Laos looks small on the map. At 236,800 square kilometers, it’s only slightly smaller than the UK or my home state of Michigan. What these maps don’t show is a landscape the likes of which I had never really seen before. The northern parts of the country are dominated by endless green mountains in all directions. I’d seen mountains before, but never quite like this, and certainly never driven through them.
And these roads are not for the faint of heart.
So while the distance on the map between Luang Prabang and Phonsavanh looks less than 150 km, this mountain road requires the better part of 8 hours of painstakingly careful driving. The slow speeds around hidden corners and passing other vehicles literally keeps you on the edge of your seat at times. Throw in the chaos of random chickens or the stray sugar glider and the mind-numbingly high-pitched Thai-Lao music, and it really makes you wonder how you haven’t yet fallen off the side of the cliff.
At one point during the trip, we stopped at a roadside rest area built up to the very edge of the mountain. Tables, parked motorbikes and even toilets all skirted the cliff. Being stopped and sure-footed on solid ground made a certain realization much easier: the ride may have been intimidating, even annoying at times, but the the scenery was spectacular.