In a post pandemic travel world, one of the issues facing the industry is a knowledge drain. The most experienced and adventurous professionals have been taken out of the game for years, and many will not return. WeAdventure MD Daniel Moylan recently undertook the kind of progressive multi-country overland journey that we may not see again for some time.
The concept of this ride was born during a trek in January 2020, in the remote Northernmost province of Laos, Phongsaly. Daniel and fellow tour leader, Tom, were trekking to hilltribe villages with a local guide, and began discussing the 3 neighboring countries of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. The Northern capitals (Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang & Hanoi) of each country represented some of the most interesting culture in the region, and to link these via an overland trip by bike and boat would be truly an expeditious overland adventure. By the time they returned home the world was in chaos, shutting down borders and locking down cities and countries. During these lockdowns, The 3 Cultural Capitals ride was planned and a group of intrepid riders eager to travel again, signed up for the inaugural departure.
With travel reopened in most places, the riders met in Chiang Mai at the start of November 22, and undertook a 17 day ride across 3 countries, 3 very unique cities and 2 overland borders. The tour coincided with the festival of Loy Kratong, and the riders enjoyed the welcome dinner of Thai cuisine before making floating offerings on the river Ping. The weather in Thailand was fantastic, and the routing showcased Northern Thailand's tribal culture through vibrant green rice fields, and mountainous territory punctuated with bright temples and gently flowing rivers. Spending a night in the city of Chiang Rai, and then finishing at the Golden triangle, the confluence of two rivers, and the meeting of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos.
The crossing to Laos went smoothly, meeting our local fixer, and travelling on by riverboat to Pakbeng the gateway to Northern Laos. The riders enjoyed their first day cycling in Laos, with waving children and traditionally dressed tribal people thrilled to have visitors again. From Luang Prabang the group explored Kuang Xi falls with a 9km jungle trek to the top of the cascade, and lunch at the bottom before sampling buffalo dairy ice creams.
After saying goodbye to sleepy Luang Prabang with a sunset cruise on the Mekong, the group rode on from Luang Prabang to Nong Kiaw, the adventure capital of Laos. Then travelled by boat again to Muang Khua, before making the final journey to the Vietnam border.
I have a confession to make. I had thought that the Vietnam section of this ride would be the weakest, but Northwest Vietnam was as beautiful as it was interesting. With the most concentrated experience of tribal people and villages to date, and the scenery that had everyone in the (highly experienced) group rating the rides in their top 5 ever.
Finally the riders arrived into a bustling Hanoi, and the old quarter of the city. Steeped in colonial charm, but buzzing with so much life and energy, it was a stark contrast to the laid back Chiang Mai or Luang Prabang, but the riders quickly tuned into the vibe, and especially the foodie offerings available in the city, from Bun Cha in the restaurant where Obama and Anthony Bourdain had their famous meal, to Cha Ca fish, Pho and the locally popular Egg Coffee.
As always, we met as strangers, and parted as the closest of friends, already planning the next time WeAdventure.