Phoukoun, Laos

My two days in Luang Prabang were a slow boat ride on a lazy river compared to the frenetic tour around Sri Lanka. Wanderings, reading, a luscious massage, quiet conversations with people I happened to bump up against. Excellent food and watching my server dreamily catch and release raindrops on his fingertip off the yellow awning over the terrace as I ate.

I started the bike trip part of Laos today and the same sense of soft calm wrapped me up. Three of us, not 10, the other two an easygoing, riding-seasoned female couple a little older than me. Waves of dark green mountains, clouds settled down around us. We spent most of the morning climbing, but it was an affable gentle climb, long but not sharp. It’s the main road through Northern Laos, but there was a truck or motorbike every few minutes or so.

The softness of this kind of riding makes me more porous, and the world around me flows in. Pigs escaped from their pens by the side of the road, villages with woven roofs or tin-stained-rust. Kids by the side of the road calling out Sabaidee! and trying to high five us as we ride past. People bathing at the village tap, carefully covered in sarongs or towels, shivering. 

It’s cold here, and I don’t have the right riding clothes for being so high. I got damp climbing, then chilled descending… then on a curve, had my second crash of this trip. My knee is still raw from sprawling into a gravel-filled pothole on the last day of riding in Sri Lanka, and today at the end of the morning, I curled around a bend too fast, caught gravel and skidded down. Bruised the other side of my body, especially elbow and hand.

Normally, I get back on the bike when I crash. Today I listened to the cloud-dream and got in the van. I put on warmer clothes at lunch, and was awed when our guide hailed up to the kitchen of a restaurant and proceeded to create a four dish, amazing meal. I ate, then we all got into the van to ride 25 km as planned, and then, just never got out again. Cosy in the car, stopping at a village market to watch people and take pictures.

Our guesthouse is the simplest accommodation I’ve had yet, clean and hung off the edge of the mountain in the clouds. We are on the edge of a village, and I walked through. People bathing, a man inspecting another man’s hair for nits, children playing in the dirt, children running toward me holding hands, a tiny boy with a puppy on a leash, an old woman holding a bag of goods with her forehead leaning into a hut to laugh and talk to someone, pigs in tiny pens by the road, terrible karaoke from a rickety hut with windows papered over with coloured paper. 

 These villages are mostly Hmong people, and they are all wearing colourful clothes, bundled up against the cold and mist and wind. As I walked back, an open bed truck pulled up piled high with clothes, and people descended to look for sweaters, jackets, warmth.  

Our guide Sahn is cooking dinner again, and is going to tell us stories. I’ll ride tomorrow, descending through the clouds, taking the curves slowly.


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