While we're here we meet Coralie and Fabien, two lovely people we met in Iran in 2008 driving a 2CV to Laos and working on a water project. They have returned to look for work and it looks like Fabien has just walked into a job. Coralie has family here and they look very happy to be here. Laos, it seems, is changing fast. Like every other communist country they seem to have given up the ideology and the opening up of the economy has brought some investment, development and all those other wonderful things associated with capitalism. It's still called the People's Democratic Republic, but like China, democracy appears in name only. The majority of Lao are still very poor. To quote one ugly Brit who was shouting down his mobile in the street to a friend "It's not Thailand, y'know". The country opened up in the mid-nineties and there has been an attempt on making sure they learn from some of Thailand's mistakes when it comes to tourism, specifically the sex-tourism and the exploitation of minority villages. Still, on the surface at least, there seem to be plenty of what we snobbishly refer to as 'the wrong kind of tourist'. I need to expound on this a bit more to explain what I mean, but it may just turn out to be blithering drivel.......
Anti-drugs campaign in Viang ChanI lose our alarm clock one morning. I'm in bed, switch it off and then cannot find it again. I'm losing everything at the moment, including my marbles. Ever since we switched from rucksacks to panniers it's thrown me right off kilter, disrupted my autistic tendencies. The clock turns up at the bottom of the pillow case, but no sign of my marbles. There are an inordinate number of wats to see in Viang Chang, but we're weary temple-goers.
The city sits on the bank of the Mekong although the river looks a long way off. So far away in fact that they've decided to build a four-lane highway along it. That's progress for you.
We meet up with Bert and Gill and Emmanuel & Nawal, a French couple on a tandem. Suddenly there are cycle tourists everywhere and we have an instant bond. Another tandem appears at our guesthouse and Gayle chats to the young woman riding it. The back seat is very low, so Gayle asks. It's for her six year-old son. She looks knackered. She asks if we know what the road is like between here and Luang Prabang. Well, yes and no. We've got a route description from Friedel and Andrew's Travelling Two website. It's a great help to us as we're just starting out and haven't a clue what we can do each day. They describe the stretch as a "challenging ride". This is from a couple who had been cycling for two years. I'm glad we packed some peanut brittle.
The Chinese give us a 90 day visa, hooray, and we have a farewell meal with Fabien and Coralie at a locals' restaurant serving some very tasty Laos food. Early to bed though - we need to pack as we're getting up early in the morning. Where's that alarm clock?