Monday 30 January 2017

Wild camping in Laos.

It was obvious from the first day that Laos was vastly different from Vietnam. Not just in the terms of what you would normally expect; language, religion, customs etc, but I think the defining factor which made the impact more prominent was the economy. Laos is the poorest country in the region and currently ranks as 58th in the worlds wealth index.
This effects not just the infrastructure such as poor roads, plumbing, lacking electricity supplies and public services but understandably, the people. Most of the population are subsistence farmers and it's sadly common to see children working fields and harvesting crops from the surrounding mountain forests, instead of attending school. And the normal difficulties of language barriers aside, it has again become quite hard to commune with people, find solutions to problems and generally get things working, and it brought back quite a lot of frustrating memories of travelling through some African nations. The ultimate realisation of this is that having an education is the most valuable addition a human can have, and without, it's a great disability, especially when it comes to the majority of a nation.

This being said, Laos does have its charms albeit its difficulties. The people are polite, quiet, warm and generally kind and caring. The form of Buddhism that they've adopted has permeated their mannerisms in a charming way, and the vibrant colours people wear are the perfect match to the sleepy wooden villages in the mountains. It's an absolute pleasure to ride in this country, and the dirt tracks are even a bonus - a good memory of travelling through Africa.  

Another difference to Vietnam, and a positive one for those who wild camp is the population. Vietnam has a population of near 92,000,000 and Laos has a population of just under 7,000,000. It was near impossible to find anywhere to wild camp in Vietnam as nearly every bit of land has been used for some need, whereas finding a free space of land in Laos is relatively easy.

The first night we camped was literally on top of a mountain on a shrub and tree cleared plateau overlooking a landscape of undulating mountains. I came to south east Asia prepared with a tent but Sean and Marc only had hammocks, without any blankets or sleeping bags. During the day the temperature can soar with this elevation but as soon as night descends the temperature drops as fast as the sun. 
It was a nice clear night to begin with, with excellent views of the stars and moon, but by morning an actual cloud floated into us. Water was literally visible in the air and everything became soaked, especially the freezing Sean and Marc.

Marc's final solution to the watery air. Not the best introduction to wild camping! 

The following night we managed to find one of the most perfect camping places we could have imagined; by the side of a river in a forest with a nice flat bank punctuated with a few trees for the hammocks. We set up our camp and collected a massive pile of wood for the campfire to cook our meal on, and just as we were about to light it a torch shined down on us followed by Laotian shouting. Four men by a pick-up truck were standing on the mud road above our camp. Most were wearing normal clothes but one guy had a police cap on. It took around half an hour to realise that they were all actual police officers and depressingly, under no circumstances were we allowed to camp, even though we tried to pay them. After a long day riding, using our evening energy getting the camp ready and about to make the beginnings of our much needed evening meal, having to take the camp down and move felt like one of the worst things that could happen.

We'd had some bad experiences previously which could have either been massive failures of communication or a brutal scam, and coupled with the general difficulties of things not working - getting food, water, general communication or finding a cash machine that actually worked, this was another nail in the head which made Laos a bit of a pain in the arse.

Thankfully though, Laos is an absolutely visually stunning country, and the next day we found a place to camp far better than our previous one. 

This is the type of camping spot I imagine when idyllically thinking about wild camping when travelling.

The view from my bedroom ceiling.

Sean and Marc's hammocks. Note the make-shift waterproof cover.

Sean had a bit of a funny turn though whilst Marc and I were collecting firewood. We found him quietly crying to himself  as he stood by the river. The lack of female tourists we'd encountered had obviously gotten to him.

After a while though he calmed down and consoled himself silently with beer and cigarettes.

But then he finally snapped when he found a double jointed banana. At least he was smiling, but it was quite loud in the hammock that night. Bless him.

The next blog post will explain Laos' depressing history of Americas crippling and horrific bombing campaign on the country during the 'secret war', so here's a laugh whilst there's a chance.

1 comment :

  1. Did you know hammocks have been used in outer space? Hammocks have been used on spacecraft in order to maximize available space. best camping hammock