The days riding through Laos are filled with unexpected detours and encounters. A snack stop at a shack on the side of the road turns into a get together with half the town. Inevitably half my stuff gets pulled out because they are so interested to see what I have.
Nobody gets away without the snake hoping out at them. I’ve found they’re really terrified of snakes. Even when they know it’s fake it still freaks them out and induces screams. I’m pretty sure I found the youngest motorcycle mechanic crew. Apparently the dad was out so the kids took over for him, and were having a tough time. I give them an A for effort.
You never know who or what you’ll see on the roads. They aren’t packed with vehicles and many times i’ll go more than five minutes without seeing anyone, but in most of the country the roads substitute as a farm. As soon as you get some good speed going here comes a water buffalo that stands in front of you. The cows and water buffalo are the easiest. They could care less about a vehicle heading at them, and won’t worry about getting out of your way. You just have to go around and get stared at with their mysterious eyes. The dogs and cats are ok because most of them have enough smarts to get out of the way, unless theres some food in the road and no way they will leave it behind. The little pigs can be tricky because out of nowhere they’ll dart across the road, but at least when they go for it they commit. The ones that have almost cause multiple accidents are the stupid chickens. They really aren’t too bright, I don’t care what you say. It’s as if they have giant magnets attached to them and are pulled to my front tire. They get in the middle of the road and freak out going back and forth. If you head to the right, they go right. If you change back the other side, they go that way. I’m very proud of myself for not running over any animals yet, and especially chickens. Throw in the giant potholes scattered about, and you have to have full concentration at all times. Zone out for a second and boom, you slam into a pothole out of nowhere. If the zoo parading all over the roads and moon craters weren’t enough, you have to watch out for babies cruising around on their scooters. I like it though. Who am I to tell a baby they can’t drive a scooter? These two seemed like responsible youngsters.
As you get further north it becomes more and more mountainous, and the roads are constantly dipping into valleys before climbing over a ridge/mountain and back down into another valley. The twists and turns are carved into the sides of mountains along sheer drop offs.
If you love noodle soup move to Laos. If you want to eat noodle soup for breakfast, lunch, and dinner move to Laos. Similar to Vietnamese Pho, it’s a staple meal here. 99% of the restaurants you go into will specialize in noodle soup. A lot of the time when you ask for a menu they won’t have one, and will recommend noodle soup. It’s been most my meals and I haven’t gotten sick of it. They use good noodles, not top ramen. The broth is always a little different than the last. Besides the veggies they put in, you get a plate full of lettuce, herbs, and bean sprouts to use. With different chillies and sauces, you can make your own unique soup. My favorite thing hands down in Laos are the fresh spring rolls with sweet chili peanut dipping sauce. Full of all kinds of goodness. Usually a buck or less for a pile of them.
Laos doesn’t really have the flashy buddhist temples like Thailand, but it can be fun exploring to the little hiden ones. Every once in a while you might find a perfect little spot on a hill top where the monks carve amazing wood work. The colors glisten in the misty morning air and all is perfectly silent and still. The smell of wood shavings subtly fills the air.
It’s always nice to find a local person creating something traditionally. At times it feels like everything is just being mass produced in China. It’s hard to find wood carvings that have actually been done by hand. Especially at some of the tourist markets where its zillions of the exact same things for sale. It’s just as much Laos as something you buy in Walmart. Like the lady I saw at Konglor with her weaving contraption, there have been a few others with little variations to it. It looks like tediously slow work, but with a smile they keep at it.
This time of year in Laos they’re harvesting a big tall grass like plant along the sides of the highways everywhere. Entire villages are out cutting it down and then slapping and rolling all the seeds out of it. Then it’s laid out to dry. I’ve tried over and over to find out exactly what it’s for, and from everything I’ve been told, it’s for making brooms or things to sweep with. I don’t know if this is right. If that’s really what its for Laos must be the king boom makers of the world. It’s seriously laid out along the roads everywhere, and always groups of children and older people carrying bundles of it.
My favorite time in Laos is at sunrise. Whether its climbing out of my chilly tent or opening up the bungalow window. The first light of the day brings a freshness to the air. A new day, new possibilities. The greens are at their best and the sun dries off the morning dew. Everything is coming back to life. The markets become a bustle, the streets slowly fill, and music plays softly somewhere in the distance. Many times you will have views of orange and white limestone karst glowing in the morning rays. The lush green vegetation grows out of every crack and trees reach high off impossible Cliff-sides. It’s not unusual to be greeted by an animal or two, or thirty. Strange noises bring you out of into the morning air to find new friends.
My coolest sunrise friend I’ve made was a beautiful preying mantis. I considered us friends, but whenever i put my fingers close he tried to box me. She had moves like Mike Tyson. I promise I don’t fill my time making friends with insects.
My time has been filled with ups and downs, just like the roads. Sometimes you want to scream while inhaling dust for two hours as massive trucks rampage past you, but then for the next two hours you follow a beautiful river canyon and have a swim to cleanse out all the dust. It’s not an easy country to travel through once you’re off the beaten track, but you never know what adventure is around the corner. I found the one picture I managed to snap off at the military checkpoint that the police picked me up at. I got screamed at for it and they tried to look through my cameras, but missed it. After the experience there I’ve been reading more into the history, and it’s really messed up whats going on secretly.