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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by dougrender, Mar 2, 2014.
5 days out of Vientiane on a pair of Honda enduros.
My wife and I mostly ride two strokes on single track here in the Colorado mountains. But sometimes we like to try something new.
Vientiane is our destination, but first we need to get to LAX, fly through Seoul and on to Bangkok. I enjoy flying Thai Air.
We have a day to kill in Bangkok so we head into the city and jump a ride in a long tail boat. The tour comes in 2 hour, 1.5 hour, and 1 hour options. It's all the same route; the hour option costs less, but the captain goes twice as fast.
Some people dream of a home on the water.
We arrive in Vientiane on Christmas Day, 2013.
It's a strikingly small, underdeveloped city. Don't expect Bangkok, Saigon, Tokyo.
Bicycles will do just fine here.
Full of temples.
Clearly some hand-craftsmanship in many of the details.
Vientiane is on the Mekong River. Thailand is on the other side. It's a significant river, and I expected some type of river activity or commerce, but it's really just a sleepy stretch of slow moving water.
This appears to be a new venture. We patronized it. Reminded me of a scaled version of the restaurant barges along the Ohio River in Cincinnati, where I grew up.
I looked it up and this is a 19th century King extending his hand in friendship to the Thai people across the river. But I'm not sure.
There is a fairly amazing market in Vientiane.
These crabs appear to be immobilized with bandannas. Where the hell do you learn to do that? From your grandparents, probably.
This woman is inspecting a selection of small catfish.
Great start! More!
The waterfront almost comes alive at night. Almost. A good deal of energy seems spent assembling the tents, tables, chairs and otherwise each evening, then removing them later that night. It's a small carnival that assembles each evening, but not a lot to show for it despite all the effort.
This guy was block captain along one stretch of waterfront where we stopped for a meal. We may have given him a few table scraps. Bad man!
This is Jim. He's our outfitter. He and his wife own www.remoteasia.com , a multipurpose travel company based in Vientiane. Jim runs guided tours in several SEA countries, but we're going the independent route. He's arranged two bikes and a GPS with the trip's route loaded, as well as detailed recommendations on where to stay, what to avoid etc. Jim was great to work with and I'd recommend his services without hesitation.
These are the Honda twins.
Nice bikes for our application. Perfectly suited to our needs. Far more refined than the XR250s we had in Thailand in 2008.
So how was the riding?
Well, it was a lot like this (I know, Lao road signs forgo the arrow-part of the road arrow, I snapped this in Thailand)
Interspersed with encounters like this
But the most lasting impression may be ones like this.
Day One is about 6.5 hours to Vang Vieng. I didn't take many pictures this day because I am: 1) struggling with the map; 2) struggling with the GPS, because I've only ever used one once before; 3) struggling with the fact that signs are only intermittently in English. It got better after the first 90 minutes, but I was regretting having selected "the scenic route" out of VTE for awhile.
Here are some pictures I may or may not have taken this day.
Clothes, dishes, produce. A common site along any body of water.
"Greetings from the United States, where our chief export is shit-that's-bad-for-your-health". I keep hearing so much about China's rising economic might. But you think anyone in Laos wants to eat potato chips from China? Think again! Russia wants to occupy Crimea, I bet they grow plenty of potatoes in Russia, but you know what, they are way behind in potato chip technology. I bet they don't even have ridges..
By the way, I know it's old news, but our chief export to Laos during the 60s and 70s was several tons of ordnance. So maybe potato chips isn't a bad place to be.
These are stalls of dried fish adjacent to the roadway. We tried some dried fish back in VTE. Not really to our liking. Where was the fish before it was dry? More on that later.
Someone might tell you that riding in Laos is entirely unpredictable. I have a different point of view.
Riding in Laos is completely predictable in that it entirely unpredictable. There will always be a truck, dog, cow, motorbike, child, chicken, piglet, SUV, duck, minivan, Doom Machine or microbus in your lane at the most inopportune time. This is entirely expected in Laos, while it would be entirely UNEXPECTED in Colorado.
Laos has the smallest cows I've ever seen, by the way. The water buffalo are of regular size, but all the cows are like Hobbit cows.
We make it to Vang Vieng. It feels familiar. Like the beaches of Thailand I visited in 2000. Familiar sights and smells, like food-stall-lined streets and Roti vendors.
VV was wildly popular with young backpackers for many years until someone realized that a combination of river tubing and insane-drunkennes was a bad fit. A few tourists had to drown, I guess. So now people might say that "VV is dead", but it felt just right to me. Like other parts of SEA, it seems to have more infrastructure, more bars and cafes and tables and chairs and vendors than the flow of tourists warrants, but the locals seem to somehow be getting by.
Here is where I should apologize for the quality of some of my photos. Many of the landscapes look washed out. That's because there is a heavy haze hanging over the landscape. Probably because it's dry season, and vehicles are kicking up dust on the dirt roads. But also because all the cooking and heating appears to be done over wood or charcoal. And as we'll see, it's about to get cold, really cold.
Day Two from Vang Vieng to Phou Khoun is a short one, so we have some time to explore just outside VV.
Cross the river. It's a toll bridge.
The sheer limestone cliffs make VV a climber's paradise.
Here is where I mention that our luggage is Wolfman, from back in Colorado. Sewn by Laotians transplanted to Colorado, if I am not mistaken, or at least they used to be 15 years ago. What a long strange journey home.
Tourist trap operator.
This morning is all dirt. Which makes it the exception on this trip.
We're far-out on a dead-end road. We draw some gawkers.
Karen is giving away stickers.
I imagine this is a woman and her grand daughter. Perhaps her great grand daughter. I honestly don't know. I feel guilty about photographing them, interrogation would prove futile. We see it quite a bit.
At the end of the end-of-the-road, we meet this group of ruffians.
Turn north, head for the destination. Grab some fuel where it's available.
The structures are not what you'd call set-back from the roadway.
There is less-than-nothing going on in Phou Khoun. We're not even in Phou Khoun, we're a couple miles south. We're glad to have a bed, some chips, and a few Beer Lao. And this notice for guests.
No violations here.
Grab breakfast heading out of Phou Khoun.
This is typical of a place-to-eat-food in Laos.
We're in the mountains. The roads are twisty-twisty. Awesome. But it 's cold. I mean really cold. Unusually-cold-for-southeast-asia cold.
As in everyone-is-chopping-fire-wood cold.
This picture is not about the temperature, but it's pretty suggestive of rural Laos (there is no urban Laos). Women gathered around fresh water, dog, duck.
We make it to Phonsavan, home to the "Plain of Jars".
I'm wearing all the clothing I brought to SEA, plus a shell loaned from Jim. Because it's seriously cold.
No one really knows what to make of this place (actually 3 places).
Phonsavan, well, not much happening here. We hit the market, looking for a layer of warm clothes. Karen finds something. But nothing in American-adult-male size for me. Gorgeous cock at the market.
The tourist books say eat at Craters. Yeah. Do that.
Head south in near freezing temperatures. I'm told this is exceptional.
I'm also told it's a great respite from the normal daily high of 105F. Which does not help me.
Karen would be wildly unhappy, were it not for the jacket Jim has loaned. And why I packed balaclavas to SEA rain forest where I expect lows in the 80s...I don't know. They don't take up much space, so I must have figured, "what the hell, maybe we'll get cold in the mountains."
Here we've made it down from the mountains, into the sun's warmth. And it's time to dress down. Yes, the shiny piece is an emergency solar blanket Karen had unfolded between layers of jackets.
Notice the cement tubes just behind the bike.
And here you have it.
We've followed a river south. Makes for great twisties.
The river began clearer and narrower. But here it is now, 2 hours later.
We encounter some new friends on the way south. School has let out and there is a stream of children on bikes and on foot for a mile or more.
We're kind of a big deal. Celebrities.
Even those with Doom Machine take note.
Rolling through local town.
This is our 5th and final day, following the Mekong from Pakxam back to VTE.
Oh, right. Before it was dried fish, it was drying-in-the-sun-half-fish like this. Oddly attracting neither flies nor local dogs nor stray cats.
Remember the "split dog" in the original Return of the Living Dead? No?? Well, this totally reminds me of it.
Front-child-pillion-position is pretty much universally common in SEA.
Here we've stopped for a snack. Hopefully dried banana chips.
I just finished up a near identical trip renting my bike from Jim as well. I was going to post photos but they would pretty much duplicate yours. And I agree Jim was a great guy to work with.
In fact, I am sitting in a hotel room in Vietiane waiting to catch my flight to Bangkok as I write this. Did not encounter those temps but it was pleasantly cool in the mountains. Even ate at Craters Resterant as well. And those 250 Hondas were perfect for the road and terrain