After 5 weeks cycling around Thailand I eventually got to Laos.
It had been an enjoyble stay with Martin and Goi at Pa Sang, but time was marching on and I had to get back on the road. Martin and I spent the morning cycling to visit a teacher friend of his before continuing on to the Golden Triangle, the meeting point of three countries, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. From there it was a short ride along the bank of the Mekhong to Chiang Maes for my last overnight stay in Thailand. It's a very laid back town too. Everyone eating along the promenade by the river until late in the evening with an expectant air about the place with Chinese new year fast approaching.

The next was a first and last day. Not only was it my last day in Thailand but it was the day I met my first solo touing cyclist. Hayley Buffman from the U.S. We had a chat for about 10 minutes discussing the relative merits of Thailand and Laos (she had just crossed from Laos that morning) before swapping email addresses and goodbyes. Hayley gave me her photographic website address so hopefully there will be some good photos to see at some point in the future. Until then you will have to put up with mine.
Crossing the river Mekhong from Chaing Khong to Huay Xai I couldn't stop grinning. Looking around at the country I had just left then at the country approaching on the far bank I was getting excited about my second Asian country, third if you count a day out in Myanmar. Straight away there was a different feel. Immigration was a matter of a simple form and a smile, although I did have to pay an overtime charge as it was Saturday. Almost all visitors to Laos have to pay for an entry visa ranging from $20 to $35. UK passport holders pay $35, but as it was a weekend the 'overtime' charge raised this to a staggering . . . .  $36. Whether this is an official overtime rate or a simple way of taking an extra dollar off each visitor is not clear, but what the hell, they smiled as they took the money and welcomed me to their country. Where to now.
I had only been denied once in Thailand when I insisted the bike joins me in my hotel room, so I was a little surprised after hearing how laid back the Laotian people were when the first guest house I went to said no to the bike. Talking to a German expat resident of Thailand a few minutes later led me to a home-stay about 17km outside of town that promised food, shelter and a trek into the hills to stay at a hill-tribe village.
Somsi and his wife were my hosts. Instantly on arrival I was offered food. I had eaten prior to setting off from town as I had not wanted to turn up enannounced and expecting food. My room was basic, a mattress on the floor and an outside bathroom, but this is the norm away from the larger towns. Many of the houses in the village still have hard dirt floors. The houses themselves are kept as clean as possible, but when you cook indoors on an open fire it's not always possible to keep things spotless. Somsi teaches at the local school next door to his houseand supplements his income by leading treks to a local hill-tribe village. As there was no-one else going the next day he offered to take me on my own and so after dinner we got our hiking shoes on (cycling shoes for me, flip flops for him) and off we set. It was a steady walk uphill until we reached the village at about 5pm. Here we cooked some food and then met the village chief.
The village chief welcomed me to his home and showed me a solid wood platform with a few 'scatter' cushions, upon which I sat but was then told that it would also be my bed for the night. I hadn't expected to be staying the night and I must admit that the thought of sleeping on a solid wooden bed didn't fill me with happy thoughts. If I had realised we were staying I could have taken my airbed as well as a couple of other luxuries, but it was too late now and so when it came time to settle down for the night I had to make the best of it with the cushions. Surprisingly I didn't sleep as badly as I thought I would. An early start the next morning saw us walking again by 6.15 and by 9 oclock we were back home for a large breakfast.

It had been an interesting visit to a traditional hill tribe village that was not without some modern conveniences. Electricity and running water are available to all but traditional crafts are still in evidence for now. I had heard it being lamented that modern building methods and materials were spoiling these villages but the march of progress goes on. Our ancestors had previously lived in wooden houses with thatched roofs and dirt floors. Should we deny others the luxuries that we take for granted ? Is it a loss of a traditional way of living or a movement away from poverty, disease and high infant mortality ?
Everyone aspires to greater wealth and the trappings it brings. Just laying some of my possessions on the floor next to the mattress that was my bed for the first night in Laos included Ray-bans sunglasses, Smartphone, Ipod and digital camera. For those living in huts it would probably seem impossible to acquire these items. And yet this was just a part of my travelling kit.

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