TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHY: KONSTANTINOS ZILOS
TRANSLATED AND EDITED BY IOANNA PAPANIKOLOPOULOU
Hello again! In our last letter we were on our way to Tachilek, Thailand. Unfortunately, the road to Tachilek was closed and we could only get through on an entry permit. As this would take some time, we decided to take the train to Mae Sot border.
From there, we went to Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand, which has so much to offer; relaxing strolls through the night markets, a wide variety of food and different types of excursions to the surrounding areas. Leaving Chiang Mai we saved time by taking a bus to Chiang Rai, the northernmost city in Thailand, quieter and more relaxed than the first one.Our bike ride from Chiang Rai to the Laotian borders was easy, as was crossing them. The next day, we boarded the slow boat at Huay Xai to get to Luang Prabang, one of the largest cities in Laos. The slow boat, which takes two days to complete this trip, is a long, traditional, leisurely moving boat and the most popular means of transport for this route. As we were floating along the Mekong River, the scenery was amazing. It was a cloudy day. A thin fog covered the tops of the evergreen mountains winding down into the river making it all look like a dream. Even the hordes of tourists on board couldn’t stop you from taking in the beauty of this ride.After our first day on the slow boat, we stopped for the night in Pakbeng, a small village which mainly serves as an overnight stop for tourists before the slow boat can continue its trip. This place is surrounded by traditional, secluded villages to be explored if one feels adventurous. We didn’t do that, instead we got on the slow boat the next morning and found ourselves coming across boatmen, fishermen and elephants on the river banks. That was the beginning of our wandering around this country of unique beauty.As one reaches Luang Prabang, former capital of Laos, one is most impressed by its architectural styles. Since Laos was under French rule during the colonization of Indochina, the architectural influence of that period is apparent and adds a different tone when observing the city. French bistros, bakeries and restaurants spring from everywhere along with mesmerizing aromas. The city’s night market could easily be considered as one of the best in Southeast Asia. Although Luang Prabang is very touristic, it is definitely worth visiting.We went on cycling towards the South heading to Vientiane, the capital. The ride around Vang Vieng, a city about 150 to 160km north of Vientiane, is full of landscapes of incomparable beauty, but the city is nothing special.
Upon arrival to Vientiane, we took the time to rest and regroup. From now on, we would go on our separate ways. Alexandros and Kalli moved on to Vietnam, whereas I decided to grab the chance to visit South Laos. Frankly, I don’t regret it for a minute!With Savannakhet as my new starting point, I started wandering on my bike. I was heading south, but I changed my mind on the spur of the moment and went east instead. I wanted to see the interior of the country, so I started exploring country roads, isolated villages, waterfalls and coffee plantations.
In South Laos and within its people lies a unique particular beauty, which you can only discover if you let go. It resides in the aromas of coffee, in a beer you drink with a local in their place, in the evergreen rides in the middle of nowhere, in the eyes of the children…