For our week with Tara and Tyler, we decide to do a loop north and east of Luang Prabang. There are two possibilities for our first day heading north. We can either take a paved road straight to our first destination, or we can take a dirt road that traverses a series of high mountains that comes out on the main highway east of where we're going, where we would then backtrack a little on pavement. Our plan is to take the easy way and have a nice leisurely ride. Of course that lasts for about twenty minutes before we all decide the dirt road sounds like a lot more fun.
It's a beautiful and remote ride through isolated villages and we're all patting ourselves on the back about the rewards of not taking the easy way out. It's our first day so we have to work out a few kinks in the packing, but everything seems to be running smoothly. We stop often and try our best to communicate with the people in the villages and take some photos.
We reach the village of Pak Xeng and the road starts to climb sharply. It's rocky, rutted, and extremely steep. We get to the top and are rewarded with stunning views, but we're starting to realize we have much further to go than we had thought. We push on and the road just isn't getting any better. We continue to pass through unbelievable scenery, and remote, picturesque villages where the kids all run out of their houses and wave at us on our passing motorcycles.
We often draw a crowd when we stop.
We're still having a great time when the sun starts to dip below the horizon and we still don't seem to be anywhere near the main highway. The thought of riding this high, winding, dirt road in the dark isn't appealing so we start to discuss our options. We try asking some villagers if there's anywhere that we can sleep, and they're either saying no, or that they don't understand, so we keep moving until we come across a bunch of empty bamboo market stalls outside of a village. There's one that's almost completely enclosed so we decide it's probably best to stop for the night and camp here. Luckily Tara and Tyler are used to free camping from their around-the-world bicycle trip, and Natasha and I do a lot of backpacking; so no one's complaining. We collect fire wood and while Tyler starts the fire, Natasha and I ride back to the nearest village to try to find some food. We make a dinner of dry ramen noodles, cookies, and some sort of liver in a bag (and of course some BeerLao). We're warming ourselves by the fire as the stars start to come out and everything just seems perfect. That is until it's time to go to bed.
We are in the North of Laos at about 5,000 ft. and it's gotten quite cold. We try to cover up with absolutely everything in our packs, but we just really didn't come prepared for camping. We huddle together shivering, and everyone seems to think that everyone else is getting some sleep, but no one seems to feel like they actually get any themselves. At 5:00 in the morning, I just can't take it anymore so I get up to warm myself by the coals of last night's fire. Tyler appears and starts gathering more wood and shortly after, Natasha and Tara emerge and we all sit around the fire exhausted and wait for the sun to appear.