Armenian’s road trip on a Lada Niva 4×4

Armenia is a fascinating and culturally rich country. Outside the classic itineraries proposed by tour operators there are splendid places of indescribable beauty. I traveled on a 4×4 Lada Niva which allowed me to reach all the stops that I had set for myself.

Luca Oliveri on Mount Khustup – Armenia

Lada Niva Legend

LADA 4х4 is a legendary vehicle which live with strong emotions. It stormed the North Pole and Everest, participated in rally Paris-Dakar, domesticated the Antarctic. It is known and loved by everyone who drive it. Its vocation is off-road conditions,and Armenia is its perfect landscape setting to enhance its nature.

In Armenia they say “You have a Lada Niva, you can go anywhere!”

It’s certainly original to undertake a journey through the Armenian roads, as a tourist, deciding to drive this type of car which, especially if engaged in the chaotic city traffic of the capital Yerevan, certainly does not turn out to be the most comfortable car: no air conditioning, no power steering, manual gearbox not even that simple to insert, spartan seats and instruments. All this, however, is amply rewarded by its indescribable off-road performance, its strongness and the feeling to be able to go everywhere.

To understand what it means to travel through Armenia on a Lada Niva imagine this: an extremely bumpy steep mountain road, with holes, stones, cobbles, slopes and the Niva that climbs that path without showing fatigue. In Armenia they say “You have a Lada Niva, you can go anywhere!”

Lada Niva

My Armenian 4 wheel drive trip

The flights to Yerevan from Europe arrive very early in the morning. We landed and, after completing the formalities and collecting the car, we headed towards the city center where we had booked the hotel. Although it was now almost 3 in the morning it was hot and the Lada Niva snorted heat from the engine that invaded the cabin.

The traffic in Yerevan is, at times, exhausting and the heat in the central hours of the day, in August, becomes unbearable. Cars overtake from every direction, intrude on your lane without warning, don’t care in the least about your presence. The chaotic concrete jungle, with the imposing constructions that recall the once dominant Russian architecture, slowly gives way to the suburbs and to much less busy, but also quite bumpy, streets and in some places unpaved roads. We have to get used to it, this is the road system in Armenia. You find yourself stuck in traffic and to travel 1 km it takes up to half an hour and, shortly after, you are arguing with the holes and stones in a peripheral road bouncing on the seat continuously.

Yerevan is definitely the perfect base for visiting the northern part of Armenia and its most popular and touristic attractions. We stayed there 5 nights, allowing ourselves the luxury of the splendid Alexander Hotel which is part of the renowned Luxury Hotels of the World chain.

Khor Virap monastery and the Ararat Mountain

Khor Virap is easily reached in 1 hour drive from Yerevan and it’s the Armenia’s most sacred monastery and with the breathtaking Mount Ararat backdrop is the most spiritual place in the country. You can only imagine my excitement when I rounded the corner and, then, this energetic landscape finally came into focus cuddled by the sunset light.

The Azat Reservoir

I suggest you to spend some time at the Azat Reservoir, a fantastic place where the unique and surreal formations of the mountains and hills are reflected in the water with pastel shades. There
you will live the beauty of being outdoors enjoying every moment of the day until the last when the light of the day, gently, gives way to the low darkness of the night, illuminated by the rising moon and, then, the mirror of the lake becomes more like alabaster.

Azat Reservoir

The Azhdahak Mountain

After visiting the canyon of Garni, its Greco-Roman temple and the nearby monastery of Geghard, if you are intrepid enough, the Gegham mountains region offers scenery of indescribable beauty. The Azhdahak mountain, the “dragon’s volcano”, is the symbol of the region. You can go on a multi-day trek or you can reach it in a day trip from Yerevan driving along the first part of the path with a Jeep or, as in our case, with the Lada Niva. The road that leads to the base of the Azhdahak volcano is really impervious and quite difficult and dangerous to travel, therefore recommended only for an experienced off-road driver. From there the climb to the summit of the volcano is 5 km one way, with 600 meters of gain and will take about 1h and half. From the summit the landscape is unbelivable.

Going to the South – The Mount Khustup

We have planned to climb Mount Khustup which lies to the south on the border with Nagorno Karabakh. To get there, from Yerevan, it takes at least 6 hours because, the route is mostly an ups and downs in the mountains. We arrived at 9 pm in Kapan, the city that stay at the base of the mountain. On the road we had a stop at the Tatev monastery, a must to see along the way. There, we took some photos at sunset before continuing to Kapan. To climb the Mount Khustup you need to plan at least 2 days because the trek is quite long, almost 30 kilometers with a gain of 2200 meters. We slept in a tent halfway under a sky full of stars in Navcha Base Camp and then set off for the summit the following morning at 4. Mount Khustup is a pilgrimage site and is considered sacred. If the day is clear, at the top, you can see 5 states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Nagorno Karabakh and Turkey

Vang Vieng – The best hiking trails

Vang Vieng is a little town in the middle of nowhere in Laos, once a crazy town dominated by wild backpackers, now an eco-adventure destination, attracting the usual backpackers and adventurers and thrill-seekers alike.

This place has never been more attractive than now, with boutique hotels and high-end restaurants replacing some of the party-laden backpacker bars that used to pack the waterfront. It’s now a calm oasis for enjoying nature, jungle hikes, and lazy days cooling off in the river.

Luca Oliveri in the Nam Xay Viewpoint

How to get to Vang Vieng

The best way to get here is to fly into Vientiane, where you can buy a bus ticket at any travel agency or guesthouses and they will pick you up at the place you are staying at a specified time. It will take you around 4 – 6 hrs to get to Vang Vieng, depending on the road condition.

The trip is challenging, the road condition is usually bad with so many holes and I’m pretty sure you will end the journey with a bothersome back pain.

But it’s worth it!

How to Get Around Vang Vieng

The best way to get around in Vang Vieng and have the opportunity to explore the city center and the majestic landscape beauties of the area is to rent a motorbike. Comfortable, easy to drive, economical: it will take you anywhere.

Luca Oliveri walking around Vang Vieng

Where to sleep in Vang Vieng

I absolutely suggest you to stay at Villa Tara in Vang Vieng. This place is stunning. Set among rice fields and overlooking the Nam Song River, your villa will have views of the rice fields and the river. This place is famous for its rice fields and the walkway photographed in many ways that run through them. The idyllic picture is completed by mountains and a blue sky in pastel shades.

The villas are rustic, so don’t expect 5 stars luxury. The restaurant has traditional but straightforward receipts. The staff is welcoming. The atmosphere is sublime, the sunrise and the sunsets are something extraordinary and living those moments from the patio of your villa in the mid of the rice fields is something special you will remember for a long time.

Luca Oliveri at Villa Tara – Vang Vieng

Best hiking trails

You can walk in the rice fields and enjoy nature, you can go in the country for a bike tour and you will be surrounded by those cliffs and palms and reach the natural pools. And these are the best ways for chilling and enjoy nature during a calm day if you want just to relax. But…

Hiking in Vang Vieng is impressive, as the surrounding scenery is absolutely breathtaking. I love hiking, being outside all day to enjoy nature beats.

For example, both the Pha Ngern Viewpoint and the Nam Xay Viewpoint are hikes that offer fantastic vistas at the top. But you have to work hard for that reward; both trails are incredibly steep and the hikes are challenging and made even more complex by the heat in the middle of the day.

Pha Ngern Viewpoint 

This is not an easy hike, but you can definitely manage it with good shoes, and most of the time, there are wooden handrails to help you climb up. The view from the top is great.

If you are unfit or a little worried about rock climbing or not suitable for steep hikes, then this is not for you.

It is pretty well maintained with ropes, handrails and “stairs” until the first viewpoint and a little less to the second and higher one. Ther is small “shop” at the first viewpoint where you can buy something to drink and sit on the wooden bench.

The whole route took me about 4 hours with some rest and descent.

Nam Xay Viewpoint 

It’s the best spot for one of Laos’s most breathtaking views. You will get unbeatable views of jagged limestone cliffs, lush forests, and rice fields from the top.

Up there peace and quiet are almost guaranteed because you won’t find lots of people. This hike is famous most of all for its amazing photo opportunity with a motorbike, which was mysteriously placed there by the locals.

The best time to visit Pha Ngern Viewpointand Nam Xay Viewpoint is an hour or two before sunset. The heat isn’t as intense anymore and you will see beautiful colors from the top.

Make sure you don’t stay after the sun goes down though the hike down is scarier and more dangerous in the dark.

The whole route took me about 3 hours with enough time to take pictures with the motorbike and a drone video.

Pha Poak climb and Lusi cave

This is more a climb than a hike and is not for the faint-hearted. It’s more an adventure with a good reward on the top.

It is a dangerous climb with old ladders and sharp rocks to climb onto most of the way up.


If you plan on visiting, please be careful. There is no path and it is very easy to fall at any point if you’re not confident in climbing up or down steep rocks. And make sure you stick to the path, not that there really is one.

While a little challenging, the views from the top are definitely worthwhile, with a 360° degrees view of the surrounding, feeling to be so small in the middle of those fantastic limestone cliffs.

Pha Poak climb

Haiku Stairs

Stairway to Heaven – the most magical place on Earth

Stairway to Heaven

CHAPTER 1 – OCTOBER 2017

We arrived in front of the main gate.

Closed! Bolts and padlocks. Peremptory prohibition messages: ‘Private property. Government property. Don’t cross. Violators will be punished according to the law.’

Disappointed, we couldn’t understand.

Stairway to Heaven

CHAPTER 2

A gentleman in his seventies was watching us from afar. He parked slowly as if he wanted to slow down the time. He got out and approached with a stentorian step disguising his previous, apparent, clumsiness. He asked us what we were doing there.

The story of the Haiku Stairs began at that moment.

He didn’t know the real reason for the prohibitions. He only knew that it’s impossible to go through that gate. Nobody could go any further! Someone ignored the prohibitions and went on anyway. Someone else desisted. He couldn’t tell us if there was another way to overcome the ban. It was vague but, in our opinion, he knew it.

We walked back to the gate.

‘What do we do?’ The temptation was strong. After all, it’s only a trek. Why not to get past the gate? Someone does it. ‘

The temptation was strong, the temptation was very strong.

It was three o’clock in the afternoon and, all in all, we were still on time.

If it had taken two hours to reach the summit, we would have been at the top for sunset. The sky was clear and the light fantastic. No clouds in the Sky.

The sunset was surely beautiful up there.

Stairway to Heaven

CHAPTER 3

Sometimes, a myth born by chance, without having looked for it.

That first time, we went back to the hotel in silence, dazed. What was previously a stage of the journey, a tourist attraction, had now suddenly become the meaning of the whole journey.

The Haiku Stairs was the archetype of existence. Perhaps, in the world, there were other places that meant the same thing, the archetype of existence, to other people.

Haiku Stairs with Matt Kievlan

CHAPTER 4 – MAY 2018

“When I go, I am respectful and full of peace, completely immersed in the experience, perhaps because you are in it for 3922 times. The activity confuses the senses and opens the spirit. We rise from civilization to magic. At the top you can savor hot food and you can calmly reflect, letting all this become part of the memories before civilization erases the traces of this lived magic and makes us plunge back into the harsh reality. People think they go there for the epic view but, along the way, they recognize themselves reflected into Nature. They share a majestic energetic imprint with the Earth and appreciate it through their soul. They discover that they have climbed a mountain to discover themselves in a new light and the new dawn becomes the best part of their day. They always say ‘I didn’t think it was so beautiful’, sometimes smiling, other times in tears. Every time I walk along it I lose myself in him “

We thought these words were perfect.

Matt Kievlan

We met Matt one morning in early May. At that moment we didn’t know anything about him, but his words about Haiku Stairs, recorded in a travel blog, reflected our most intimate feelings. His description was vivid and full of color and sounds.

Again, a shock seemed to paralyze our bodies. There was someone in the world who had managed to climb the stairs.

We wrote him and, a few days later, we were friends. Being able to share our emotions made everything more real. Haiku really existed and Matt knew it well. It would help us make our dream come true.

Haiku Stairs by Luca Oliveri

CHAPTER 5 – AUGUST 2018

We skirt the road, ready to flee into the woods if Matt would have told us to do. Then, as we begin to climb up, Matt tells us to go into the forest and go up from there.

The ground is wet and slippery, we help ourselves with the bamboo and with the roots of the damp and viscous plants. Above us, the cars whiz by on the H3.

A few moments later we go around the fence.

Nature has ingenious methods for finding our weak spots when it forces us to live in the center of our magical Universe.

Suddenly it is as if we were naked and with the heart of a child walking the path of our life. We are happy.

The climb begins on the first of the 3922 steps that we will not count.

Matt understood that we feel what he himself has tried for more than two hundred and eighty times, so many times he has climbed. And he knows that we can no longer live without the stairs, like him.

Radio station on Haiku Stairs

CHAPTER 6

Shortly after, going up, we have emerged from the impalpable haze of the clouds and now we can see everything around us. It’s like getting rid of a burden and the show, even from here, is magnificent. Fatigue gives way to vigor.

At times the sky is leaden, at times is blue disappearing into the sea. You can hear the cackles of some birds and the Amakihi of Hawaii, and then nothing else except of us gasping with increasing fatigue when, again, the mountain rests.

When we are about to reach the top, we slow down. A few more meters and we will see the radio station which, in a few minutes, was shrouded in clouds, perhaps to move us away one last time, perhaps as a last, extreme attempt for protection.

We are close. We slow down again, in our hearts we would not want our climb to end so quickly. Without realizing it, the legs tremble, for the pain and for the fear of finding out what awaits us up there, the eyes turn and, closing, sigh. The neck’s muscles, tense, screech like ropes when the wind hits them. The chest also contracts just after inhaling, exhaling with the restlessness of repeated frictions the breathlessness loaded with fatigue. The light is now palpable and at times, however, rarefied.

Four hours are too few and at the same time interminable to finish everything.

We are on the verge of unreasonableness, so high up.

Radio Station on Stairway to Heaven

CHAPTER 7

We are at the horizontal walkway that precedes the radio station, here the iron boards are well positioned and well preserved by the nature of the mountain that has made them his own, as a part of himself that it can no longer do without. Here, we feel the strong call of God, free from everything. We see neither Kaneohe nor the horizon. We perceive with our senses every truth that surrounds us. The gods of Hawaii are everywhere.

Mana, the vital energy.

The stairs no longer belong to man, but, now, they are the mountain’s son.

For a moment, the Haiku Stairs is there only for us. Now, I understand why 300 days ago, in October, we went back to the hotel and desperately threw the backpack on the carpet. I understand everything now, and my eyesight is sharper than ever. Now, memories can finally merge and find peace. I will never be able to go home, ever again.

Mana, the life energy is everywhere and makes the heart explode with joy.

Hardergrat Trail – an epic hike

It’s a mental journey, it should be on your bucket list

It’s not just a trail. It’s a thrilling journey where you will have mental ups and downs, especially when you see all that stretches out ahead of you. It looks impossible, but it’s not, it’s just very, very long. There, at the first stop on the ridge, I rested with that extreme view over the mirror lake. Amazing.

The trail starts quickly to be narrow and scary and the fatigue rises. It’s only at the end, when it’s over, that you will feel the best sensations of freedom and immensity. This is something that will stay with you forever.

Hardergrat Trail

The HARDERGRAT trail is mostly on a sharply ridge

It’s 25km long, about 18km are spent on a sharply outlined grassy ridge, with prominent drops on both sides. It’s not for those afraid of exposure, and should never be attempted when wet.

The route is not an official trail, but the path stays on the ridge the entire length. However, the steepest section is unprotected and is a downclimb if you are going west to east.

Don’t underestimate this route! An early start is required from Interlaken to make the Brienzer Rothorn’s last train down to Brienz.

The trail is very long and people can take up to 10 or more hours to finish.

Take enough water with you. There isn’t any on the ridge from the Harderkulm station to the Brienzer Rothorn and during summer time it could be scorching when you are hiking the steepest part of the trail.

Hardergrat Trail

At first I attempted the Hardergrat Trail as a traning for the MoanaLua trail on Oahu

Do you want to know the story that stays behind my personal experience on the Hardergrat trail? Let’s go on reading…

In 2017 I was in Hawaii for the Honeymoon. In those mountains, I found one of the most dangerous hikes in the world. I was not ready to attempt it but it became an obsession! I promised myself that I would have hiked the Moanalua when I would have been prepared for it. So I came back and started studying for any hike that looked similar to the Moanalua and found the Hardergrat trail. I couldn’t wait to attempt it. I was so excited. I planned my three days trip to Interlaken almost one year later. It was July 2018 when I hiked the Hardergrat the first time. I started at 4:30 am to hike the first section from Interlaken to the Harder Kulm. I started the real trail at 7:30 from the Harder Kulm station to the Augstmatthorn and ended it at 8 pm when I throw the backpack on my room’s moquette so enthusiast for my effort and leave me to rest on the sofa, notably tired but very happy. It has been a weird experience. I did it again in 2019. It so magical up there when the wind blows, hitting your face and moving your hair in that immense place full of freedom.