On Monday, life in Hanoi gradually returned to normal. Together with Patrick I drove to the Thai embassy to apply for my visa. Since I could not pick up the visa until the next day, I decided to postpone my departure to Wednesday. So I had some more time with the nomad bike family.
At the last dinner together there was cream for dessert. Simply fantastic. After one last soup, I said goodbye to Patrick's relationship. Sandra and Patrick accompanied me for a while and then I had to move on alone after twelve wonderful days.
The way out of the city was found relatively quickly. After only three hours driving, I met four Englishmen. They have bought four motorcycles in Hanoi and are now driving through Southeast Asia for half a year. One of them had a breakdown and had to use his machine in the workshop.
The mistake on the machine was soon found. The dear seller in Hanoi had no oil filled! I said goodbye to the fours and drove on. Just a few miles later, the first cyclist appeared on the horizon. Colin drives a bit through Vietnam for five weeks for the fourth time. At the beginning of February he flies back to England.
We drove together to Hoa Binh and quartered ourselves in a Nha Nghi (hotel) for 200'000 dong (10th francs). There we met Steve from Canada. He started his bicycle from Hong Kong and travels through Southeast Asia for five months. In Hanoi he had to spend four days in the hospital because of severe stomach problems. We ate together in a restaurant and talked for a long time. Everyone drove on the next morning.
However, when I had a lunch break after two hours, Steve suddenly appeared again. So we continued together. Mist and lingering drizzle caused a damp mood. In addition, it was pretty high up the mountain. After so many days of rest, it's not easy to get back to cycling. Fortunately, I was able to deposit a little Balast with Sandra and Patrick.
We took the slope and made on the road regularly drinking and food breaks. On the descent, the fog cleared and released the view of Mai Chao. Already at the village entrance we got the first accommodation offers. We agreed to an experiment. Just outside the village the owner of a homestay took us to his house. A true traditional wooden house, as in the Ethnological Museum in Hanoi. Beautiful.
In the whole village it is possible to watch women at a rendering of carpets. During the tour in the village you feel almost a bit back in a bygone era. The dinner was heavenly and I slept wonderfully under the mosquito net.
After saying goodbye to Steve the next morning, I headed south on the Ho Chi Minh Highway. Only little traffic, many small villages and pleasant temperatures made the trip a beautiful experience. In a serpentine tore my chain. Already for the fourth time on this trip. Luckily, my mother had brought me a click link to Hong Kong. So the damage was fixed quickly. Even the street signs made fun of the slopes. If I had known what awaited me on mountain stages in the next few days, the laughter would have gone by pretty quickly.
Together with Patrick I had chosen a variant in Hanoi through the mountains on less traveled roads. So I turned off the Ho Chi Minh Highway after 50 kilometers and ended up in a small town until the evening. In the only hotel I was received very hearty.
In a restaurant I could even order a vegetarian soup. While eating, the owner brought her daughter, who spoke a little English. First, they wanted to know where I came from, what I'm doing here, and then, if I was married. When I said no, I got an offer from several ladies in the restaurant. I then asked if one of them would be willing to cycle back to Europe by bike? Since the discussion was suddenly over. Hehe.
The next day started with paved roads. But soon there was only one kind of dirt road. Due to the heavy rains of the past days, the road had turned into a real mud slope. At first I had my reservations. Should I turn back? Suddenly, three school girls overtook me on their single-speed bikes and showed me how to drive through the mud holes. After a while I got the hang of it. It's a bit like riding a kayak through a wave. Always keep moving!
Unfortunately, I needed almost half a day for the 25 kilometers this morning and the weather outlook promised no improvement. So I turned back on the Ho Chi Minh Highway and set up my tent for the first time in Vietnam. The night was very quiet and so I made the next days always a bit of tent construction. It was not always easy to find a suitable place.
When I was just setting up my tent the night before the border, two men appeared. They said there was no safe place to camp here. Allegedly, there are many drug addicts around here. I should stay with them in the village. That felt a bit strange to me. So far, I have never had problems with drug addicts in Vietnam. I explained to them that I would be too tired to demolish my tent and sleep here. They soon drove away and I spent a quiet night without interruptions. On the way to the border I was particularly impressed by the lifestyle of the mountain people. Bamboo is the most important building material. Unbelievable, what you can do with it.
After a 23-kilometer climb through thick fog, I arrived at noon at the Nam Cam border crossing, exhausted. The border officials were just making lunch break and so I ate something in front of the counter. The border crossing was a bit chaotic on the Vietnamese side, but since I was the only tourist I was treated rather preferentially. The Laotians gave me a visa on arrival with 15 days stay for free. Wonderful.
In Laos, the uphill ride was far from over. But on the contrary. It really started. People no longer called "Hello, Hello", but "Sabai-Dee"! The wooden houses differ only slightly from those in Vietnam. Exhausted I found in a field the suitable campground and soon fell dead tired in bed.
Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia and has just under seven million inhabitants on an area of 236,800 km²; Capital and largest city is Vientiane.
Large-scale deforestation in recent decades has reduced groundwater levels in some areas, leading to a precarious drinking water situation in Laos. In addition, the destruction of the habitat of flora and fauna threatens the extinction of a large number of animal and plant species. In 1996, 68 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish were considered endangered.
Meanwhile, about 14% of the territory is protected. The forest is endangered mainly by logging, clearing for land reclamation and fuel production, covering about 8% of the country's energy needs with wood. The annual forest loss is estimated at about 300,000 hectares.
A big environmental problem of Laos are duds that come from the Vietnam War. They make the country one of the states with the largest amount of unexploded ordnance in the ground. Again and again I passed such warning signs and saw evacuation teams at work. That's why I chose my tent sites very carefully.
Of the more than 2 million tons of bombs dropped by the American forces in more than 530,000 air raids over Laos between 1964 and 1973, about 50% of the territory is still affected. For a farming state like Laos, this poses a major problem as people are regularly injured or killed by duds. The UXO-LAO project, which is dedicated to educating the population and eliminating unexploded ordnance, is one of the largest employers in the country and is funded by the UNDP and some developed and aid organizations, but not by the US.
The land is about 50% wooded. There are rainforests with tropical plants as well as monsoon forests. Around 8% of the forests are classified as primeval forest.
Laos is home to predatory species such as leopards and tigers. Working elephants are used as pack animals, as in the other countries of Southeast Asia.
Laos is a country of extraordinary linguistic diversity, especially due to its low population size, but it has not been widely explored due to its seclusion. Thus, the exact number of distinguishable languages is unknown and is given as 70 to 120.
The official language in Laos is Laotian, which is a musical language and is very similar to Thai. It is spoken by about 2 million people in Laos as its mother tongue, in addition to about 20 million people in northern Thailand who speak a Thai dialect, which is very similar to the Lao. The Laotian has become the language of communication between the Laotian and non-Lao ethnic groups of the country. There is a separate Laotian script whose development can be traced back to an origin in the Indian Brahmi script, as is the case with most of the non-romanized writings of Southeast Asia.
The inhabitants of today's Laos have been familiar with opium since the 18th century, when opium trade with China and opium addiction came into the country. The knowledge of the production of opium came to Laos in the early 19th century with the immigrant Hmong. Only since 1996 are production, trade and use of opium actually punished. Nevertheless, a figure of 58,000 drug addicts was estimated for 2001. Heroin, amphetamines and adhesives are increasingly consumed alongside opium.
Laos has a low literacy rate. Only two-thirds of men and one-third of women over the age of 15 can read and write. Around 40% of the Laotians have never attended school, and more than 60% in the northern provinces of Luang Namtha and Phongsaly. Two-thirds of Laotian children drop out of elementary school prematurely in order to contribute to the family's livelihood, especially in fieldwork.
The next day caused a big surprise. After about three hours of driving, my chain suddenly went crazy. When I looked at the problem, missing a rear wheel on the rear derailleur. The screw was broken! Desperately, I searched the street for the bike. Could not find anything.
Logically, even the small repair shops that you see everywhere on the roadside, had no spare parts. So I shortened my spare chain and made a single speed variant together. In the hills I had to dismount and Kurd, my bike, come across. Especially the schoolchildren had a lot of fun with the funny Falang (Langnase, so the foreigners are called).
After 15 kilometers of sweaty work, I arrived in Muang Kham. At a workshop I wanted to ask for help when suddenly a cyclist showed up. In the restaurant next door he sat with two other cyclists while eating. I had not noticed her. Eric from France actually had a spare wheel and gave it to me. My rescue! I was very relieved. Amaya and Eric started in France in 2006 and have been flying around the globe ever since worldbiking.info/wordpress. Istok has been traveling for three years and is originally from Slovenia. I felt like a greenhorn with my 10 months. As a bike rider Amaya and Eric use a bamboo stick. A great idea!
After a short conversation we drove on again separated way. Thanks a lot for your help Amaya and Eric! After this conversation, I had no desire to think about my return to Switzerland.
The following days we went through beautiful mountain landscapes and past many small villages. Sometimes I was surrounded by huge hordes of children. In the morning the tent was mostly soaking wet because of the heavy fog. It was getting hotter at noon and until sunset at 18:00 it could be tropical hot. So I have slowly taken my desert rhythm and make after noon usually a longer siesta in the shade.
During the rapid descent to Kasi I met Jurgita and Tomas from Lithuania. They started from home 18 months ago and have been traveling all over Asia since then dviraciaisperazija.blogspot.com.
After a short conversation, we continued to the valley basin. I spent the night just before Vang Vieng. The next day I was just stopped on the roadside and drank my Pepsi, when suddenly Tom and Petra stopped. They come from Bern and took a two-month vacation to cycle through Southeast Asia rollolafs.blogspot.com. It was really nice to be able to speak a little Swiss German.
Since they were also in the direction of Vientiane, I was allowed to join them. Tom works as a Velomech and Petra is a nurse. A perfect combination. The road was not much fun on this day. It was followed again and again non-paved sections, which provided for some delicate maneuvers. Petra once lost control and crashed. Luckily she remained relatively uninjured, except for a few scratches.
In the evening we quartered ourselves in a guesthouse and talked until late into the night. For breakfast the next morning there was sugarcane juice with corn on the cob. Delicious. Also the melon to Znüni tasted delicious. Petra and Tom "sponsored" the whole meal for me that day. During the afternoon we reached Vientiane. Petra and Tom drove on to the border as I drove into town. Thanks a lot Petra and Tom for everything! It would have worked.
A guesthouse was found soon. After 13 days in the saddle, I recover a little here in the city before going on to Thailand. At the end of february my uncle visits me in Bangkok, which makes me very happy.