Hitchhiking has nothing to do with cooking but it’s still an adventure !
Everywhere it was safe, easy and quick. Most of the time, my drivers were even trying to chat with me despite the language barrier… Until the north of Laos.
To hitchhike in the north of Laos, there are a few rules to know :
- Be patient – Laotians mainly ride bikes or motorbikes and this means that you won’t find that many cars or trucks on the roads. And bad news is that the few cars that might be able to take you on board are driven by people who don’t understand what hitchhiking is about. If you don’t give them the exact name of the street where they’re going, they close the window and go. (I’m exagerating a bit but that’s mainly the idea).
- Go out of town – Like I said, laotians are not used to hitchhiking. If you therefore try to stop a car in a city center, people will stop to tell you where the bus station is but not to take you (and asking again and again with a very sad and tired face doesn’t work…). Save your time, go out of town and start stopping cars in the countryside.
- Take a few things with you – The only cars you’ll find on the roads are pick-ups and trucks. In one case or the other you’ll be at the back of the car, dirty from what has been transported before you and without a roof over your head in case of rain. You’ll certainly need sunglasses for the sun and for the small insects you’ll hit on the way, a scarf and a sweatshirt for the mountain roads because you can quickly lose 15°C around there, your poncho and the rain cover of your backpack because you never know when it’s going to rain in a tropical country and last but not least, if you’re scared of hurting your coccyx, take something to sit on as asphalt roads are not the most common roads in the north of Laos.
- Don’t expect to meet a laotian family thanks to hitchhiking and to create bonds forever with them – The few persons who will finally stop will mostly not speak english. And even if you’re so lucky that they do, you have 99% chance that these persons are chinese. And anyway you have 80% of chance to be at the back of a truck or a pick-up so don’t put too much hope on the communication level.
- You can do it without a tent and even without food – It’s very rare that someone drops you in a tiny ethnic village and you’ll find at least one guesthouse (And I didn’t say luxurious, I just said “guesthouse”) in almost all cities. This is mainly due to the fact that the ones who own pick ups are rich and rich people usualy live in cities… But when I say “cities”, I’m still talking about laotian cities like Pak mong, Oudomxai, nateuy etc.
- Expect the laotian drivers to ask for money – Only a few of laotians will take you at the back of their car but when they do, just know that on 3 laotian cars, 2 asked for money when they stopped to drop us. We personnally decided not give them anything because they didn’t define a price with us before taking us but most of the other tourists usually give them the price of a bus ticket for the same distance…
- In the north east of the country, expect to finally jump into a bus – The roads are extremely bad and the traffic almost nonexistent around there. We walked 2 hours without being picked-up. We gave up and jumped in a bus for 120 000 kip for the road Nam Bak – Sam neua. And since we’re in Sam Neua, we noticed that the picks of traffic are before 8 am or after 4 pm but between 8 am and 4 pm the roads are absolutely deserted.
BUT… Hitchhiking and being at the back of a pick-up is one of the most exhilarating sensation. It’s having these amazing laotian landscapes in front of you as if it suddenly belonged to you only for a few hours. It’s discovering what it is to drive along the mountain roads waving and shouting “sabaidee” to the kids on the side who laugh, smile, wave and also shout “sabaidee” to you until they can’t see you anymore. It’s talking about life and happiness for 2 hours with your partner, having the wind in your hair and this incredible feeling of freedom and it’s also having a chance to see and visit the areas of Laos where the tourists usually don’t go…
Bonne route !