We leave Vientiane on February 17th, after we finally got our Vietnamese visa. Now we head north towards Luang Prabang. The road conditions are good, only some parts are still dirt roads.
It soon gets rural and people live very simple lives similar to Myanmar. A few kilometers before Vang Vieng we leave the main road and cycle on a dirt road through an amazing landscape. After all the area around Vang Vieng is famous for its mountains and caves.
We follow a sign to a cave. Apparently it is not the most famous cave in the region. That’s why there is only the two of us and a Swiss woman. Together we walk several hundred meters into this impressive cave. A neighboring cave is much smaller, but has a natural swimming pool inside.
We want to stay a night in Vang Vieng. But the closer we get the more tourists appear. It seems like Vang Vieng is closer to joining the EU than Turkey. We also want to visit a lake, but a few hundred motorcycles, an entrance fee and some people hanging in a high rope course above the lake make us turn around. We cross the bridge to Vang Vieng. Below us some tourists are tubing down the river. Others are carried upstream in motor boats. The number of organic coffee bars hits a level that lets us reconsider our plans. We turn around and find a quiet small guesthouse with a beautiful view at the edge of the town.
When the hippies conquered the world they promoted sexual freedom and that was all great after two world wars. Make love, not war! Soon everybody wanted this freedom, but not everybody was willing to grow long hair and wear silly clothes and flowers in their hair. So an industry developed in order to bring the sexual freedom to everybody. And after a few decades the love for sex had created the biggest porn industry in the history of (hu)mankind. Did I say something true? Oops, I didn’t know we couldn’t talk about sex.
When I was a child, Greenpeace promoted saving the environment and the beauty of nature. I was impressed by activists hanging on ropes from bridges to stop the deployment of oil platforms. Or a woman living on a tree in the rain forest to make people think about this precious ecosystem. The WWF taught us to save endangered species and so on. Soon everybody wanted to be an environmentalist and save the planet. But not everybody was willing to hang from bridges or live on trees. So an industry developed to bring the environment to everybody. And after a few decades the love for nature had created the biggest ecotourism industry in the history of humankind.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. So masses of people take a plane to the most beautiful spots in the world, where you can still just walk into untouched nature and enjoy it, because nobody stops you. Even if you are going with a beach buggy. And if you don’t want to leave a carbon footprint, just ride on an elephant’s back. Elephants love to help us save the planet! Afterwards you „spoil“ the caged monkeys with some really good treats. Then you drink your smoothie or your organic soy latte macchiato made from Lao Coffee in a plastic cup with a plastic straw. Because you also want to support local farmers. And you feel good about yourself, because now you are aware of the beauty of nature and can promote it on Facebook, all while sitting in your air conditioned room. Of course you have to return home after two weeks, because your cat is locked in your apartment and the hamster cage needs to be cleaned. You love animals the same way you love the rest of nature: Under your control. Did I have a point of view? Oops, I didn’t know we couldn’t talk about you.
Whatever, the landscape around Vang Vieng is impressive and beautiful. We leave the next morning, before the first round of beach buggies starts to explore nature. A few kilometers outside Vang Vieng we see a lot of plastic cups and trash at the side of the road. From a chemical point of view that’s organic, too.
The next day we move into the mountains of northern Laos. The supply situation is bad, so we have to climb the whole day without much to eat.
We cycle through a small village and witness a very rare situation: The „feeding of the poor“. Two Korean tourist buses stop. The Korean ladies step out holding small bags of french fries, which were provided by the tour operator. Now the Lao people have to play the thankful and poor so the Korean ladies can enjoy their own generosity, while the gentlemen take videos of it. Reminds me on some West-Germans carrying bananas to East Germany after the wall fell. It’s disgusting!
Look, that’s what I liked about the ex-soviet countries. If you did something like this in Central Asia, I am sure someone will punch you in the face. And I’d totally understand that. I’m not your bitch, don’t hang your shit on me!
Soon a convoy of Jeeps from China overtakes us. They have huge tires and are ready to penetrate even the last corners of mother nature. Each Jeep has a different color, but all have the same sign on the back. In big letters it says:
I don’t care!!
Express yourself, don’t repress yourself! At least they don’t pretend it’s love for mother nature.
We finally reach the top of the pass in the late afternoon. There is even a restaurant so we finally can eat something. It is an incredible view over the mountains of northern Laos, which fade away in the distance. A Polish tourist bus stops. Around a dozen people walk to the viewing platform. They each take a 180° panorama of the landscape with their cameras. They didn’t even see nature through their own eyes, only on the screen of their iPad. Then they rush to the grocery shop for some snickers and because there is an air condition. And suddenly it dawns on me, that Elon Musk is not a visionary, when he wants to send people to Mars within the next decade. People feel guilty, because they have been told they destroyed nature. They don’t love nature, they compensate. They prefer to live on Mars, as long as they have HD TV, an air condition and an internet connection. Soon some Marsians will pity us for having to cope with mosquitoes.
We are three days from reaching Luang Prabang. The guesthouses are 60 to 80 km away from each other, so we are happy to reach one every evening, since pitching the tent is hardly possible in this mountainous region.
People are friendly up here but often avoid tourists. After all, the western world treated them like shit. The US have dropped an incredible 270 million cluster bombs on Laos, equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years. That’s around 50 bombs per person! 80 million un-exploded bombs still lay around and kill or injure up to 300 people every year. 40% are children. Now tourists come to feed the poor and to behave like idiots one more time. It’s a shame!
Still the Lao people are not bitter and many smile at us and say „Sabaidee!“. Especially the toddlers go crazy and make us laugh. It is a fascinating country with tough and friendly people.
On the way down to Luang Prabang a man runs in front of my bicycle while I’m going 40 km/h. I succeed in avoiding a collision only to slip on the rather smooth asphalt. Luckily it is a more or less perfect fall. The panniers absorbed most of the force. However, additionally to my right knee, now the rest of my body also hurts with every move. So we stay a few days in Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang is UNESCO world heritage and there is a reason for that. It is very beautiful. Also very touristic, but it fits better into the small town. The houses are all old, but now they are used as restaurants, guesthouses and shops. A huge midnight market offers a lot to eat and drink. We like the thousand different fruit juices and smoothies.
We finally continue towards Nong Khiaw, another little town, which like Vang Vieng offers a lot of eco tourism and adventure tours. From there we want to take a boat to the main road in the north. We have a spectacular boat trip for several hours. Only a few locals are in the boat with us, since almost nobody goes up the river that far.
We arrive in Muang Khua close to the border to Vietnam. Cora feels bad and has fever, so we stay two nights before we take the bus to Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam, where she wants to go to a hospital.
The mountains of northern Laos were beautiful and the people humble and friendly. But we didn’t like the many tourist and how they behaved in such an environment. It is a special type of tourist with good intentions, but a bad mind. A lot of people love the laid back life of Laos, but don’t seem to recognize that it is not so laid back for the Lao people. And Laos often feels like it is still a colony of France. Baguettes everywhere and a lot of resorts are owned by French people. Then they have disco boats so they can party in the middle of the lake till late at night.
In the last days I thought about the hippies and how their ideas lead to a sex industry. I also thought about Greenpeace and other nature activists and how their ideas lead to ecotourism. And then I thought how our idea of traveling will maybe lead to a million people cycling the world on their e-bike. And if that happened, I wouldn’t say „I don’t care“, but „I’m not sorry, it’s human nature“.
And I’m not sorry
It’s human nature
And I’m not sorry
I’m not your bitch don’t hang your shit on me
Did I say something true?
Oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t talk about sex
Did I have a point of view?
Oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t talk about you
Express yourself, don’t repress yourself
Express yourself, don’t repress yourself