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Cycling Map Free around Luang Prabang, Laos

22 Sep

Yesterday, we (me, Dom and our older nomadic traveller friend, Paul) went on a bike ride to nowhere in particular, which I quite like doing because there are often surprises along the way.

About half an hour in though, we came to Luang Prabang Airport; not really a must see site. We’d decided to take the route across the wooden plank bridge because it looked nice. It kind of seemed like we’d gone the wrong way and that bringing a map would have been a good idea after all.

However, when you’re on a ‘let’s just cycle and see’ bike ride there isn’t really a right or wrong way, providing you have no expectations. I think we were all hoping for lovely countryside, mountainside jungle or interesting riverside paths, apart from Paul who was just happy to lose some calories.

We carried on cycling anyway and stopped again after an hour to sit in this wooden shelter in the shade by the side of the road opposite some houses and fruit trees.

Unsure which way to go next I asked a man walking past, “Khwy sawk haa” which translates badly as “I’m looking for forest.” He shook his head and I asked again replacing ‘forest’ with ‘river’. He then smiled and pointed left. In the mean time Paul had been given a papaya from a lady who lived in one of the houses opposite.

As we continued to cycle, the river turned out to be unsuitable for swimming but we later found a small cafe where we could consume sugar and eat the papaya. The woman who worked there happily agreed to cut it up for us. 10 minutes later she returned with a plate of the South East Asian speciality, papaya salad- spaghetti like strands of papaya, soaked in a kind of chilli fish oil with tomatoes and green herbs. It was surprisingly tasty.

Towards the end of our bike ride we ended up finding a 3-floored temple on a hill with a fantastic view over Luang Prabang. Most temples contain mural paintings and artworks. However, in this one the work was different. Am I right to think that the people in this part of the mural are eating themselves?

On the way out of the temple an old wise looking, white robed woman, who I assumed worked there smiled at me and gestured for me to come over to her. She reached for my hand and tied several plaited, gold threads around my wrist whilst muttering something in Lao. I thought, how lovely, she singled me out because I’m paying extra attention to the art and deserve a bracelet. However, once she’d finished she held out her hand and said, “Money.”

Now I have 2 thread/ string bracelets on my right wrist which are supposed to symbolize happiness. The left wrist is knowledge. Perhaps I’ll get another one of those soon.

As we rode slowly back to Luang Prabang, we spotted a huge rainbow running right through the sky; a lovely clichéd ending to a ‘There’s no right or wrong way’ bike ride.

On the top of Thailand in Mae Sai

9 Sep

Mae Sai, Thailand’s northernmost market town on the Burma border feels a bit forgotten about. I think there are only 5 tourists including us in the whole place. Despite the fact that there isn’t much to do here, the surrounding countryside is beautiful and the town is quite intriguing.

We were walking down one of the side streets one evening, and all the houses seemed to have shutters like the fronts of shops. They were all open and you could see right into people’s living rooms. It felt like I was walking past lots of intricately designed theatre sets showing snippets of everyday family life in Thailand.

On the subject of houses, whilst driving along on a hired moped to explore some caves a bit outside of Mae Sai, we  passed a bizarre clone like housing estate with identical red houses on one side of the road and blue on the other. They just didn’t look real and certainly not what I was expecting in the middle of the Thai countryside.

However, the main attraction of Mae Sai is not its houses, but its position on the Burma border, but we didn’t venture over. One day passes are no longer available, and tourists who do choose to cross over the bridge are not allowed to stray outside of the immediate border town without paying extra money and being closely watched.

Instead, we found some rickety metal steps which lead up from the Mai Sai market and through what looked like a small block of higgledy-piggledy flats which opened out onto a flat roof. I’m not sure if this was supposed to be a designated viewing point or not, but it was a good one.

Once on top we had a pretty good view of both Burma, Thailand, the surrounding hilltops, temples, and the tiny slither of the Mae Sai River which acts as the natural divide between the 2 countries. As we left a family on the Burma side waved and blew kisses at us from their house across the river.