From Luang Prabang, we cycled north along the Nam Ou River to Nong Khiaw. After a couple rest days, we continued east to the more remote and mountainous Huah Phan Province and cycled through Sam Neua and Vieng Xai, to finally reach Nameo, the border with Vietnam.
With our Vietnamese visas in our passports, we were ready to leave Luang Prabang and experience more of Laos mountains. The road out of Luang Prabang lead us though rolling hills along the Nam Ou river to Nong Khiaw, our first stop. We enjoyed a couple of relaxing days in this cute little town, nestled along the riverbank of the Nam Ou and towered over by huge limestone cliffs. The old French bridge is the perfect spot to see the sun set over the mountains. One evening we hiked a couple of hours up a mountain viewpoint, which gave us equally breath taking views.
From there, we cycled through the mountainous Huah Phan province, which is apparently one of the least visited provinces in Laos. We really enjoyed the remoteness of this road and to be so far away from big tourist centres; one day we counted 15 cars on the road (while writing this we already experienced Vietnam and some roads in China, and I realise even more how peaceful that was!).
This province is also home to a handful of tigers that live in the Nam Et-Phou Louey national protected areas. The thought that we would cycle through their habitat really excited us, not that there was any chance of seeing one (which is probably a good thing!).
We also passed many tiny villages and had the chance to stay overnight in some of them. The village of Sop Huang was particularly interesting, as it is of the power grid. They produce their own electricity in the river (using bicycle wheels, which is enough to get a couple of hours of light in the evening. During this time women and schoolgirls eagerly went on with their silk weaving, each under their light bulb. When we were there the lights went off at 8.45pm.
After few days cycling along forested mountains, which are shrouded with morning mist, we made it to Sam Neua, the provincial capital. The market along the river was our highlight, a good opportunity to try out different breads, fried pastries and coconut rice steamed in bamboo. A short bike-ride along rice paddies (which are dry this time of the year) and limestone cliffs from there is Vieng Xai. This town hosts about 450 caves, which served as refuge for more than 20’000 people during the secret war, including the political headquarter of the communist party Pathet Lao. We took a tour to visit some of those war-shelter caves, which gave us a glimpse of how people lived through these 9 years of constant bombing.
Our Lao visa coming to an end, we continued our journey towards Nameo, the border with Vietnam, with mixed feelings – sad to leave Laos but also excited to discover a new country!