotted the next ascent ahead. By late in the afternoon we were flagging but a good 30km remained to the next guesthouse so carrying on was the only option.
Too tired to expend much energy on talking, we pushed silently to the top of a hill. Just as we glided over the crest we were greeted by a boy about 12 years old, singing a tranquil song in his own language. What a reward for our hard work and what a reason to travel by bicycle. The sound of his voice carried with us for a few hundred meters as we slipped down the other side to the next looming ascent.
Only the next day did we reach the city of Luang Prabang after rising at 5:30am from our spartan hotel in the mountain top town of Kiukacham, cooking breakfast on the hilltop and then descending through dreamy clouds of fog and lush valleys from 1,400 meters. Down we came to a river, then back up 15km before we reached our last downhill stretch into Luang Prabang. Finally in the city, our legs were like jelly and they stayed that way for the rest of the day. The mountains of northern Laos are hard work but the dividends they give back to the eager cyclist are worth it.