Frogs on Wheels: Recumbent World Tour.
Glimpses of Laos
As you may already know from our website, Frogs On Wheels are a Turkish-French couple who have been travelling the world on two AZUB recumbent bikes for some time now. Gökben, who comes from Turkey, rides an AZUB Six. Her French boyfriend Nico travels on AZUB Max.
We have received a message from the Frogs recently with interesting insights into their Lao experience. Moreover, attached to the letter came some stunning pictures that we want to share with you.
Through the following post you can catch some glimpses of the beautiful country in South-East Asia. A country that once was a French colony.
Let’s have a taste of Laos as Gökben and Nico saw it…
Authors: Frogs on Wheels
Here is a little sum-up of our trip across Laos…
We spent 2 months in Laos where we entered from Northern Vietnam into Houaphan province (Northeastern Laos), the least visited region of Laos, also locally called the misty province. Terrible roads, mostly unpaved, steep climbs, rain and fog in the middle of the dry season but amazing people, mostly secluded in a few small and basic villages. We went through Viang Xai, known as the secret city where all the communist revolutionnaries were hiding for 9 years in natural caves during … the secret war which lasted as long.
Laos? A LOT of climbing…
We’ve never climbed as much as this time in Laos from the Vietnam/Laos borders to Vientiane Capital. Without any doubts more challenging, physical and with worse conditions than the Wakhan valley in the Pamirs and Eastern Tibet. But we had a blast and were happy we had done it (we were also relieved to eventually get into flat roads made of asphalt 🙂
There is a 150ish km leg that we would recommend to everybody, between Nong Khiaw and Luang Prabang, known as the Edgy Path. Dirt tracks above a sea of clouds at around 1500m high, less than a half dozen villages, roads with gradients over 30% (yes, we had to push for the very first times 🙁 as well as the motorbikes ridden by locals). Once again, amazing views, incredibly hospitable people and smiling children all around. Despite being a very remote places, we’ve met a few foreign motorcyclists who’ve done it as well as a Dutch solo cyclist. We’ll post something about this itinerary quite soon.
Pushing hard on steep terrain
Sharing our journey…
We did volunteering in french schools in Luang Prabang and Vientiane, with children aged from 4 to 11. Always pleasant to share this journey with them and make them dream even for a short time. Volunteering was mainly based on what we carry with us and how we deal with camping, accommodation and geography for the young ones, more about the bikes themselves, technical topics and nomadic life away from a supposed comfort with the older ones.
Kids are always curious
Luang Prabang to Thakkek. And some difficulties…
The stretch from Luang Prabang to Vientiane is pretty well known from everebody, as the 13N is the main road to the capital. Very scenic and mountaineous until Kasi, then pretty flat and gets busier as we get closer to Vientiane.
In Vang Vieng (as you may remember), my rear rim cracked after 18,500km, replaced in Vientiane by an Alex Rims from Top Cycle Zone. This is the only bike shop in Laos ofdering double-sided wall rims, and he had to import them to Thailand as supplies are very difficult to get and very expensive in Laos.
From Vientiane to Thakkek, the road was very interesting (following the Mekhong river) but we found a very nice loop from Thakkek through Kong Lor cave, northeast of the city.
Some more troubles…
We actually cycled from Viang Kham to Nahin. We had to stay 2 days there as my front tube ended up dead and that there are no 26″*2″ tubes out of Vientiane. We eventually found a 26″*1.75″ that allowed me to keep cycling for a while, with a tyre quite under-inflated. I didn’t really know how to deal with this properly by lack of knowledge. We then reached Kong Lor cave, located at the end of a 40km long cul-de-sac. We managed to cross this flooded cave loading up our bikes on long-tail boats so we could keep cycling from the other side, in the middle of the jungle (usual trips make a round trip and don’t drop anybody on the other side as this is too remote with no villages less than 30km away and only dirt tracks through the jungle). Once again, amazing experience for 2 full days, even though the second one was very rough, with multiple tracks through the jungle, nobody between the very few villages, constant rain that made the argillic tracks being sticky and sometimes impossible to ride. Like in the Houaphan region, slopes with double-digit grades made everything harder until some locals helped us back after we helped them pushing up their motorcycles in the muddy tracks. We eventually reached Gnommalat and then Thakkek.
20km before Thakkek, my front rim cracked, like the previous one did in Vang Vieng. After tyre recommendations from Honza about the first experience, I took things easy and hitchhiked to Thakkek only to find a crappy single-wall aluminium made rim (the only 26″ in town as most of the rims were 24″ or 28″) for 5$ … and that eventually endured 2000km to Bangkok !
Dirt roads and secluded villages
Along the mighty river. And not just cycling…
We then changed our itinerary not to get another rim or the frame breaking off, followed the Mekhong on a secondary road (half asphalted, half dirt road) from Thakkek to Savannakhet, only to follow the main and boring main road 13S while skipping the Bolaven plateau.
From Pakse, we decided to cycle along the Western bank of the Mekhong river. Very nice asphalted road from Pakse to Champasak and its closer Wat Phu, an ancient temple from the Khmer period. Then dirt and flat tracks through villages until Don Khong, the biggest island in the 4000-island area. We took several long-tail boats or small ferries to hop from island to island (Don Khong, Don Som, Don Det, Don Khon) and then back to mainland on the eastern side of the river. We chilled out on Don Det a few days before reaching the Lao-Cambodian borders which is only 20km away.
We had to be firm with both customs not to accept paying bribes even though we already had our visas from Vientiane.
Waiting for a boat