Biking in Laos

Your standard street traffic in Laos
  • Your standard street traffic in Laos

When I arrived in Laos, I was delighted to find that bicycles are cheap, easy to rent, and can ride anywhere. Finding a bike was as simple as saying to my guesthouse owner, "Bike?" The man nodded, went into the corridor, and pulled out a rusty model with a basket and chain lock. He took the equivalent of $1 and smiled, as if wishing me luck.

Traffic in Vientiane is madcap and exhilarating, but compared with larger Asian cities it's also easy to navigate. Just keep pedaling, keep to the right, and don't make any sudden moves. Laotians recognized me as a farang and they fluidly coasted their scooters and motorcycles around me.

Expats kept telling me how much the city has changed. "Ten years ago," one said, "you couldn't even find a car in Vientiane. Today, cars are all over the place."

While I'm miffed about the exploding car culture, I still love the mishmash of Laotian transport, from the rickety tuk-tuks to the overpacked mopeds and odd-looking trucks. Flatbeds were often filled to the brim with monks or soldiers. Riders wore bandanas and surgical masks to keep dust out of their faces. Meanwhile, I huffed along on my tiny bike, happy to join the diesel-spewing deluge.

(I put together this video back home in Pittsburgh, based on footage taken in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.)

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