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Old 03-08-2014, 05:00 AM   #16
TonyBKK OP
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Cruising the Mekong from Luang Prabang to Pak Lay, Laos!

All aboard for the GT-Rider Mekong cruise from Luang Prabang to Pak Lay, Laos!


Bikes safely stowed! Not my pic, I think it's David's or Jurgen's and hope they won't mind me sharing it here. © to the photographer!

Oh wait, hold on, wrong boat! The pic above is from the cruise from Houay Xai on the first boat. Anyway, still worth sharing I think!

The Beer Lao was cold and plentiful! A new sticker for my KLX!


Thick fog shortly after our departure forced an unplanned stop-

Was nice actually, we could get off the boat and wander around while waiting for the fog to clear. I didn't realize it, but we were walking distance from a nearby village and Jurgen and Dave and a couple other guys wandered over there and apparently made a big impression on the school kids. Jurgen has some fantastic pictures that I look forward to seeing on a big screen!

Fog cleared we're back on our way!


The skipper was training a relative to navigate the river- I believe he owns more than one boat, so obviously needs people he can trust to pilot the other ones.


Just love how they "bless" the wheel!

You have to remember, these boats have no radar, GPS, depth finder, etc. The navigation is all by sight and memory!

Was nice to see lovely Khammy again, the skippers feisty daughter


And she brought along a couple friends as well


Not only can they drink, one of them crafted this cool little spider from the foil on the bottle- impressive innit??


Beer Lao foil spider





Gawd Khammy sure is into the "selfie" thing!




Can't get too frisky tho, cuz "Big Momma" has always got an eye on you!!


What a lunch though! Once again, simply amazed at how they can cook up such a spread in their primitive little galley in the back of the boat!


Fantastic food and way more than we could eat!




After lunch I think Dave wanted to take a nap... Sweet dreams Dave!


But I guess Richard wasn't going to let that happen. Started off innocently enough with a banana in Dave's ear and quickly escalated!


Laos' first MMA brawl on a boat featuring "Nanu Nanu" Dave and "Frankenfoot" Richard! I about peed myself from laughing so hard!


Khammy's selfies never stop!!


I can't remember what bridge this is... I think it connects Xayaboury to Muang Nan? Looks pretty new-


Certainly the best seat in the house is right on the nose of the boat where you have the wind in your face and can really take in the sights and sounds of the mighty Mekong!


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Old 03-08-2014, 10:14 AM   #17
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Sailing past the controversial 1,285 megawatt Xayaburi Dam on the Mekong River-


The scale of this dam is huge!


There is a lot of controversy surrounding this dam. More than 2000 villagers have been forced off their land and have received almost nothing in compensation. But a bigger concern is the effect this dam will have on the Mekong ecosystem.

From Wikepedia:

According to a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report, the Xayaburi dam would drive the already critically endangered Mekong Giant Catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) to extinction.[22] Because the Mekong is a unique and particularly complex ecosystem that hosts the most productive inland fisheries in the world, the stakes are high for the construction of such a dam. According to a study conducted by WWF and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and coordinated by the WorldFish Center, there are 229 fish species whose spawning and migratory patterns would be affected by a mainstream dam. This change in fish biodiversity and abundance would greatly affect the tens of millions of people in the Greater Mekong Subregion who depend on the river for their food and livelihood. According to Phnom-Penh based WorldFish Center, this damage to fisheries "cannot be mitigated by fish passes and reservoirs".[23]
A Strategic Environmental Assessment commissioned by the Mekong River Commission (MRC) recommends a 10-year deferral of all Mekong mainstream dams in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, and calls for further studies.[13] According to a MRC spokeswoman construction of the Xayaburi dam "will result in irreversible environmental impacts".[23] The MRC warns that if Xayaburi and subsequent schemes went ahead, it would "fundamentally undermine the abundance, productivity and diversity of the Mekong fish resources".[24]
Milton Osborne, Visiting Fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy who has written widely on the Mekong, warns: "The future scenario is of the Mekong ceasing to be a bounteous source of fish and guarantor of agricultural richness, with the great river below China becoming little more than a series of unproductive lakes."[25]
None of the mitigation measures for fish and sediment passage included in the dam's current design have been tested at this scale or in this environment. “Nowhere in the tropics has a successful fish passage been built for a dam the size of Xayaburi,” said Dr. Eric Baran of the World Fish Centre in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. “It is unreasonable to assume that the proposed fish passage options will be efficient when they are neither based on successful experience in a similar context nor on a study of the local species.”
Fish are a staple of the diet in Laos and Cambodia, with around 80 per cent of the Cambodian population's annual protein intake coming from fish caught in the Mekong River system, with no alternative source to replace them. Dams would also restrict the flow of water over agricultural areas linked to the river.[25]


I guess this is what "progress" looks like... :/








We had to hold position for a while as they were laying a cable across the river with this rig-


I feel fortunate to have been able to cruise on the Mekong before the completion of this dam. Once it's complete it's going to have a huge impact on the river and the Laotian way of life...




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Old 03-09-2014, 05:21 AM   #18
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Cruising the Mekong from Luang Prabang to Pak Lay, Laos!

Once past the rather disturbing Xayaboury dam site the mighty Mekong returned to her natural beauty-


She's got many faces- sometimes wide and calm like this stretch, in other places, narrow, fast flowing and dangerous.


Stunning limestone cliffs near Muangtiap-


On the right side of the river we passed the tiny village of Muangtiap where there's rumored to be a ferry- more on that soon!



Robert had an impressive collection of tunes on his phone but couldn't get them to play, so the fellas had to put up with my music instead!!!


Thanks for not throwing me overboard fellas!

Gold panners living on the beach-


This little kid was a hoot! His babysitter wasn't bad either


We kept the beers flowing and the tunes pumping all the way to Pak Lay- awesome was the word of the day!!








Arrival Pak Lay!




One last selfie with the lovely Khammy! Hope to see you again soon!

One for the road!


The group got a bit split up wandering around Pak Lay looking for a guesthouse that I guess doesn't exist?

I gave up the hunt and stopped at the Saiyadeth Guesthouse right on the river with Dave and Robert while the rest of the group went up the hill to the Nana Guesthouse.

Saiyadeth guest house in Pak Lai, Laos! Not nearly as deadly as it sounds!


Great location directly across the street from a fantastic Lao restaurant on the shore of the mighty Mekong River.

Awesome restaurant right across the street with deck seating right on the river. The Lao dudes at the table next to us pulled out a big ornate bong and started doing huge hits right in the restaurant! Gotta love Laos baby!!

Saiyadeth Guesthouse, Pak Lai, Laos: 50,000 kip/night for big clean rooms with hot water and fan. 80,000 kip/night for aircon room.
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Old 03-11-2014, 10:58 PM   #19
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Dirtbiking in Laos! Pak Lay to who-knows-where!

Pak Lay marks the end of our Mekong cruise and from here the guys on the big bikes will ride down to and cross back into Thailand at Loei, while Brian, Oddvar and myself on dirtbikes will try to sniff out a trail across the mountains to Muang Fuang.

Our dear leader and the man who made this adventure possible has to return to Thailand by bus as his bike got busted up on day one. I rolled over to the bus station to say thanks and goodbye! A lovely Laotian lass snapped this pic; bike or no bike David sure knows how to chat up the ladies!


Then off to meet the other fellows and off we go! Just north of Pak Lay is a pretty cool suspension bridge:




We stayed off the highway as much as possible and rode dirt trials that follow the mighty Mekong-


Fantastic views along the way!


The steeper the hill the deeper the bull dust!




Our destination this morning is the riverside village of Muangtiap, also called Ban Phaliep, where there is rumored to be a ferry that can get us across the Mekong. Reached Muangtiap and what looks like a boat landing, but no sign of the ferry...


Gorgeous spot tho! Our gps track overlayed onto Google earth:


Maybe that cow can tell us where the ferry's at?


My first time riding with Oddvar, and certainly not my last- great guy in every respect!


Hmmm, are these little boats the "ferry"?


Back up the hill we ask the locals which way to the ferry and they indicate it's several km north of town. Cool! While we're here we grab lunch and some bevies and take in the vibe of rural Laotian village life-


Our cook is still in her pajamas I think?


Her sister was smoking hot but really camera shy. Lunch is served!


Then we follow the villager's instructions and sure enough, there's a tiny little sign pointing to a single track that appears to end at a farm, but push through the farm and there's a steep little trail that leads down to the bank of the river:




On the west shore of the Mekong, you can see the trail we're trying to get to on the other side:


The "ferry" is really nothing more than an oversized canoe with a long tail motor on the back.


A final pic of my KLX, in case I never see her again!
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Old 03-12-2014, 11:28 AM   #20
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Wink A dodgy river crossing and camping in the Lao jungle!

I must confess this crossing freaked me out! Grandpa's wooden longtail boat looked almost as old as him, and watching the other boat slowly work its way across the Mekong from the opposite bank we could see how swift the current was. Unloaded these boats only sit a few inches above the water.

The two boatmen looked at the bikes and talked amongst themselves for a while before lashing the two boats together and motioning for us to put my bike on. They didn't seem to care if I left it standing up, but in the interest of lowering the center of gravity I laid mine down, at which point the bike started pissing fuel as I'd lost the filler cap vent the night before during our dash around Pak Lay with my gear balanced on top of my tank... So, I had to sit there with my finger on the fuel cap for the entire crossing...

I thought we'd make three trips, one for each bike, but with mine loaded they then motioned to Oddvar to bring his bike aboard too

Brian's pic:

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Man o man I'm thinking to myself, if a boat gets swamped or tips I am going to sink straight to the bottom of the Mekong wearing all my gear... I wonder to myself if I can hold my breath long enough to get rid of my boots. Probably I might manage to float / tread water for a while if I don't have those weighing me down...

And we're off! Another pic from Brian, this one with his new camera:

© Brian Ennion, All Rights Reserved.

We start off slow and it's going well, then gramps decides to whack open his throttle and we get a bit sideways and water starts pouring into the boat "Here we go" I'm thinking to myself and I'm looking at grandpa wondering if he realizes we're taking on water and he won't get paid if he kills us...

He backs off on the throttle and starts bailing water out of the boat with his free hand. A couple minutes later, we reach the opposite shore and I breathe a BIG sigh of relief!!! Getting the bikes off the boats wasn't easy- the landing was quite steep, but we managed it without dropping either bike into the river! A bunch of kids came to watch the crazy farang


Then I had to get back in the boat to go get Brian. Much better with no bikes and I even had a paddle!


Mekong river crossing selfie


There's Brian!


With only one bike to load it goes a lot easier and this time across we don't take on any water. Approaching the east bank:




Hallelujah! We survived!


Discover that at the top of the trail to the ferry landing there is a big new dirt road that takes us all the way to the main road at Ban Khi. I love these steel frame wooden bridges-


It was very hot. We stopped in Ban Khi for some drinks, then rode north on towards the small village of Ban Na Di. Here's our track for this day, with the .gpx file attached below:

http://www.asianconnection71.com/201...9.11%20Day.gpx

Some nice water crossing along the way-


Dodgy bridge (better to just ride through the water I think!)


Here comes Brian!


This is the trail that we were going to try to find that would take us over the mountains to Muang Fuang:


Big respect to Brian for plotting this out. Here's another angle:


If you play on Google earth it LOOKS like there's a trail that goes all the way through. Of course, the problem with Google earth, as we were to discover, is that the images are often out of date, sometimes by years, so conditions on the ground may not match what you see on Google Earth.

Rex had apparently tried to ride through here from the other side once, but encountered gates and conditions that made him turn around. Fuark, the experienced enduro rider who rents dirt bikes out of Vientiane told Brian it couldn't be done and that he'd had to rescue a guy who went in there by himself and got hopelessly stuck, abandoned his bike and hiked out!

Wow, sounds like FUN! Brian and Oddvar were also keen to give it a shot! We approached this with a "can do" attitude and all agreed regardless of success or failure it would be good fun to try and get through.

It was getting late so we stocked up on food and as much beer as we could carry in Ban Na Di, then hit the beginning of the trail. Right away it's water crossing after water crossing and in many places the creek is the trail- brilliant stuff! No pics as we were running out of daylight and needed to find a place to camp. We spotted a farmer's shack just off the river and strung up our hammocks there, bathed in the river, built a fire and cooked up some dinner- Mama Noodles and canned sardines washed down with Beer Lao! 5-star it was not, but we all went to bed with full stomachs!

Good stuff, eh Brian?


Oddvar and Brian eating sardines by the fire in the Lao jungle


Good night!!
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Old 03-12-2014, 11:11 PM   #21
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Great read so far, the ferry crossings can be ----interesting in that part of the world.
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Old 03-13-2014, 12:27 AM   #22
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Eek Jungle riding in Laos and stitched up by the Lao Army!

Good morning from the Lao jungle, somewhere east of Ban Na Di!

Quite a nice spot we found, eh?

Poor Brian had come down with a mean case of Lao-belly in the night and slept in while Oddvar and I built a fire and cooked up some coffee.


Some more pics of our 5-star lodging


Oddvar and Brian had strung up their hammocks under the shack, while I set up inside-


My "room" even had a little "balcony"


I hiked back up the trail a bit to get some pictures of this handwoven foot bridge-




Before hitting the trail we cleaned up in and around the shack, leaving it a lot cleaner than we found it, and left a bag of food suspended on a hook from the ceiling as a way to say thanks to whoever owned this place


Back on the trail- water crossings galore!


Steep and slippery- can't make it out at all in the pics...


In many areas the creek is the trail


Imagine this area must be pretty inaccessible during the rainy season...


Here comes Oddvar! Where the rocks were covered in algae it was super slippery!




The trail dipped in and out of the creek more times than I could count- really fun stuff!




I love these kinds of trails!


Can you see Brian?




We followed the trail that Brian had plotted out on Google Earth and converted to .kml and .gpx but soon ran into a massive pile of cut bamboo that completely blocked the trail... As I was trying to find a way around a guy with a big machete emerged and indicated we could not get to Muang Fuang this way. We asked him how to get to Muang Fuang and with a lot of sign language it seemed we need to go back a bit to where we'd passed a fork and that the other trail might get us to Muang Fuang...

Here's a record of all the dead ends we found on this epic day!

Here's the .gpx track: http://www.asianconnection71.com/201...5.13%20Day.gpx

Besides the track that Brian had plotted (in red) there were other trails indicated on OpenStreetMap.org that were tantalizingly close.

Come to another junction that's not on any of the maps, Brian and Oddvar flip a coin to decide which way to go


A lot of logging, slash and burn farming on the hills, and rice paddies in the valleys that you can't see on Google Earth. No real burning yet, but the sky is quite hazy today.


We chased up a lot of trails but each and every one eventually petered out or was impassible on bikes-

One might still get through on foot?

More obstacles on another trail-


I must confess I did something really stupid here- in my search of every little trail I lost my riding buddies I went down a small trail that I was sure would dead end, and sure enough it did, but by the time I got back to the main trail I wasn't sure if Brian and Oddvar were in front of me or behind... Bonehead move on my part- I should have waited before going off the main trail, or at the very least left something to indicate where I'd gone. Apologies again to Brian and Oddvar for losing you guys!

I still wasn't ready to give up on finding a way through and continued to explore a number of small trails. This one looked promising, until I realized I was headed in the wrong direction...






This was an awesome trail- super steep and it got me to within about 1300 meters of Brian's plotted trail, but I ran into a slight obstacle...


Had I not lost my mates we might have considered dragging out bikes under this large fallen tree, but on the other side the trail was pretty much washed away-


If I had more time and more water I'd have hiked this trail to see if it connects, but I was running short of both, needed to find my riding mates and fuel was getting low too...

So close!!!


Time to turn around-


On another track I stumbled through what I'm guessing was an illegal logging camp-


No one around and I wondered how they would take to a foreigner on their turf... The deforestation in Laos is sad and shocking in its scale... At the rate they are felling the forests there won't be much left for the next generation...


Alright, I probably shouldn't loiter here too long...




Another great single track that dips in and out of a small creek-


Riding back the way we'd come I was relieved to find the fellas at a shack near one of the junctions we'd passed. But, it turns out it wasn't really a planned stop- they'd been riding in the direction of Ban Na Di when some little Lao soldiers carrying some really big guns appeared on the trail and "escorted" them to the "shack" which it turns out was an army checkpoint...

They weren't exactly unfriendly, but they also made it pretty clear that we were not to leave. They looked at our documents, made some calls on their radios and we sat around, trying to keep smiling and not lose our patience. I was out of water so walked down to the nearby creek to refill my hydration pack. Brian and Oddvar had already been waiting quite a while with the soldiers and Brian was feeling and looking pretty ill. We somehow managed to talk the soldiers into letting Brian and Oddvar ride back to Ban Na Di, while I remained in their custody. I still didn't realize at this point that this detention was actually a bit serious... My mates have "escaped", I'm still "stuck" here:


I was a hot sweaty mess and shed my jersey, armor and sweat soaked shirt which I hung outside in the sun to dry. In hindsight was perhaps not a very "polite" thing to do? The soldiers didn't seem to care, but as I was chilling in the shack, with a pile of automatic weapons within easy reach, a pickup truck appeared with some senior officers. Damn, I could tell they were not impressed by this dirty shirtless farang lounging in their checkpoint, and they had a bit of a powwow to decide what to do with me. The soldier running the checkpoint got a good tongue lashing for letting Brian and Oddvar leave. Oh well. The officer told me to get in the truck and that one of the soldiers would ride my bike to wherever they were taking me. The hell with that! No way I was going to be separated from my bike, my bags, etc. Besides, none of them were more than 5 feet tall, there's no way they'd be able to ride my KLX back to Ban Na Di. They didn't seem very happy with my refusal to cooperate, but they didn't push it either. Back in the truck and off they go while I'm "compelled" to stay put.

To their credit, the soldiers did invite me to lunch, but I was pretty pissed at this point and besides, the food they were eating looked positively dangerous. I suppose it was rude of me to refuse their hospitality, but I must confess that by this time I'd been sitting around for a couple hours and was getting a bit hot under the collar.

Soldiers came and went, always leaving their machine guns neatly stacked at the entrance to the shack, just feet from where I was lounging. No idea if they had bullets in them and I couldn't figure out a polite way of asking... Again, while they were friendly enough, they were quite adamant that I was not to take any pictures of them or their weapons.

FINALLY a call comes through and they tell me I can leave. Just like that. Weird. So, I go out, put on all my gear, go to start my bike and discover that someone has stolen my key!

What the hell?!?! I ask them quite directly who has STOLEN my key and they don't like me using the work "kamoy" (thief) one bit. A well, suck it! Confusion and radio calls and it's revealed that one of the soldiers in the pickup truck had snatched my key, I guess to make sure I'd stay put? One of the soldiers tells me, using sign language, that I should hot wire my bike. Screw that dude! I'm going to sit here and annoy you guys until my key shows up! Cutting a long story short, they key did eventually materialize and I got the hell out of there.

You'd think that would be the end right? Wrong!

Leaving the trail and getting back onto the main road a couple soldiers with AK47's blocked my path to Ban Na Di and wanted me to go the other way. I kept trying to explain that my friends were waiting for me in Ban Na Di and they kept insisting I go the other way... Finally the pickup truck with the officers showed up and they told me Brian and Oddvar had gone the other way and weren't in Ban Na Di, which, as it turns out, was a bit of a lie... Oh well, who am I to argue with dudes with guns. I turn around and whack it. This was a brand new wide dirt road that doesn't even appear on Google Earth of any of the GPS maps and it was actually a really fun ride:


Reach "civilization" and my bike is running on fumes, so top up, then set about looking for Brian and Oddvar. I'm wandering around town when the soldiers finally catch up with me. They want me to go to the police station. Egads, what next??!? We interrupt a police soccer game and some cops in soccer jerseys escort me to the Muang Meth Police Station. Yep, that's right, we're in METH town!

They stick me in a room but don't lock the door, which I take as a good sign. Then a bunch of coppers come in and start asking me all the same questions the soldiers had asked several hours earlier and asking to see all the documents I'd shown before. Passport, drivers license, insurance and customs forms. Tedious! One thing that creeped me out a bit was that they asked me if I had a camera, I told them honestly, just my camera phone, then they went through all my pictures. $hit I'm thinking to myself, do I have any pics on there that they might consider illegal or offensive? Probably I do! Are they going to flip out when they see my pics of the illegal logging? But, in an odd twist of fate, the Lao Telecom SIM card that I'd purchased a couple days before had really messed up my phone, setting the date back to January, 2013, so all the pictures I'd taken in the last couple of days were at the very BOTTOM of my picture collection, and with several thousand pics on the phone, they never got close to seeing the logging pics.

On a positive note, Brian and Oddvar got picked up somewhere along the way and were also escorted to the police station, so our merry little band was reunited!

The ranking officer, in his Emirates soccer jersey was actually a really friendly guy. I asked him "pen arai" (what's the problem) and he tells me "mai pen rai" (no problem), which is good news. Seems they just need to fill out a bunch of reports to document who we were and what we were up to...

As with the soldiers, the police couldn't quite wrap their heads around the idea that we were riding around in the jungle for fun. I reckon that just doesn't compute in rural Laos. They even made comments like, "Why aren't you cruising on a big bike and staying in nice hotels"?

Tick tock, tick tock. Brian had visions of riding to Kasi or even as far as Van Vieng, but I was pretty sure we wouldn't be able to reach either in daylight. Eventually they let us out of the "interrogation" room and we moved outside. We thought we were free to go, but no, once again, we have to wait and wait and wait... Every time we thought we were about to be released they'd tell us to wait some more.

Poor Brian was really in pretty rough shape-


One highlight for me though was inviting the soliders and police to sit on my bike. Such a shame we couldn't take pictures- I swear none of the guys were more than 5 feet tall and they'd climb up onto the tallish KLX with it on the side stand with a look of accomplishment on their faces, then I'd pull the bike upright and everyone would howl in laughter as the "rider's" feet dangled in the air

It was getting late and the soldiers and police started going home, but still we waited. Finally, shortly before sunset our passports were returned and we were free to go. Again, the friendly cop in the Emirates jersey said there was "no problem", BUT, we should NOT ride in to the area where we'd been apprehended. My only guess is that they don't want foreigners witnessing all the illegal logging going on in there.

Freedom baby! It was definitely too late to get to Kasi or Van Vieng and we were all beat! I found a really nice guesthouse- the Kham Phiane:


Big clean rooms for only 50,000 Kip and a sunset off their veranda that can't be beat!


Sunset beers at the guesthouse then we wandered in to town where we enjoyed some tasty jungle bat with sticky rice- a local delicacy apparently

I know it looks a wee bit freaky, but trust me, jungle bat goes great with Beer Lao and some sticky rice!!!!
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TonyBKK screwed with this post 03-13-2014 at 12:35 AM
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Old 03-14-2014, 02:19 AM   #23
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Brian sent me some more pictures from the crossing of the Mekong in the wooden canoes and has given me permission to share them here

As you'll recall, I'd lost the fuel tank breather vent hose the previous day, so with the bike on its side I had to keep my finger on the fuel cap or it would piss gas all over the place...

© Brian Ennion, All Rights Reserved.

I didn't realize that they continued tying the boats together after I'd already loaded my bike and that we were already taking on water! Sketchy!

© Brian Ennion, All Rights Reserved.

Brian's bike coming across last-

© Brian Ennion, All Rights Reserved.

I'm pretty happy with the camera on my Sony Xperia V, until I see the quality of the pictures take with Brian's new Nikon.
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Old 03-14-2014, 02:22 AM   #24
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One more pic from Brian- he managed to sneak a pic of one of the Lao soldiers-

© Brian Ennion, All Rights Reserved.

I wasn't kidding when I said those soldiers were 5 feet tall, if that!
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Old 03-16-2014, 10:28 AM   #25
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Hahaha! Oddvar has put together a most excellent video from our jungle adventure that ended with us getting stitched up my the diminutive Lao soldiers- gives a good sense of how much water riding there was too!

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