Biking Laos

Need a ride to the waterfall? Rent a bike. Want to explore the islands? Rent a bike. Want to remember why you love the countryside? Rent a bike.

Riding bikes in San Francisco was the beginning of our love/hate relationship with biking. The stark contrast between each ride was so intense. Leave in the morning for work sun shining, ride home in bitter cold  with the wind almost knocking you off, riding over the beautiful Golden Gate vs. fighting commuters but even worse buses on Market street and then there are the hills! But Hey, its all part of the adventure.

When gearing up (pun unintended but awesome) to visit Laos I don’t think either of us knew the extent of how bicycling would re enter our lives. One of the first people we met after crossing the border had ridden all the way from the UK on a sweet tandem that had one recumbent seat in front and one normal seat in the back. We were both inspired and decided that we would try to bike any opportunity that arises.


Vang Vieng

A big change from Luang Prabang, with the average age 20 years younger and the main activity being drunken tubing down the river we knew we needed to put some physically active activities on the agenda. The blue lagoon is a popular swimming hole and cave about 7km outside of town once you pass over one of the town bridges; the walking bridge is free but motorbikes avoiding the toll bridge make it unpleasant at times. We were lucky enough to stay at Maylyn Guesthouse right on the water and surrounded by beautiful gardens. After we splurged for the mountian bikes, $3.50 vs $1.50. We were off on by far the roughest  road conditions we had yet to see, passing looming woman, fraudulent blue lagoon signs and other struggling cyclist we finally made it to the swimming hole. While in the cave I spent some time meditating and Gil built a rock statue that ending up look like a heart, what a romantic! We ended our ride at sunset with hot air balloons filling the sky.


Si Phan Don (4000 Thousand Islands)

Last but not least we arrived at Si Phan Don, a collection of islands at the southern end of Laos on the cambodian border in the middle of the Mekong, where few cars are present and everything slows down a few more notches(for Laos thats REALLY SLOW).  Here we were able to wander around 2 quaint islands that were connected by a small bridge that also happen to have one of the most spectacular views of the sunset. Our first day of riding we heading to one of the largest Mekong river waterfalls which wasn’t as colorful as previous waterfalls but feature wild rapids and gave us an opportunity to have a mini photo shoot.

 Besides ride bikes while here we drank lots of beer, were too scared to order a "happy" shake, relaxed and fell out of hammocks, Jess got attacked(gently) by a chained monkey and took a boat tour to see the pink river dolphins.

Luang Prabang

I had read this blog post about a couple that decided to avoid the crowds and smoggy Tuk-Tuks and mountain bike to Kuang Si waterfall approx 33km outside of Luang Prabang. Gil told me I was crazy, I told him we can do anything. The weather was mild and after sitting on a boat for two days we both needed to expel our built up energy. After getting used to the bumpy road and completing our first gradual but terribly long uphill we soared down the otherside of the hill smiling and feeling free! Nothing but farm land, rolling hills and giggling children crossed our path. Not to mention the pot of gold(or in this case waterfall) at the end of the rainbow.

 

Vientene

One of my least favorite places we have visited while traveling, I only left the hotel for 2 things in the 24 hours we had in Vientene, for eating and biking. Sadly this town had some of the worst  bikes we've rented and the most treacherous and life threatening biking conditions. After about 35 minutes of dodging cars and looking for the local attractions that were “must sees” I rode us as quickly as possible to the river to get a little fresh air and checkout Thailand from afar.

Moseying Down the Mekong River

After almost a week spent in Bangkok waiting for our laptop to be repaired we boarded an overnight bus to the border town of Chiang Khong.This wasn’t our first time on an overnight bus, but our longest thus far.  Thailand government buses were always a good deal & reliable. Buying through the website ThaiTicketMajor ensured we were actually getting a government bus, and we only got tricked once when buying in Koh Lak. There is only a slight difference in seat size and no time difference between the 1st class & VIP buses so no need to waste your money getting a VIP ticket. This was an easy way to save money. Additionally, we know there is some debate about overnight vs. daytime travel. We found that saving on a nights lodging and having an extra day in the arrival city was worth a slightly uncomfortable sleep.

Laos/Thailand Friendship Bridge - Border Crossing

Laos/Thailand Friendship Bridge - Border Crossing

Once arriving in Chiang Khong we were herded into Tuk Tuks at the old boat crossing area which is about 10km past where the new friendship bridge is located. Ask the bus driver to drop you at the new crossing to save a few bucks. After a long bus ride it’s annoying to deal with being took by a tuk tuk driver. The border crossing was extremely easy both on the Thailand side as well as Laos. Once in Laos we grabbed another Tuk Tuk to the slow boat dock and loaded up on supplies. Although it was 10 am we got a few   large Beer Lao, sandwiches for lunch time & waited for the boat to depart.

The boat tickets have seat numbers but we were 2 of 5 people who actually tried to sit in their assigned seats. Contrary to what we heard most boats we saw including the one we were on were old minivan seats and pretty comfortable. All the passengers that had been pushed to buy cushions regretted it. Jess explored the boat before take off while Gil guarded our ideal seats in the middle of the boat away from the engine room.

Just like that we were off on a 2 day boat ride(10-12 hours total) down the Mekong River. Soaking up the beautiful surroundings & chatting with fellow travelers it was the  start of our adventure in a new country and the moment Jess had been waiting for, no cars, no one selling us anything, just the peacefulness of this once in a lifetime experience

The first night the boat arrived in Pakbeng. Rowdy travellers who had just finished a few bottles of Lao whisky helped distribute the luggage (90% backpacks) from under the boat to the deboarded passengers, and all 100 of us launched into action looking for a room to stay in for the night. After what was now 24 hours of travel we were some of the first to secure a room, our guesthouse, Meksavanh Guesthouse, which was listed in our Rough Guide to Southeast Asia book . Unfortunately the neighbors didn't know how much we needed our sleep, and spent most the night burning trash outside our window. This quaint tourist focused town was made up of two small streets & luckily the place we had in mind for dinner was just a few doors down,Sabaidee Sivilay Restaurant. We ordered the traditional Lao dish Larb with water buffalo & a Lao fish curry both of which were delicious. The menus were also full of awesome art work & poems from around the globe (a must read while you wait for your meal, which will be awhile now that you're on Lao time).

We awoke bright and early to the smell of more burning and the hustle and bustle of this two street town that runs on what seems like 5-6 hours sleep. We grabbed some more sandwiches and fresh baked pastries, and boarded the boat 30 minutes prior to departure time. There were many rumors around town of what time the boat would depart.  Sadly for some dutch girls & a few americans, arriving only 3 minutes after the right departure time meant they were left on land!  Luckily for them another boat had some extra room & they arrived in Luang Prabang just 20 minutes after us.

Day 2 on the boat was extremely picturesque and we were delighted to meet two fellow travelers who were like minded & wonderful conversationalist from the Northeast of Canada. The day seemed to fly by and before we knew it we were getting dropped off at the new dock just 10km outside of Luang Prabang. Many fellow boaters including us hadn’t heard of this and weren't thrilled about having to get yet another Tuk Tuk into town. After the other passengers finally gave in and got off the boat, we grabbed our bags and headed into town. With a sore last impression on the boat & a bit of confusion, our adventure moseying down the mekong river was complete.

Climbing Krabi!

While we lived in San Francisco's Mission District we frequented an indoor climbing gym, Mission Cliffs, where we focused primarily on top-rope climbing. After a year of indoor climbing Gil planned a day date to get an outdoor climbing lesson at Castle Rock State Park. It wasn't long before we learned we were in over our heads. The similarities between indoor & outdoor climbing seemed virtually non-existent and as a result we spent most of the time struggling to complete one route.

Fast forward 1 year & countless days spent bouldering at El Cerrito’s Bridges Rock Gym to get in shape for our wedding & we flew (ok, I’m using this word lightly) up the routes set up on the east side of Railay Beach in Krabi, Thailand. We used a company called Railay Rock Climbing Shop which assigned us an awesome guide named Jay. Luckily for all of us Jay showed us easier routes if we started to struggle and safely belayed all four of us the entire day. With a beautiful backdrop & harnesses securely fastened, this was one of the most physically rewarding days of our travels to date.

Climbing Gear (Click Image for More Photos of Our Day Climbing)

Climbing Gear (Click Image for More Photos of Our Day Climbing)

*travel Tip: Do NOT buy a roundtrip ticket to Railay if staying on Ao Nang beach. The return is only good until 6pm so you are left with no time to explore, watch sunset or have dinner.