It was cold last night. I am tired of the cold, and want to get out of it. After my food poisoning I slept for ten hours, and finally felt better.

I had a pretty long ride, 230 km. And I would be backtracking to return to the main North-South Route 13. I hate retracing my steps, but the side road I took to the Plain of Jars, Route 7 is a spectacular road.

The journey began on the plain of Phonsovan.
The journey began on the plain of Phonsovan.

But before getting to the amazing views I had to ride for a while to get out of the flat plain and suburban sprawl surrounding the unpleasant town of Phonsavan. As I rode out of town I marveled at the sheer number of gas stations. They have been hard to find in rural Northern Laos, but Phonsavan must be the gas station capital of the country. There’s one every few feet, and they are busy building more.

Eventually I passed the last gas station and was riding back up into the remote mountains, twisting and turning on the narrow roads, and stopping frequently to admire the views. I gazed into the deserted valleys far below me. They did not have any signs of civilization in them. There was no traffic. I passed through small villages that didn’t have gas stations, or any other facilities. I stopped at a hut with a hand pump to refuel.

The road passed through idyllic countryside.
The road passed through idyllic countryside.

I reached the grim crossroads town of Phou Khoun in time for lunch. Then I headed down Route 13 towards Vientiane, ending my side trip and continuing my journey south. There were more stunning views for much of the way, and still no traffic. Eventually strange limestone cliffs came into view.

I started going down, down, and down. I’m finally leaving the mountains, and the cold weather behind me. I came to flat plans, with limestone cliffs towering in the distance. The road deteriorated, with lots of huge potholes. I was glad when I finally arrived at the legendary backpacker mecca of Vang Vieng.

Rolling hills surrounded me.
Rolling hills surrounded me.

Vang Vieng is infamous because so many backpackers died here by getting drunk and jumping into shallow water. The authorities finally cracked down a few years ago, so it’s not as crazy as it used to be. Now there are more Chinese tour groups than independent Western backpackers in town.

My initial impression of the town was not good. It’s overbuilt with hotels, restaurants, and bars, yet the roads are not paved and there is no drainage. It’s not a charming little village like Nong Khiaw. And the hotels are overpriced for what you get.

But I didn’t come here for the unpleasant town. Tomorrow I will explore the countryside.

Eventually I was back up in the mountains.
Eventually I was back up in the mountains.
I looked down on rocky rivers.
I looked down on rocky rivers.
The rivers are rocky because Laos has built so many dams.
The rivers are rocky because Laos has built so many dams.
There were no signs of civilization.
There were no signs of civilization.
Strange mountains loomed in the distance.
Strange mountains loomed in the distance.
The valleys were huge and dramatic.
The valleys were huge and dramatic.
Tiny villages were arrayed along the road on the hillsides.
Tiny villages were arrayed along the road on the hillsides.
I passed an endless line of kids on bikes returning from school.
I passed an endless line of kids on bikes returning from school.
After descending from the mountains, I was in a wonderland of cliffs.
After descending from the mountains, I was in a wonderland of cliffs.
I arrived in time for the nightly football match.
I arrived in time for the nightly football match.
Balloons over Vang Vieng.
Balloons over Vang Vieng.
Terry
I'm Terry, former cubicle-dweller, and now traveler, photographer, writer, and entrepreneur. I quit my job in 2014 to travel to US national parks, then to South East Asia. I write about independent, flexible, long-term, budget travel. Sign up to my newsletter to get the latest news on what I'm up to. I hope you join me on my trek around the world.

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