We passed a number of other adventure bikers this day, many who rent bikes in the capital and head up through the area.
Eventually we entered a scenic fertile valley nutured by a lazy river and framed by large limestone mountains where we found Vang Vieng. The more active and energetic traveller favours this place for its river kayaking, trekking, and caving activities in the immediate area.
The following few days in Laos presented us less noteworthy experiences as we continued our southerly travels towards Cambodia.
Our advance and ride into the capital of Laos, Vientiane, was from the north and it was a dirty, dusty approach. The north sector seemed to be more industrial and roadwork and many of the offshoot roads presented bare red dirt surfaces that created a gritty atmosphere. There were a few scenes of culture once in the area, like the riverfront esplanade and the replica of sorts of the Arc de Triomphe of Paris which is called the Patuxai.
In our old Lonely Planet guide, we had read about a remote wild elephant observation tower facilitated by a humble village, so we deviated to find the experience. Expecting to find groups of like minded, we hardly found anyone around, villagers or otherwise.
So we ventured off the beaten path, past the sign that ominously read Enter at own risk to find the tower in the jungle. The trail soon morphed into an intrepid adventure of wit, will, and endurance. We got lost in valley deep rutted trails, crossing creeks and playing chicken with a herd of water buffalo before finally beating a defeated retreat back to the village with only a couple of battle scars to our iron horse.
Back at the village, we finally found someone who spoke enough broken English to inform us No elephants now. Gone, one month ago. Dry season, gone way back to jungle.
(Later that evening, with the help of the internet, we discovered more accurately that in fact NO elephants have been sighted in that area since 2010. Apparently there was a confrontation between a marauding elephant and villagers resulting in 1 villager dead, and in retaliation, a dead elephant. Needless to say, the elephants moved on at the detriment of tourist income to the residents. So much for depending on out of date books for possible activities.)
We continued on the road from the capital, following the Mekong River south which for the most part formed the natural Thai/Laos border. Now in the lower altitude regions, the land and roads became flat and monotonous.
The farther south we went, we noticed a dried out and scrubby land where it appeared the locals had forsaken their rice paddies in exchange for cattle that wandered in abundance unhindered on road and properties. Besides dodging potholes, we were now dodging cowpies. As well as all the new members of the animal kingdom! Calves, chicks, kids (baby goats - not children), small puppies, and even little kittens - all adorably cute. At 1 point, we also tried to avoid a cloud of butterflies that suddenly appeared from out of nowhere directly into our path.
Occasionally the roadside vendor stands broke the scenery. Oranges 1 day stacked high like pyramids on table after table, another day was bananas, then dried fish, then watermelons. Everyone had the same, how can they sell all their wares when they all have the same and are all right next to each other?
We spotted 1 banana seller who also had a couple of pineapples so we stopped for a small bunch of bananas and a pineapple which we ate right on the spot (as everyone else tried to sell us more of their product!) The sweet juicy pineapple was the best we have ever tasted!
1 of many stands
Ordering food at roadside eateries was always a challenge. Most times we settled for soup. One lady was a happy vendor and quizzed us on how to pronounce in English the different denominations of Lao currency as she wrote out our slow verbal pronunciation. As we departed, she jovially blew us a kiss. Not a Lao expression but no doubt something she learned from a previous foreigner.
A few areas in southern Laos were covered in unsightly garbage all along the roadside ditches and right next to towns. This was something we never noticed in northern Laos.