Guest blog: Cycling in central Laos
This guest post is written by Andrew Stephen from Harrogate. He has experienced many cycling tours in Wales, Ireland, Leeds and other places across the world.
Cycle tour in central Laos
Mountain biking is only as good as your environment. And, in my opinion, there are few better landscapes for cycling than the breath-taking mountains of central Laos.
I arrived in Luang Prabang, a city in north central Laos, with little more than the backpack slung over my shoulder. The city is awesome. Blatant spirituality paves every street and the sense of peace is overwhelming. However, as fascinating as the town’s culture is, I was here to experience the mountains.
I paid just £50 for a two-day cycle through the rugged Laotian terrain, as well as a 12-hour kayak back to the town on day three. Food, water, accommodation and a fairly reputable bicycle were included.
We were only a small group, including of two other Welshmen and myself, headed up by an uber-knowledgeable and ultra-friendly guide, Tuy, who rather impressively wore folded-down wellington boots during the entire trip.
The cycling began with a flat few hours as we wound through fields and past surging streams. Rice paddies growing the Laotian staple of “sticky rice” were numerous. Dozens of times we would casually cycle past a group of Laotian women, faces clad with balaclavas to prevent burning their faces.
After three or four hours of pleasant cycling, with very few gradients to test us yet, Tuy stopped by a bamboo hut used by Paddy workers to shelter from storms. A few jovial attempts at English instructions and he was reclined fully, sound asleep, enjoying an afternoon nap before the hard work began.
Hopping back on the saddle, I instantly regretted not recharging the batteries. The trail quickly bent upward. The ascents became leg-breakingly steep, unending and right in the focal point of the scorching sun.
Cycling ever upward, along the dusty trail, a brightly coloured green snake slithered into my path. I’ve still no idea to what species it belonged, though Tuy quickly yelped and hurried it along with a long stick to cries of “it kill the foreigner’, which was a little disconcerting to say the least.
The first day amounted to some 10 hours of cycling. Reaching a small mountain community, Tuy introduced us to some local people and took off to prepare lunch. Our group sat around listening to a guitar and drinking beers. With no electricity or running water and not a whisper of phone signal, this community of several hundred rice paddy workers live autonomously from the rest of the world. It was truly humbling to spend the night with these wonderful people.
Day two: The best ever cycling
As the sun rose on day two of the cycle, it seemed we were the only ones in the village yet to be up and about. But it wasn’t long before we were back on the saddle, had said our goodbyes and continued along the trail cutting across the face of one of the hundreds of mountainous ridges.
The ride this day was by far and away the best cycling experience I have ever had. The views were breath-taking as we skirted along the top of the valley, pedalling like mad, hitting some amazing air off the bumpy ground and slicing through shallow rivers. At one point, Tuy offered each of us a giant green leaf, which he then wrapped around our helmets to shield us from the scorching sun.
Our camp for the night was where we would finally say farewell to our trusty mountain bikes, sleep off the day’s fatigue and begin our kayak back into the heart of Luang Prabang the following day. However, the punishing slogs of the previous days ascents were about to truly reward us with a downhill descent that would serve to take the remainder of the day.
Spanning out before me, the yellow, gravelly track cradled by overhanging fauna on all sides was an exhilarating sight. Cranking up the gears and plummeting down I ducked and weaved under trees, sprang across shallow gorges and wrestled my way around tight corners. From time to time the route became precarious, allowing only experienced cyclists with a little bit of courage permission to pass. Of course, our guide Tuy was miles in front, without a hint of a joy-killing health and safety warning or a long patronising lecture, which enhanced the experience no end.
Arriving at the foot of the trail, there was nothing left to do but hand our bikes over to the guys at the shelter and crack open a few more Beer Lao’s. Watching the intimidating currents we were to conquer the next morning, we reminisced of the pure joy the preceding two days had offered up, which took most of the night.