Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng

Luang Prabang, UNESCO world heritage site and stunningly beautiful city with a strong french colonial flair. After cycling through the desolate and rural north of Laos, where small villages are scattered across large forested areas and life is still very basic, we were in for a surprise in Luang Prabang. The old buildings sparkle in white, the wats are well preserved and the city is bustling with life. It is no wonder, that Luang Prabang has turned into the main tourist attraction in Laos, where backpackers as well as luxury seeking tourists can be found behind every corner.

As we needed a rest from the tough cycling days through the mountains and applied for our Chinese visa, we ended up staying for seven days. We enjoyed fruit shakes and baguettes at the night market and were happy to meet up again with two Belgian cycling friends, whom we had first met in Myanmar and again in Chiang Mai.

We also explored the surroundings and came across working elephants, rescued bears, locked up monkeys and skimpy-dressed tourists with selfie sticks.

When it was time to leave, we had our 30 day Chinese visa in our pocket and very rested legs for the mountainous days to come.

Heading south along the route 13, we were in for some serious hills as we climbed 1600m in elevation the first day. We hoped for some great scenery, but the dust particles in the air significantly reduced the visibility.

No wonder, as the month of march is the time when the vegetation is burnt and the hills turn black.

It is interesting to see how the vegetation on the slopes has drastically changed from dense forests with large majestic trees, to bamboo and shrub forests with large reed plants.

On the second day I had my first flat tire. It happened right inside a village and as we started changing the flat, a small crowd of children formed around us. The road conditions along this stretch varied quite a bit, and we were regularly confronted with unpaved stretches and construction sites.

Unexpectedly, we even had some short encounters with wildlife. Sera spotted a viper along the roadside devouring a small lizard.

And to my surprise we even saw a falcon in the vicinity of a small village.

Most wildlife we saw at the markets however. As I kneeled down to take this photo of the three little rodents in the cage, the vendors started to complain and shoo me off. This reaction made me very angry, as the vendors must know it is illegal to sell these animals.

We left, but I managed to take another photo of the caged birds hanging further back.

On the third day we arrived in Vang Vieng, a decadent tourist town with spectacular karst hills in its surroundings.

While most tourists seek drugs and alcohol in this town, we headed off with our climbing equipment. The climbing was fun and we even saw a funky colored lizard, some tailor birds, munias and sunbirds in the garden of our guesthouse.

On the fourth day of climbing, we headed off to a new sector in Pha Tang, 20km to the north of Vang Vieng. A net for catching birds was hanging close to the crag. With dismay we approached the net and saw a bat entangled in the net.

Quickly we got our knife and started to cut the net to save the bat. The poor creature was completely immobile. It must have been fighting to get free the whole night and was now totally exhausted. I was worried, that the animal would not have enough strength to fly, but when we cut the last string and I opened my hand, the bat spread its wings and took off into the tree tops.

Laos is a beautiful country, but I still struggle to see so many animals locked up in cages or strung up at the markets. After Vang Vieng we head further down to the lowlands, where I hope hunting is less popular and I can enjoy discovering village life and strolling across markets again.