Hey SJ, of course I was doing it tough... here's proof
I'm the damn taxi driver / shopping cart driver for the staff when they head off to the markets... well, sometimes I am.
Mostly in Chiang Mai it was relaxing evenings at the Riders Corner bar, catching up with the crowd of riders coming through. Greg Frazier, for example
or checking out the bikes of guys coming through... this Screaming Eagle is owned by another Aussie living up the road a bit
.... and chasing around seeing if I could find a nice Vespa to bring home. Failed on that last count. They've taken on a bit of a cult following over in Thailand and I reckon I'd have to go further afield than Chiang Mai to make it worthwhile. I'd secured the Norton and had a few other interesting leads to chase, but more on that later.
I was back in Chiang Mai to organise getting the Super Enduro home and to take in the festivities of Loy Krathong and another opportunity to ride into Laos. This from the Facebook page of the FIM Asia Laos Motorcycle/4WD Charity Adventure:
FIM Asia Laos Motorcycle/4WD adventure is a organisation for the purpose of proving underprivileged children and families in Northern Laos with basic necessities, mostly clothing
Our organisation called "Chan Chouy Noi" which translates to "I help a little" is based in Chiang Mai northern Thailand. Chan Chouy Noi is a make up of like minded motorcyclist and 4 wheel drivers who enjoy and appreciate the beauty and wonderful people of Laos. We have a driven need to give something back to the warm friendly families of Laos that make us so welcome on our adventures through their country.
We offer people the opportunity to give by donation, or join us on a annual motorcycling and 4 wheel drive adventure, to distribute clothing to needing villagers in remote rural areas of Northern Laos.
Chan Chouy Noi is 100% non profit and incurs no administration cost. All donations contribute 100% towards buying basic life essentials for needing Laotian people mostly second hand clothing. Distribution and transport cost are incurred by our members
Mark Rossi, from my old home town, Coffs Harbour, kicked this off last year and enough funding had been secured to make another run. The FIM in that title incidentally, is the FIM... the motorcycling sport governing body. Its great to see them contributing here. Mark kicked it off because Laos had given him so much. So many friendly and helpful people who never asked for anything in return... but were desperately poor. Mark has been part of running tours through Laos and loves the place.
Som, who owns the Riders Corner Cafe in Chiang Mai, did a massive amount of the pre-work. We had enough in hand to buy 400 blankets (it gets cold in winter in the mountains of Laos) and hundreds of sets of second-hand kids clothes, along with some medical supplies. We had three ute loads (that'd be a truck in the USA). There were to be more bikes, but Phil stacked and hurt a wrist, Justin had also stacked and had three plates in his arm... and I ended up being the sole bike this year... on the Super Enduro.
I had the misfortune of being the only guy there when 400 blankets turned up and had to be unloaded and carried inside. Sounds easy eh? Yeah, right. Meanwhile, the pool table got encumbered with the kids clothing... which had to be sorted into a dozen or so sacks so that we could handle distribution to the three remote villages we were targeting.
The ladies seemed to relish this.... and not just the staff. Friends who called in joined the production line for several days
Kitchen staff and waitresses... not always working hard
We split the load between Mark, Auke (aka Lone Rider on the Ride-asia.net forum ... Auke being an incredibly helpful and knowledgeable chap who has produced several maps and GPS products for northern Thailand and nearby areas) and Phil's utes. Here's Mark loading up
We set off in convoy but about 115km up the road from Chiang Mai, I pulled away and started enjoying the fabulous twisties and sweeping corners that abound up there. That lasted about 5 kilometres before I went sideways around a lovely downhill lefthand sweeper.... my second flat tyre of the week. I'd had that repaired at a bike shop in Chiang Mai... and the guys had thrown the new tube in before I got back inside from the water tub, having found where the puncture was. Wrong. They hadn't corrected the problem.... which turned out to be a worn out rim band.... with a spoke head sticking through.
I tried to roll into the town at the bottom of the hill... but it wasn't to be, so....
Justin, Bill and Auke all providing moral support. Bill, incidentally, hadn't been in Laos for 47 years.... and this was an entirely different sort of mission to his previous visits.
Justin couldn't resist in the end....
The others all left while I was still tidying up, as I had the ability to travel a lot faster... sort of. I trundled into town and got the pressures right and set out to chase them but I really didn't trust the rear wheel to stay up. I'd gaffer-taped over the spokes where the rubber strip was damaged, but I didn't trust it. I wasn't going to be hammering through the sweepers. Still, some pretty spirited riding on the straights saw me catch them at a fuel stop... and we kept at it, heading to the border. We took a bit of an unusual path to the border post at Huay Khon... the northern bit of this track
I could sense from Auke's driving that he was worried about not getting through the Thai and then Laos border posts before the 6pm close, so I bolted on ahead... prepared to try and persuade them if necessary. There was a bit of construction traffic headed to the border as well... this is steel for the big coal-fired power plant that the Thais and Chinese are building near Hongsa.
In the end, we left the Laos post right on 6pm. and got to Hongsa in the dark
Last time Phil and I had been to Huay Khon, about 8 weeks earlier, vehicle clearance was being done out of a portable shed... now, the new building is in operation
Immigration control is still at the bottom of the hill. There were some Thai riders from Phuket coming back out of Laos while we were there. Didn't look like they'd seen much dirt
This guy was lucky... they'd made me ride up over that earth berm from the grader and park on the other side. I had to smoke it up to get out and probably sprayed the customs guys with gravel... so they saw common sense with this guy. Here's where they made me park... a prick of a place to get out of with a dished gutter
Phil took most of these shots at Customs.... I'd already bolted the few km down to the Laos post. I'd had a bit of the normal fun clearing out of Thailand. The word "fine" was mentioned - I was a couple of months out of date on my temporary import permit - and was expecting to be paying. Its an official fine btw... I've not been asked for any dodgy ones... The TIP is good for one month. You pay 200 baht a day if you overstay, with a 2,000 baht max.... and that's good for a total of 6 months. I don't think I'd like to test the friendship beyond 6 months. Anyhow, these guys must've been in a good mood. I got out without the fine. Coming back, I had more "fun"... they wanted some Thai paperwork that I don't have, because I'm on an Oz registered bike... but the normal nice but firm approach prevailed.
When you are cleared out of Thailand, its about a kilometre over to the the Muan Ngeun Laos border checkpoint. They are now making you park 150 meters from the Government administration office and you have to walk the rest.
This is the immigration and customs building on the Laos side. I took this on the way in while I waited for the others to catch up.
On the way in, they'd run out of their green temporary vehicle import forms, so they just told me to go. I got them to stamp a photocopy of my bike registration papers. On the way back they were demanding the green form. Again... polite but firm.. and I showed them their stamps on my rego papers... and I got waved through. Damn glad I got that stamp on the photocopy....
Just as a matter of interest... they want US dollars for a visa... $30 for me, not sure if it varies by country of origin. They sting you if you pay in either kip or baht... equivalent to another $6 or so (1200 baht). I'd exhausted my USD, so got stung.
We all left together, just on nightfall and headed to Hongsa. The next day, we'd visit three villages on the northern arms of this Y
We checked in to the Jumbo Guesthouse (half of us did, the rest went to the guesthouse we'd stayed at last time).. Monica, who runs the Jumbo had been organising the Laos end of things with the Hongsa regional government and we had one of their officials and an interpreter joining us the next day. Its a lovely place, 120,000 kip
I missed the briefing session with the government guy...
Matter of fact... same thing happened the next evening
and the next.