Station KTM 690 On Your Radio Dial: Rock Steady

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by slidefighter, Mar 29, 2015.

  1. slidefighter

    slidefighter Gather it up, keep on...

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    My friend Dick is working on another trip like the one we took in January to Ecuador, only this time its to Laos and Thailand in November. I'm signed up so maybe the next report will be a real bike "riding" report and not just a bike "watching" report. Anyway, I'm back in Dublin waiting on a plane! So.... see you guys next time!


    Lee...
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  2. Timmer

    Timmer Curious Adventurer

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    Thanks for posting and also Great Pics!!


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  3. slidefighter

    slidefighter Gather it up, keep on...

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    Well, its that time again! I'm in Siem Reap, Cambodia [after a couple of days in Bangkok], waiting on my friend Dick to arrive from China. We're headed out tomorrow on a tour around the ancient Khmer civilization that was here over 1,000 years ago. We're not riding here so I won't emphasize this area with but a few pictures. Our riding days begin later this week when we get to Chang Mai. Don't know all that much about what we're signed up for to be honest, so we'll all find out about this trip as it unfolds.

    For several reasons, I'm not getting to tour continuously as I had hoped to so this is the next best thing. I'm on my third trip this year after Ecuador early and Ireland and the Isle of Man mid-year. I'm not actually feeling all that well as I apparently have a mild case of shingles on the side of my face [kind of debilitating I can tell you!]. I put in a heavy day yesterday touring the museums and temples of Bangkok, and I'm paying for it a bit today. Hoping to sleep well tonight and hit the temple trail early tomorrow!

    Hope you enjoy the ride!
  4. a2ronm

    a2ronm Ti-6Al-4V

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    Up and about is better than the alternatives! Take care and thanks for bringing us along.
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  5. kalonji

    kalonji nihilism or nothing

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    I saw you ran into Keith in Korea.
  6. slidefighter

    slidefighter Gather it up, keep on...

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    I did, it was so amazing...I hear "Lee" out loud behind me in line and there he was [with friend!]. You just can't get away from the Charleston crowd! It was great to see him! We couldn't talk long since we were headed in different directions, but it was proof again that the world is a smaller place than you think. At least I now have a witness that I really am going to these places and not just shooting photos on a video stage in my basement! He looked healthy and happy---great to see!

    Toured Angkor Wat today today but having trouble uploading pix. Give me a day or two, wifi in Cambodia [at least at this hotel] leaves a little to be desired in terms of throughput.
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  7. slidefighter

    slidefighter Gather it up, keep on...

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    In Chang Mai now with a rider meeting tomorrow and we leave the day after. I honestly don't know much about what to expect on this trip, so I'm looking forward the the rider briefing---a couple of weeks of riding through Thailand and Laos is all I know! In the meantime, here are just a few pre-ride shots of Bangkok and temples around Siem Reap, Cambodia of the Khmer regime [850-1300 AD] that some may have never seen.

    Backwater Bangkok, near the National Gallery.
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    The famed Golden Buddha located in Wat Traimet, solid gold and weighing 5.5 tons. Thought to have been crafted in the 13th or 14th centuries, but was covered with plaster. It wasn't discovered to be made of gold until 1955.
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    On the climb up to Wat Saket. There are 300+ more steps to go after starting here!
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    Temple touring day (one of two) near the capital of the Khmer Kingdom region, Siem Reap. IRRC, this is the outer wall of the Bayon, one of the most interesting temples and my favorite because of the hundreds of yards of bas-relief carvings it has featuring the daily life of the Khmer people.
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    The intricacy of the carving in some of the temples was extraordinary, but varied to some degree with the quality of the sandstone each temple was made of. The so-called 10th century pink sandstone that the temple of Bantey Srei is made from is the best of all and has held the details of its original sculptors even better than this example.
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    The beautiful [and colorful] little temple called the Baphon. This fairy tale temple [as well as most of the others] I still remember well from a previous visit 15 years ago or so. Siem Reap is a far more dense tourist target these days; there are over 2,000 certified government guides working here now! When I flew in the first time, the airport was little more than a thatched roof metal building and the "welcoming officials" mostly Cambodian Army soldiers with machine guns.
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    This is from high up on the "Mac-Daddy" of them all, Angkor Wat itself. It's quite a climb to get up here but well worth it. Now much of the upper temple is closed to visitors and the wait to make the main climb can be measured in hours. My first visit required hand over hand climbing up the very steep and narrow steps. At least now they have a sturdy set of wooden steps overlaid over the temple structure, complete with handrails.
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    And a farewell look at this most iconic structure, one of the most easily recognized in the world.
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  8. slidefighter

    slidefighter Gather it up, keep on...

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    On our last day in Cambodia we tried to hit a number of the more interesting temples we previously missed including the Preah Khan and Banteay Srei. Preah Khan, like Ta Prohm [unfortunately best known for being the site of the film "Tomb Raider"] have been left only partially recovered from the forest where it was "rediscovered" around the turn of the 20th century. Ta Prohm was a near total wreck from the voracious vegetation---mostly the monster Trung trees [as our guide called them, I think they are better known in the West as Kapok or Silk Cotton trees] when I was here last and was very interesting as a result. It and Preah Khan have been "stabilized" but with so much destruction, conservators have be loath to rebuild that which they aren't sure about.

    Here is the beautiful moat [on the west side of the complex] that surrounds the outer wall. There are major sculptures of naga [snake] holding garudas [mythical man-birds] every 50 meters all the way around [72 in all]. These symbols are common to both Hindu and Buddhist mythology.
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    The western gate; Preah Khan was a particularly wealthy temple and probably much more than merely a religious site, including the king's residence and a considerable portion of the regional government. It was built in the 12th century.
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    The western gate, less well restored and dark and wet under the jungle canopy.
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    A beautiful but fallen, lintel [upper crossbar of a doorway], heavily covered with moss and doubtless slowly degrading as a result.
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    An example of a somewhat more heavily incised column at Preah Khan. The Buddhist element in the center at the bottom has been destroyed, possibly in the anti-buddhist reaction of the Jayavarman VIII regime of the last half of the 13th century or as our guide claimed, by the marauding Vietnamese who invaded Cambodia in 1978 ending the Pol Pot regime. Our guide showed us hundreds if not thousand of buddhist images which had been destroyed.
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    A typical doorway with a demon on the right and a warrior on the left signifying both the need for protection and for welcome.
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    A typically bewitching "apsara" are yet another dual Hindu/Buddhist mythological creature, a "celestial nymph" and court dancer. This one was barely visible tucked behind a wall of damp rubble and collapsed pillars.
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    The mighty Kapok at work. The outer wall here has already been thrown down my previous "Trung". This wall will likely never be restored. Here too you can see unmolested Hindu carvings but the Buddhist have all be defaced.
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    This is a lightly restored lintel in the Hall of Dancers in important east wing of Preah Khan. Again you can see the destroyed Buddhist imagery above the beautifully incised dancing girls.
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    Just a look at the exquisite little water temple of Neak Pean on an artificial island in the middle of Preah Khan "mebon" or reservoir. It's four pools represent earth, wind, fire, and water. It was originally a kind of medical center helping place all these "life forces" in balance.
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    Our final temple visit was to the jewel in the crown, the amazing Banteay Srei built well away from the rest of the Siem Reap complex. It is of red sandstone [called "pink" by our government guide] a higher quality stone than many of the others. As a result, the details of many of its carvings have held up remarkably well. This is the east gate--took awhile to get a photo of it not corrupted by young Asian women posing, in many cases, in flowing gowns and high heels. The "selfie" craze continues to run its cancerous course...
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    The inner courtyards suffered nothing in comparison to the gates. They too were magnificent. Overall Banteay Srei is a very small temple, supposedly built by the priestly class and donated to the king, according to our guide.
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    The detail here on the pediments over the entrances to some of these small "chapels" were very well preserved. It is an earlier temple, consecrated in the 10th century. It's modern name is the "Temple of Women" due to its small proportions, tiny doorways, and the large number of "devatas" [minor female deities] carved into the walls. If you can only see a few of the temples of Cambodia, this should probably be one of them along with Angkor Wat, the Bayon, Preah Khan, and the Baphon.
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    In Chang Mai as this is being typed, with our rider meeting scheduled for a little later today. Bikes tomorrow!


    Lee...
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  9. Janet

    Janet I like yellow bikes!

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    Great pictures. Enjoy the ride!
  10. slidefighter

    slidefighter Gather it up, keep on...

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    Thanks, Janet. Off and running tomorrow morning. Nice bike [BMW800]. There are 7-8 of us and I'm guessing we are riding the the biggest bikes in the country!
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  11. slidefighter

    slidefighter Gather it up, keep on...

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    On the road on the first day of the trip and what do we do first? More temples of course, Thai temples though this time naturally. First stop was at a temple complex 40 km south of Chang Mai whose name I didn't catch. I'll try to add it later. Nice to get out of town through the traffic and to get used to our guide's and the other riders riding styles. As usual in Asia there are tiny bikes with large loads [or large families] piled on everywhere. The traffic flows well though to be fair and we moved along pretty well.

    First stop for the bikes and a look at the usual "golden" Thai temple architecture. We are all basically on BMW800's with one exception [on a big Boxer]:
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    Next stop? Coffee of course! Coffee shops appear to be ubiquitous in Thailand. I'm going to be drinking a lot of hot chocolate and Cokes while here, I think... Everyone is riding with just a top case and without side panniers. Make passing a LOT easier in the crowded streets of the bigger cities. Our guide is fully loaded down but he's much better at this kind of riding than the rest of us seem to be. That's me on good ole #644.
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    Destination for the evening was Sukhothai, the capital of Siam for 120 years in the 13th and 14th centuries. Our hotel was truly nice, but we just unloaded and jumped on a couple of Tuk-Tuks for a sunset trip to the spectacular Historical Park, a UNESO World Site featuring 193 ruins within the walls of the old city.
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    The principle temple was Wat Mahathat, the largest of 26 temples within the innermost walls of the old capital.
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    The largest remaining stupa of Wat Chana Songkhram; bell shaped in the Sukhothai style and built during the rule of the Sukhothai kingdom.
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    Corner details on yet another of the hundreds of stupa [mound-like structures of worship, usually containing religious relics] in the park.
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    Today we're in Phu Ruea in Loei Province after an easy ride and leaving early tomorrow for Vientiane, Laos and the beginning of the "real" riding. As I have never been to Laos [on the ground, anyway], I'm really looking forward to it.
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  12. slidefighter

    slidefighter Gather it up, keep on...

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    Thursday, 30 November, 2017: Vang Vieng, Laos

    Crossed the border into Laos yesterday afternoon and spent the night in Vientiane, the old capital of Laos until it was invaded by the Siamese in 1827. It is the home of That Luang, the most important Buddhist monument in all of Laos. It is said to contain relics of the body of Buddha himself (part of his skull and part of a rib, we were told by our guide!). It was actually the French who rebuilt the city after it was literally destroyed by the Thai's.

    Headed out of Phu Ruea early and rode along the mighty Mekong River most of the day. Stopped for a bit of lunch here. How our tour company finds places like this, I have no idea. This was down an alley about 150 yards, off a nondescript road, in an unknown village!
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    The Mekong is the 12th longest river system and the second most biodiverse river in the world, rising on the Tibetan plateau and finally emptying into the South China Sea 2,700 miles later.
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    Stopped for afternoon coffee here, again on the Mekong:
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    Where we met Ghengis Khan and Ragnar Lothbrok, both riding Harleys:
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    After the night in Vientiane, we toured the central part of the city with a highlight of the great Stupa of That Luang. I was told that the stupa is at least partially hollow, but that it is only very rarely entered. Hundreds of monks are supported here and in the surrounding temple buildings from daily donations. Altogether the entire complex is a comprehensive Buddhist sacred learning center.
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    The meditation center
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    Rode north into rural Laos through countless small villages, farms, and rural temples. Stopped for an occasional rest from the heat and high sun; apparently school was just over for the day:
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    Made for the Nam Ngum reservoir for lunch. It is spectacular, the picture doesn't really do it justice.
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    Sorry, running out of wifi for some reason. More tomorrow...
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  13. kalonji

    kalonji nihilism or nothing

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    Thanks Lee, I'm always impressed by the amount of content you post on your trips. Glad you're getting some time with your friend on another awesome looking adventure. Us young bucks can learn a lot from y'all. Definitely know how to live life to the fullest. Tell Dick I said hi!!
  14. slidefighter

    slidefighter Gather it up, keep on...

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    1 December, 2017: Luang Prabang, Laos

    Thanks for checking in again, Justin. Dick says hi right back. We're getting pretty decrepit these days but we're still cranking along as best we can!

    Sorry about yesterday, the wifi system at the hotel in Vang Vieng slowly quit working. There was some beautiful scenery over the last 50+ miles into Vang Vieng, but I didn't get much in the way of pictures. That's the way it is with tours to some degree, the idea is to move everyone along [differing riding skills] and not to lose anyone. They do a great job and I feel like everyone feels very comfortable with our pace, the routing, and the stops we are making, but we definitely don't stop as often for photos an I would if I were on my own. Here later in the afternoon we continued working our way through the slowly rising hills.

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    The other upside to group touring is the quality of the places we are staying---way better than I would pick. Here's the view out of my room:
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    And here is the view to the west at sun set:
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    Traffic on the river never stops. This is the Nam Song which runs roughly north and south here through Vang Vieng. I have to say I don't "get" the design of these long boats; they sit very low in the water and are not naturally very stable with so narrow a beam. Interesting propulsion systems though!
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    The light duty suspension bridge in the middle of town. Supposedly a film crew was making a movie featuring the bridge while we were there.
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    The next day we hit the river ourselves:
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    Upriver a couple of miles. There are a lot of these "karst" formations in Laos, certainly to include the Vang Vieng area.
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    On the road after our boat rides on the Nam Song. Higher up into the Laotian foothills and the sometimes good, sometimes not good at all, Lao roads. We were waiting on the support vehicle here; I guess there were a couple of topples toward the rear of the freight train. Traffic comes at you from all directions here and a lot of it is binary: It's either a huge truck spewing diesel fumes or its three kids on a moped! This particular road section would be the rough equivalent of an interstate highway in the U.S., but you never know whats around the next corner. Makes for some great riding!
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    Into the World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang for the night and also a day off tomorrow. Luang Prabang has an interesting history, too complex to go into here, but nevertheless makes for some good reading. There are a number of western influences here as well, especially that of the French. Here are some more influences---all German, lined up for the night with the Nam Khan River in the background:
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    Luang Prabang is a gathering place for a great many travelers in this part of the world---a fascinating place. More tomorrow on that. In the meanwhile, here's where we're staying: The Bursari Heritage, very Jim Thompson-like [if you know that reference]. Highly recommended---the "welcome neck and shoulder massage" before we even got our rooms, was a very good start! Here's my room:
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    Off to dinner for now and touring tomorrow. Thanks for coming along!


    Lee...
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  15. slidefighter

    slidefighter Gather it up, keep on...

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    Saturday, 2 December, 2017: Luang Prabang

    No riding today, so a nice day wandering about Luang Prabang. It seems to be something of a watering hole for wanderers of various kinds so its a great town for people watching. Cafes and shops, temples and monks, French colonial architecture. What's not to like!

    Wat Sensoukharam.
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    Communism lives on in Laos.
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    A gorgeous Citroen Avant, a reminder of an earlier time.
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    Wat Paphaimisaiyaram
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    We hit the road again tomorrow!


    Lee...
  16. slidefighter

    slidefighter Gather it up, keep on...

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    Sunday, December 3, 2017:Oudom Xai, northern Laos

    Rode 200 km or so today on some good (enough) and also some sketchy roads. Riding here is interesting and generally typical of riding in rural Asia, I understand. You could be forgiven for believing that everyone in Laos has a small scooter or mini-bike of some kind and further that most of them are on the road at any one time---with 2 or 3 up! The rule seems to be "look ahead and go with the flow". Roads are like rivers here, just pick your preferred route and try to avoid hitting the "rocks". Swinging from lane to lane to avoid children in the street, dogs, pigs, goats, and cattle in the street, and above all potholes and scooters in the street---is standard procedure. Having SUV's head on in your lane is not at all uncommon. It all gets done but never feels quite safe---for them, anyway: Our bikes are huge compared to theirs. Heads up though: You'll get passed from time to time when you're not paying attention, at speeds and in places that will surprise you.

    Today we rode to Oudom Xai, a collection of crossroads villages well up into the northern mountains of Laos. As a result, the people here are Vietnamese, Chinese, and of course Lao. We are only about 100 kilometers from the border with China.

    Along the road early in the day:
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    Beginning to climb as we head north. Often apparently, there is heavy truck traffic on this road, but we got lucky and caught a light day. Some of the bigger trucks (most, really) trail some kind of liquid "slick" behind them more or less continuously. Some of it must be water, but often it seems more slick than water. No idea what it is but every once in awhile it seems to be connected to the most revolting stench, from what source I really do not have a clue. The guide says he thinks it much be road kill, but I have not seen a single dead animal on the road---not one. It doesn't smell like farm animal manure either, but it smells just as bad in its own way, to me at least. Actually, I may be the only one it bothers! Whatever it is, I've never smelled it before and its both pervasive and unmistakeable.
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    Wild country for sure. Most of the population seems to live on or very near the roads, if they don't live in the villages and towns themselves. In these vistas from higher up, you just don't see the level of farming activity that you would see in, for example, Ireland.
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    Roadside stop toward the end of the day. Cold drinks seem always to be available: Water, Cokes, chilled coffee and such.
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    Oudom Xai area:
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    We continue within Laos tomorrow, eventually passing quite near the Chinese border before turning west again further into the mountains. Back in Thailand the day after tomorrow.


    Lee...
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  17. slidefighter

    slidefighter Gather it up, keep on...

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    Monday, 4 December, 2017: Houay Xai:

    Last day riding in the fascinating country of Laos. As I understand it, motorbike riders do not need a license here, so some very young people and even children are commonly seen riding. That combination, along with the big Chinese trucks and the steep terrain makes for a minefield of obstacles and challenges. Interestingly, the uphills and downhills are significantly different to ride. The big trucks (whose drivers have a pretty bad reputation here for bulling their way through traffic), really tear the the uphills up, literally rolling huge grooves in the tarmac. On hot summer days here, the trucks get great grip in the softened tarmac going uphill and cut deep, sharp edged grooves in the roadway. Its like riding in a slot car track! Some of these tracks ran for hundreds of yards; you had to stay in line or you had a great chance of a tumble if your front tire caught on the sides of one of the grooves since many of them were taller (6", 8", even 10" deep) and just as sharp edged as a street curb.

    The downhills (previously mentioned) were there own little challenge, also because of the trucks. In the meantime, here is a look at some of the scenery along the way.

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    These little guys weren't camera shy at all...
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    We worked our way well up to the north toward mid-day and stopped here in Nuang Namtha for lunch.
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    And later in the day, we stopped in this little village for something to drink. This is a typical small stilted Laotian hut, just off the road and well roofed for the rainy season (not now, thankfully!).
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    Here is what one of the smaller trucks regularly seen on Laotian roads looks like charging uphill.
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    And worse yet, this is what one of the big boys look like thundering downhill. You can get around them, and to be fair they don't make any quick moves usually, but are much wider than everything else on the road and can be formidable obstacles. You have to pick your passing spots pretty carefully. This particular truck is about half the width of the entire road.
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    The neighbors gather for some afternoon socializing---while the big trucks thunder by just feet away!
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    A long day in the saddle all in all, it was great to get settled in and cleaned up.


    Lee...
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  18. slidefighter

    slidefighter Gather it up, keep on...

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    Wednesday, 6 December, 2017: Chiang Rai, Thailand:

    Today is our second and final "day off" on the tour. Great opportunity to get a closer look at the the city, the largest in northern Thailand and the former capital under the Mangrai dynasty. Chang Mai was subsequently conquered and was under Burmese control for several hundred years. We took a bus trip to see two of the city's most famous sites.

    Wat Rong Kuhn, better known to tourists as the White Temple is a privately owned art exhibit designed in the style of a Buddhist temple. It is owned and was designed by the Thai artist Chalermchai Kosipipat. His clients and patrons include the King of Thailand. Notwithstanding the fact that in reality it is an "art gallery", the locals consider the temple to be sacred.
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    The complex already includes some several buildings but the full project is even more extensive and thus will not be finished according to the author, until 2070.
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    There are way too many details to show more than a tiny fraction of the complex, but this is not untypical.
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    Here's an amusing touch: The restrooms are all gold while everything else is white.
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    Baandam: The Black House

    A collection of about 40 houses spotted around a large garden complex. It was designed and built by the famed Thai artist Thawan Duchanee. It was originally his home but was expanded over a period of about 50 years into a grand display of his paintings, sculptures, and collections, including particularly rich displays of animal bones, skins, horns, and objects of gold and silver. All of the buildings are black and sumptuously designed of wood, glass, terra-cotta, and bricks.

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    It was a a truly impressive collection. These pictures unfortunately do it no justice at all.


    Lee...
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  19. slidefighter

    slidefighter Gather it up, keep on...

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    7 December, 2017, from Chiang Rai to Mae Taeng: The big smell mystery is solved!

    We headed out of Chiang Rai [after a great day off and some excellent meals in the restaurants near our hotel] out though city traffic to the north. Early in the day, the traffic was not as bad as our last day riding, but later in the day made up for it somewhat. The first stop was the Choui Fong tea plantation and a stop for morning tea. It was cool in the highlands here and the weather was perfect. The tea was good too [I'm told]!
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    From Choui Fong we continued north toward the Myanmar border passing through a settlement built by former Chinese soldiers of the Nationalist Army that refused to surrender in 1949 when the Kuomintang government was finally routed by the Chinese Communists. The town still has a considerable Chinese presence and flavor to this day. Here is a look at the highlands closer to the Myanmar border. Too bad we were unable to enter Myanmar, that is a trip I have always wanted to take.
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    Lunch was at the Mae Kok restaurant in Thaton [Tha Ton], a beautiful setting right on the Kok River.
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    The view out over the river from the veranda dining room:
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    Beauty in abundance:
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    We didn't stop for drinks [though I'm sure we could have gotten a positive vote on the idea!], but the bar/veranda by the garden pond was especially nice:
    [​IMG]

    Not so many trucks on the way as we turned south for Mae Taeng, another 100+ km down the road. It turns out that Thailand is a significant producer of natural rubber [polyisoprene] which is "cut" via carving the bark of the native rubber trees. In Thailand it is gathered in coconut husks as it drips off little funnel sticks from the trees. It hardens somewhat over time and is pulled from the coconuts as a oily, rubbery ball. These balls are hauled to the refineries in some of the big trucks we have been seeing on the road the last few days. The trucks do indeed use water spray on their brakes to cool them on the long downhill runs in the mountains and is why you significantly less of it on the uphills. In any event, the weight of the latex balls squeeze some of the natural oils out of the materials in the truck beds which then apparently leaks onto the road and in conjunction with the brake water, makes a mighty stench. This also explains why the bikes seemed to slipping around much more than seemed appropriate if we were only riding over long streaks of water. We were sliding in a kind of vegetable oil!

    Tomorrow we make the famous run on Road 1095 with its 1,864 turns!


    Lee...
    kalonji and Timmer like this.
  20. FranciscoXJR

    FranciscoXJR Caminante no hay camino...

    Joined:
    May 25, 2016
    Oddometer:
    10
    Location:
    Catalonia
    Amazing pictures Lee!
    Your explanations always teach me a lot. Great trip! Enjoy last days!

    Francisco