Our day bicycle and kayak tour with Green Discovery Laos started at their sales office in downtown Vientiane at 9am, where we met our guide for the day, Boontha, and our companions: 2 girls and 3 young guys from Denmark. The pick up truck took us to a store where we were assigned bicycles and helmets, before beginning our cycling out of the city.
After a few minutes, we left behind the bustling town and the group cycled along the Mekong riverfront on a long dirt road, direction west. We pass rural areas of traditional wooden houses on stilts; behind, we could make out silhouettea of new constructions, incongruous with the rural surrounding. The views across the river into neighbouring Thailand were fantastic. The day was hot and humid.
Soon after, a small problem at the saddle of one of the girls’ bikes forced us to a pit stop near an old temple with a great character, which we rushed to explore while the guide waited for the mechanic to fix the problem. This happened within 15 minutes, and we were soon on the way again, cutting off through a neighbourhood and reaching the main road at Ban Tong Pong. The cycling along the trafficked lane was better then I had thought, and after a couple of kilometers along the trafficked lane we turned right in direction countryside. The road was being widened and heavy machineries shared the space with cars, motorbikes and… with us, intrepid cyclists.
As you can imagine, it was dusty and muddy and we are discouraged a bit, also due to the merciless heat that hit our heads and made us sweat copiously. But soon we entered a different world: a farming area crossed by a maze of dirt tracks running along the canal that takes water from the Mekong river, irrigating lush paddy fields. We cycled up and down pleasant hills, and enjoyed the views over the farms: cows herding, farmers working and the occasional bulldozer clearing the next plot for development. The dirt trails crossed forests and villages. This area is so close to town, yet it feels like a thousand miles away.
The tour pamphlet mentioned a stop over at a waterfall, Tad Moun, which we skipped due to dry season. The guide tried to keep all of us together, a hard task since we all cycled at different pace. We soon realised we wet being followed, at a decent distance, by the support pick up. The group reunited at a road-side minimart where we bought drinks and chatted, before pedalling again for a few kilometers until, reaching another main road, we stopped for lunch. The place of choice looked like out of an old Asian movie: it was messy to say the least, and located beside a rudimental gas station. Hens roamed under the tables nibbling on anything edible, and a few locals chattered noisily, while we took seat – literally invading the place – and the guide Boontha ordered a meal of delicious pork balls noodles and sugar cane drink, which gave us the energy needed for the afternoon. The weather was hot hot hot and the thermometer touched 40 degrees. It was going to be a hard second leg of the journey.
A few more kilometers of cycling under an evil heat on a newly paved road yet relatively quiet in terms of traffic, most of the section a steady downhill after the short initial slight ascent, took us to the kayak boarding point: the village of Ban Mai, where we said goodbye to our bicycles and made the transition land to water, taking a refreshing dip in the mighty Mekong. Boontha and the driver unloaded the kayaks from the truck and loaded back the bikes, then managed to get the truck stuck in the sand. This added to the sense of adventure, with the whole group participating in the freeing of the truck.
After donning our lifejackets and loading paddles on each kayak, we left for the second leg of the tour downstream back to Vientiane. The inclement sun was hitting without a break, but the journey was nevertheless quite pleasant: we paddled at ease – the water is shallow this time of the year, and the wind and a gentle current were in our favour. Thailand was clearly visible on the other coast; we got warned by Boontha not to get too close to the other side or we risk passing the invisible border which is right in the middle of the river. We would not be the first tourists who get into trouble because of this.
It was a great feeling being on the Mekong River, which flows from its headwaters in the Tibetan Plateau for approximately 4900 kilometers, touching China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. I endeavoured to take in all the scenery: huge river islands, docked fishing vessels, fishermen balancing and propelling long and lean wooden boats with elongated bamboo sticks, people wearing conical hats with half their body submerged – searching with their hands for who-knows-what in the river bottom, probably shells -, and even a few women sifting the river sand panning for gold!
Boontha informed us that the trip had to be cut short, stopping in an area to the north of Vientiane, just outside of town; this is normal in dry season, when the Mekong waters are so low. The starting and ending point of the kayaking part of the tour vary depending on the time of the year: in the high season, we were told, the kayaking can continue past the centre of Vientiane, ending at Ban Watnak. Cycling also gets affected: in the wet season the countryside and forested area needs to be avoided as it gets too muddy, and cycling is purely on a paved road.
What a great experience we had, which ended at a concrete jetty where we parked the kayaks and waited for the truck… which did not arrive! Apparently, commented Boontha after an agitated phone call, the truck driver had managed to get it stuck again in the sand after we had left on the kayaks. No worries, a nearby shack-turned-eatery perched on the high shore came to rescues with cold beer and BBQ duck! We ended the great day out with lovely chats, and once the truck finally made its appearance, we were sad to leave for the drive back to the heavy traffic in town.
It was a great day and it was good to get away from the traffic and the chaos and the people, and immerse in nature. We finally came to learn that we had cycled for about 25 km and paddled for about 15 km during Green Discovery Laos bicycle and kayak tour of Vientiane, which was an achievement in the Laos heat. This tour can be booked through Green Discovery Laos on their website; check details on their company profile HERE.
Check the tour description on http://www.greendiscoverylaos.com/eco-excursions/vientiane/vientiane-kayaking/item/232-mekong-cycling-kayaking
Asian Itinerary was kindly accommodated by Ibis Vientiane Nam Phu Hotel during their whole stay in Vientiane.